Co-operative graduate scheme takes innovative approach to employment


By Brett Crabtree, CIPFA Employer Relationship Manager

This article first appeared on the Guardian Local Government Network .

Nottinghamshire's graduate scheme combines the county and district councils, as well as fire and rescue services to save costs and make sure talent doesn't go unmissed

In challenging times budgets are often cut or frozen and managers come under intense pressure to justify their spending.

In this environment, certain budgets are considered less important and therefore easier to cut than others. The recruitment budget is usually one of the first to see money withdrawn because, with jobs being cut, there is little desire to bring in expensive recruits.

However, it is important to remember that even in difficult economic times there is a need for new talent. With an ageing workforce and high staff turnover, succession planning is no less important and looking to the future we must train the next generation of leaders.

In response to this challenge, public sector organisations in Nottinghamshire have developed an innovative solution.

The chief finance officers of the county council, six district authorities, Nottingham police authority and Nottinghamshire fire and rescue services have agreed to take part in a flexible, cost-saving initiative. The organisations will work co-operatively, each contributing funding to the training of a pool of finance graduates.

The staffing resource that the graduates provide then allows each public body the flexibility to decide whether it needs a full-time or part-time member of staff depending on need and available funding at the time.

In the scheme, overseen by Nottinghamshire county council, the graduates rotate from one body to another. The trainees will be funded to become qualified accountants, studying for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) professional qualification.

The selection process was rigorous with an online numerical test, telephone interview, assessment centre and final interview. Despite this, the scheme has been incredibly popular, with more than 500 graduates expressing interest for eight positions.

The main benefit of the scheme is its cost saving, allowing each organisation to use only the trainee resource that it needs and can afford. It is also important because in these difficult financial times programmes like this allow organisation's to provide strong and effective financial management.

If the co-operative scheme did not exist then these organisations would not be able to recruit graduate trainees and as a result fewer jobs would be created.

In addition to improving public sector efficiencies, the rotation between the organisations also means that the trainees get valuable experience in a variety of different public sector bodies. The prestige associated with this added experience at junior level allows the scheme to attract some of the best graduates.

Collaborative working is widely supported, especially by the government as part of its austerity agenda. As services are shared and back office functions merged, there has never been a better time to develop these kind of co-operative recruitment models.

The scheme was developed jointly by the CIPFA and the Nottinghamshire finance officers group, and the former has been working hard to promote this model in finance, helping 29 organisations in 2012-13 to recruit new trainees into some of the most competitive graduate programmes in the public sector.

The earliest of these schemes was the Society of London Treasurers, which began in 2003 and since then has placed more than 250 graduates into participating London boroughs. Like the Nottinghamshire scheme, this is also incredibly popular with more than 1,500 applicants for every 25 vacancies. Unlike the Nottinghamshire scheme, however, graduates do not rotate between organisations and they are trained at CIPFA's education and training centre in London.

Austerity is biting and looks set to continue well into the next parliament. The challenge facing public sector leaders of continuing to deliver services with reduced budgets encourages innovative ways of working. But this scheme is even more important because recruitment like this must continue; otherwise we will find our organisations devoid of the talent needed to develop imaginative solutions to difficult problems.

Webchat is available Monday to Friday, 09:00 - 17:00 (excluding UK bank holidays).