You’re hired! It may not quite be the council version of The Apprentice, but as part of an innovative scheme to give graduates on-the-job training, thirteen young candidates have been thrown in at the deep end helping to drive huge savings at Shropshire Council.
In the face of rising youth and graduate unemployment, the council’s new Internship Programme is believed to be one of the only ones of its kind in the country run by a local authority.
And it’s no work experience junket either. All 13, recruited at the end of June until September, are working on real life projects worth tens of thousands of pounds and which affect real people, and which are also part of the council’s Transformation Project – making the authority operate more like a business and saving the authority, or generating for it, large sums of taxpayers’ money.
Council leaders say local government is entering into a phase of change and Shropshire Council is one authority which recognises the need to attract graduates to develop into future leaders of the public sector.
They say the new internship programme – in simple terms an apprenticeship scheme for white collar workers – is part of a commitment to give recent graduates crucial paid work experience and exposure into working in a rapidly changing local government environment for the duration of the summer.
Tom Collins, from Shifnal, is delighted to be among those taking the challenge. The 24-year-old graduated from Wolverhampton University in 2010 with a degree in property asset management.
But with rising youth unemployment, he, like many other graduates, could not find work in his specialist field.
“I had interviews with five surveying firms without success,” he says. With the downturn coinciding with a downturn in the property market, Tom says, surveying companies were more likely to be laying people off than taking them on.
Now he is working in property asset management office at Shire Hall in Shrewsbury, applying what he has learnt in the lecture theatre to a very real life situation – the selling off of council assets, both land and buildings, to raise revenues and cut costs.
“We are in the process of putting 13 assets – land and buildings – under auction in September,” adds Tom. “It is interesting working alongside people in the office because of their experience of the political side – all the rules and regulations. I have not had that much experience of that so it’s a good insight into how councils work as opposed to private firms.
“Hopefully it’s a stepping stone to getting back into the property market and applying for Shropshire Council’s graduate programme in October.
“I always had the perception that the council was a closed book and not for young people.” Clearly not.
Grace Towers, 21, from Wem, graduated this summer with a degree in international relations from Birmingham University and makes an important point in the plight of job-seeking graduates: many are forced to leave Shropshire to find work. “I would prefer to live and work in Shropshire,” says Grace.
And with an interest in politics, her role in the council is providing an ideal opportunity to apply the knowledge she gained at college within a large political organisation.
Grace is working within a team trying to improve children’s services, by analysing feedback from young people and parent Ms on what they think of council services.
“We are trying to provide the best services, analysing how the feedback is received to improve them,” she says. My job at the end is to compile a ten-page report on the findings and present them to senior directors.”
Sounds like the Alan Sugar boardroom situation but Grace is far from daunted.“I’m excited to have this opportunity. We are certainly thrown in!”
Simon Alton, senior press officer for the authority, adds: “It could be seen as quite daunting because they are learning how the organisation works, and how it works is changing, but this part of the change is very exciting. “There is a feeling that things are changing (within the council) and there is scope for change – and having fresh ideas and a fresh way of working is part of it.”
Most, if not all, of the candidates will be applying for Shropshire Council’s successful Graduate Programme over the summer, which is entering into its third year, and a successful internship can only look good on the CV and be good for future job prospects.
Many graduates have already contributed to the implementation of the authority’s programme of change. Internships could even lead to a job. And who knows – one of them could be a top brain spearheading change at the council over the coming years.
Keith Barrow, leader of Shropshire Council, says: “We are one of the only councils in the country to be offering this kind of programme, and I instigated the initiative because I feel it’s vital that as a council we do what we can to provide employment opportunities to young people.
“It’s hugely beneficial for everyone concerned – the interns get valuable experience and the council has enthusiastic, fresh thinkers helping to improve the way we work.”
Any local graduates who are interested in the Graduate Programme Shropshire Council offers should email firstname.lastname@example.org