Profile: Ruth, Graduate in HR

Ruth D

Degree: Staffordshire University BA in Business Management

Current Role: Employment Services Support Officer

Previous Role: Adult Services Support Officer

Ruth’s Story:

Following my graduation in 2012 I continued to work with Telford and Wrekin Council where I had been employed while I was completing my degree. Although I enjoyed my time in the fostering team, I wanted to find a position where I could put the skills I had learnt through my studies to good use. I wasn’t sure what role I wanted in the future but having spent five and a half years working for Telford and Wrekin Council, I knew that I enjoyed working within Local Government. I therefore applied for Shropshire Council’s graduate scheme and joined in October 2013.

I can honestly say that I’ve learnt more in the last nine months than I did in all previous employment. No two days have been the same and I have learnt so much about the roles of each department and different ways of working. One of the benefits of the scheme is the variety of departments you have the opportunity of working in. It’s been beneficial for me to see where my skills lie and has challenged me to develop my areas of weakness.

The scheme has given me the chance to take the lead on projects and through this I have come into contact with a wide number of people and organisations. During my placement within Adult Services I helped to write a number of important documents. The one identified the growing number of dementia sufferers and highlighted how our service needed to be shaped to respond to these pressures. I was also involved in the re-design of the service which focused on a completely new way of working within the community and considered what implications this would have on the workforce.

In my current role I have helped to create an online payroll and HR service which we have piloted with several schools and will be rolling out to a wider cohort in September. It has been exciting to see this project develop and be involved in the testing and demonstrations of the programme.

During my employment with Shropshire Council the amount of change within that time has been significant and it has been exciting to help shape the direction of travel for the council. It’s been a steep learning curve but there’s plenty of support along the way and is an opportunity not to be missed.

Ruth, Graduate in HR.

What does it take to be a Shropshire Council Graduate?

Job skills pic

There are many skills required to fulfill the role of a Shropshire Council Graduate. Some will be skills that you have been cultivating throughout your degree, and others you will build on throughout your time on the scheme.

Some of our graduates have reflected on what key skills are important in the role of a graduate.

Leadership

All Shropshire Council graduates undertake a graduate project in their first year on the scheme. I was able to use this project as an opportunity to develop my leadership skills. I was team leader for the DATIS project, which aimed to facilitate the growth of dementia friendly communities in Shropshire. This role required me to oversee the planning of the project – prioritising aims and objectives – and its implementation. I was responsible for delegating tasks to other members of the team, acting as the key point of contact with the project’s numerous stakeholder and reviewing the progress of the project.

Stuart, Graduate in Commissioning.

Communication

The ability to not only communicate, but to communicate effectively is as skill which is indispensable to graduates starting out on a graduate scheme. It has proven particularly important to me in my current placement at Shropshire council in the SEN team. Upon starting my placement, I was overwhelmed with the jargon, acronyms and confusing processes I came across, it felt like I would never find my way through this perplexing system. However, now, after two rotations in the SEN team, I feel like I understand the jargon well. Although understanding and using this jargon when speaking to colleagues is useful, as I know we are all on the same page, I have been careful to refine my communication skills so that I am aware of the audience I am talking to. This I consider particularly when talking to parents, as SEN can be very emotive and confusing for families, and jargon only makes it feel more daunting. Any conversations, meetings or materials I produce for parents I ensure I use language which I feel is accessible to parents in order to communicate effectively with them. I think effective communication skills are intrinsically and universally important for all graduates, and a skill which should always be stretched, strengthened and developed.

Beth, Graduate in SEN.

Partnership working

A vitally important skill in the role of a graduate is the ability to work in partnership with other agencies. In my placement with the Drug and Alcohol Action team, I worked with a number of partners including the Job Centre Plus, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services, Crime reduction charities, local food banks and hospitals. It was central to my role that I was able to build effective working relationships with these partners, by being interested in their operations and gaining an understanding of what they do. Building these partnerships meant that I was able to carry out the projects I had been tasked, whilst continuing good working relationships with these external partners and the team I was working in.

Miriam, Graduate in Public Health.

Look out for our next post with more skills, coming soon!

Ruth’s role: Graduate and Apprenticeship Manager

Hi, I’m Ruth Mansfield and I am the Graduate and Apprenticeship Manager for Shropshire Council. While my title may sound long and fancy it generally means that I have three key areas of responsibility. They are Shropshire Council’s commitment to the recruitment of Apprentices, an ERDF funded external programme that supports Shropshire Small to Medium enterprises in recruitment of a Graduate and the internal Graduate Programme.

After completing my degree in 2006 in Law from the University of Wolverhampton I gained my first full time employment with the Prison Service working as a Resettlement Worker specialising in employability. Being a short term contract I joined Shropshire Council in the November of 2006 in Employment Support Services for people with disabilities. After specialising for 3 years and progressing into a senior role I decided to move into a more generalised project management role within the Councils Community Enablement Team. My role was to support individuals, community groups and voluntary organisations to achieve specific projects and to become as resilient and productive as possible.

I spent four years developing my project management skills working across the Council and very closely with the local elected members before I decided that I was ready for another change. On 4th March 2013 I started my new role and have not looked back since. I very much enjoy the role I play in supporting talented individuals onto the first step in their long and exciting career within Local Government. Some of the success that I have witnessed from previous individuals on the scheme has reaffirmed what can be achieved by those that are driven and determined. I only wish that I had been given this kind of opportunity when I graduated.

As the Graduate and Apprenticeship Manager one of my main roles is to manage the Graduate Scheme. This involves but is not limited to:

  • The line management of up to 12 graduates on the scheme at any one time
  • Managing the transition between placements every 6 months
  • Identifying and implementing the two group projects each year and supporting them
  • Professional development of graduates
  • Supporting individuals in placements and dealing with any issues
  • Promoting the Graduate Scheme across the organisation and wider
  • Dealing with manager requests for graduate support

I feel that ability and potential are as important as the degree when applying for our Graduate Scheme. It is highly competitive and you must be able to demonstrate what sets you apart from others. You will be thrown in at the deep end so an ability to work on initiative and learn as you go along is a must. While you will receive the highest level of support from myself, your graduate buddy, your placement manager and your mentor a lot is expected of our Graduates and you have to be willing to rise to the challenge.

Best of Luck…

Ruth Mansfield
ruth.mansfield@shropshire.gov.uk

Making the move; living and working in Shropshire.

Shrews

Like many who moved away from home for university, I adapted swimmingly to the comforts of university life. The security of university campus, the student halls and a whole community of like-minded peers, The University of Leeds offered a ready-made academic cocoon, into which the bleary-eyed first year student may readily slot.

But three years on- when the comfort blanket of university life is slipping away, what is it really like to start afresh in another county all together?

Without doubt it is a very different experience to relocate for a job rather than university, but certainly one which is both enjoyable and valuable.

Having trawled through what felt like thousands of graduate advertisements- endlessly applying for scheme after scheme, my journey started when I stumbled across an online advert for a job working in local government.

Shropshire Council offered what appeared to be the ideal graduate position:

– A challenging rotational management scheme: CHECK!

– A meaningful role with the chance to improve people’s lives: CHECK!

– The opportunity to prove oneself: CHECK!

But the one criterion the scheme lacked on my career “wish-list” was location. I had never even heard of Shropshire and I knew nothing about the place (though being from Newcastle I could accurately assume that it was probably “down south somewhere”).

After a nifty check on Google maps and armed with the information that Shropshire is in fact located in the West Midlands, I bit the metaphorical bullet and applied; little did I know that within the month I would be relocating some 250 miles away to leafy Shrewsbury.

Indeed, friends and family were somewhat bewildered when I announced suddenly that I would be departing my hometown to pursue a career in a county four hours down the road. I even wondered myself if uprooting was the most sensible thing for a recent graduate of limited means.

Without doubt there are a number of questions which nag in the back of one’s mind initially, each making you wonder if you’re making the right decision; will I enjoy the work? Will I like the people? What challenges will each new department bring?

I needn’t have worried.

The job allowed me to meet some of the most talented and interesting people, all ready and willing to teach me all there was to know about the complex world of local government. A dynamic bunch of talent, the graduates themselves were somewhat eclectic bunch; from eccentric entrepreneurs to bubbly “change the world” types, all of us with a goal to innovate, improve and ultimately- make a difference.

Within my first week in Shropshire I had played in a rounders’ match for charity, joined a young professional’s network, taken up cross-fit and enjoyed a lovely meal with my new colleagues. Opportunities for networking certainly ensured I was able to build a new set of friends and acquaintances and far from being sleepy- this rural idyll seemed to offer boundless opportunities to play as well as work.

One year on and with the beauty of hindsight I can confidently say; I did and still do thoroughly enjoy the work and I have made friends with some of the most talented people one could hope to meet.

As for the challenges which each new department brings- I’m still waiting to see. However, after two six months placements, I can say with certainty that moving to Shropshire has been one of the best opportunities I have ever taken.

Helen, Graduate in Children’s Safeguarding.

 

 

Taking the plunge: one year on

At this time last year, I was fresh out of university and musing about what to do next. Being Shropshire born and bred, except for a brief three year stint at Durham University, I was naturally aware that Shropshire Council ran a graduate scheme. I had always been drawn to a career in the public sector, wanting to make a difference to people living within my community. My enthusiasm for this sector was reinforced when I completed a civil service internship during my penultimate year at university. However, I had no direct experience of working in local government. For me, the local council were the ones who collected the bins and ran the swimming pool (who knew that these are now run by private companies).

But local government offers so much more. Instead of giving a list of the services that we provide, let’s take a look at some of the projects that Shropshire Council grads have taken a leading role in over the past year.

DATIS

The highlight of my graduate scheme has been working on the Dementia Awareness and Training In Shropshire (DATIS) graduate project. In the first year of the graduate scheme, all Shropshire Council grads spend half a day, at least, taking ownership of their own group project. I was fortunate enough to lead the DATIS project, which aimed to work with partners from the NHS, private and voluntary sectors to facilitate the growth of Shropshire based dementia friendly communities. This project has been incredibly rewarding; 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia and one in three people aged over 65 will develop dementia, so it’s an issue that will have impact on all of our lives. The project has also provided a great development opportunity for the whole team. We all gained experience of working with partner organisations, lobbying key decision makers within our own organisation, writing press releases and events management. The project culminated in a successful Dementia Awareness Day event hosted by Shrewsbury Museum, where stallholders from 20 different organisations came together to offer support and advice to members of the public – as well as the odd dignitary or two.

SEN Hub Development

My colleague Beth has spent two placements in the Special Educational Needs (SEN) team. She is playing an instrumental role in the development of a new SEN hub at one of our Shropshire state schools. The SEN Hub project aims to create a specialist, purpose built educational setting for secondary school aged pupils with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), autistic traits and associated complex needs. These will be pupils who have the ability to manage a mainstream curriculum, but who cannot manage all aspects of a mainstream secondary school. At the current time, pupils with these needs have no option but to attend schools outside the Shropshire local authority because there is no suitable provision within the county. The SEN Hub project displays Shropshire Council’s approach to co-designing services with service users. If you join the Shropshire Council graduate scheme, expect to meet and work with service users to provide innovative new ways of meeting their needs.

Shropshire’s New University

A fellow graduate, Caroline, is currently on secondment to the University of Chester. Why would we second out a new member of our graduate intake? Because the University of Chester, Shropshire Council and ip&e have been working with a range of partners to develop plans for a new university in Shropshire, which could help create thousands of jobs in the region and £61 million each year for the local economy. The institution will be created through support and guidance from the University of Chester in its early days, but will, in time, seek its own self-governing status and ultimately become a free-standing university. Caroline is one of the first members of staff on the ground, trying to make this happen. She has also previously been sent to an education conference in Belgium, inspiring much jealousy amongst the rest of us!

So there you go, three examples that display the variety of things that you could work on if you joined the Shropshire Council graduate scheme. Still interested in applying? One year on, I would definitely advise you to take the plunge and apply.

Stuart Armstrong

It’s raining cats and blogs

There have been some notable events during the past three and a half months: hit television series Breaking Bad reached its jaw-dropping conclusion, code-breaking mathematician Alan Turing received a posthumous pardon and the England cricket team put in some truly dreadful performances Down Under. The past twenty weeks have also marked the beginning of my time on the Shropshire Council Graduate Scheme; a two-year programme which thrusts recent graduates into the public sector and looks to develop their potential.

Having already completed an internship at Shirehall during the summer months, my preference was for a placement within Children’s Services and I was delighted when such an opportunity was forthcoming. Safeguarding – as the name implies – refers to the services Shropshire Council provide to ensure the safety and protection of local children. It encompasses social work, child protection plans, fostering, adoption, supervised parental contact and a host of other vital procedures. It is undoubtedly an area of real pressure, responsibility and importance.

Since my arrival on the hallowed fourth floor, the bulk of my time has been occupied by a main project. However, there has been a real variety in terms of the tasks I have been assigned thus far. I have spent an enjoyable few days working in the Data & Information team who are responsible for collating statistics relating to school performance and local education. I was also entrusted with ‘costing’ another team at Shropshire Council and this mathematical, figures-based exercise was a new experience for me as a ‘right-brained’ chap.

There have been numerous training opportunities, too. The new cohort of graduates have received ‘political awareness’ training which gave an overview of the Council’s current situation and the nuances of how one should engage with Elected Members. We’ve also completed Myers Briggs testing to identify our behaviour preferences and specific psychological ‘type’ – introverted, extroverted and so on. While each category has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, being aware of the differences in colleague mentality can obviously help form positive working relationships.

Commissioning – the process of tailoring services to the needs of individual communities – is another area in which we have received training. As touched upon in earlier blogs, Shropshire Council has adopted a commissioning approach to the way in which it delivers services; there will now be a focus on gathering sound evidence and achieving outcomes which offer value for money as well as meeting the needs of local residents. Having a firm understanding of both the context and principles behind commissioning as a strategy will be of vital importance going forward and will eventually, I’m sure, affect all service areas.

There is a sturdy network of support available to Shropshire Council graduates, and each of us has already been assigned a senior official to act as a ‘mentor’. With meetings usually taking place once a month, the mentor’s role is to listen to any concerns you may have and to offer guidance as appropriate. This allocation represents one of the best things about the graduates scheme; the amount of exposure you get to senior staff and high-level projects.

The two graduate projects are now underway. The first project – titled Volunteers in Public Service – aims to gain an understanding of how Shropshire’s existing pool of volunteers can be coordinated more efficiently in future years. Secondly, there is DATIS – which stands for Dementia Awareness and Training in Shropshire. This project will see four graduates, with assistance from various local health experts, looking to increase awareness of the condition in Shropshire by facilitating ‘Dementia Friends’ training sessions across the county. It is still early days for both projects, but the initial signs are very positive indeed.

I hope this blog has given you a flavour of my first few months on the graduate scheme and if there’s anyone reading this who is in two minds as to whether to apply – do it! It is a valuable opportunity during a time of unprecedented change within the public sector.

Geoff Anslow
Geoff.Anslow@Shropshire.gov.uk

Doing Things Differently: Working Through Change in Organisations

change-ahead

This week the graduates and I have taken part in some commissioning training, equipping us with the skills and understanding surrounding what it means to be a ‘commissioning council’ in this time of rapid change. Services are being thoroughly explored and deconstructed to identify what is working, what isn’t, and how we can remodel to be more efficient. This process is aiming to lead us into the new future of Shropshire Council, where we provide services ‘’better, faster, and cheaper’’. However this process, despite the benefits, like all change, is not always easy.

I have found myself reflecting on how we conduct ourselves during times of change throughout my graduate placement. Learning through experience, by watching members of management above me, I have learnt some valuable lessons that I plan to draw from and take with me during my subsequent placements.

Transparency through communication

In my department we are working towards the implementation of a wide set of reforms, which will change many of our current processes, systems and roles. These reforms have been imminent for the last few years and have subsequently created an anxious backdrop for some members of staff, adjoining agencies and service users. From my own experience, the use of open, honest and regular contact has proved indispensable at this time.
Informing people of the direction of travel the department is taking has quite logically reduced confusion, and in turn, got staff behind the vision for the changes. This is through emails detailing new developments, focus groups on certain topics of changes or updates at team meetings. Having clear and honest communication with staff and service users about the future of the department has demystified some of the elements of change.

Cultivating a level of ownership for staff and service providers

Communicating with staff and service users is helping nurture a level of ownership of the changes for staff. Staff, service users and individuals are most directly affected by the changes, and for that reason they are an indispensable shaping force behind developments.

Bringing staff and service users opinions into these changes, will empower them to create services which operate efficiently and meet the needs of customers. This is intrinsically important in the landscape of change and to or our vision to provide services which are ‘’better, faster and cheaper’’. By giving staff various roles and responsibilities, and by seeking the voice of the service user, we are ensuring that expert staff knowledge and the service users’ views shape the changes, whilst building staff and public confidence.

Don’t take resistance personally

Despite efforts to include staff and service providers thoughts, views and ideas, there will be inevitably be some who struggle with the changes that come. An important memo to keep in mind is to not take any resistance experienced personally. Teaming this with a level of empathy and understanding for those who are affected is a sure way to help support staff and services users through the journey of transformation.

And Finally…

Many a wise man has said ‘’nothing ventured, nothing gained’’. No one has ever said change is easy, often is it not the case. However, it is useful to constantly remind ourselves that, the effort and work of the members and council staff is providing us with a ‘new way of doing things’ and within that, a bright future for Shropshire.

Beth Byers