Advice for the newbies

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

I was trailing through our new twitter followers the other evening (@welovelocalgovby the way) when I noticed that a surprising number of them were recent entrants to the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP).

Obviously, I was delighted to see that so many new entrants to local government were a) making use, if only in a small way, of social media and b) that they were taking the time to follow the ramblings of myself and my colleagues.

With this in mind I thought it might be nice to write a post specifically for them and not being able to come up with anything more original here is my top ten tips for any new graduate:


1)      Talk to people. When I first started in local government I was scared of ALL managers. In actual fact I have discovered that if you show an interest almost every person in the authority will happily sit down with you for half an hour and chat through what they do.

2)      Work out where the money comes from. Councils are pretty complex and if you want to have a career in local government it will really help you if you understand how the council is funded. (Clue: it’s not as simple as understanding council tax!)

3)      Work out where the money goes. Understanding how the council sets a budget and how each service manager then works out, and monitors, their own budget is such a central part of being a manager that it is best to get this sorted as soon as possible. There are so many managers who don’t know how to manage their own budget, let alone how the council’s overall budget works, and it definitely holds them back.

4)      Take every opportunity to get out and about in your local area. Visit satellite offices, libraries, health centres and the waste depot. If you can; try and take public transport or explore the area near the different offices. It’s the single best way to get a sense of the business of the council and the local area.

5)      Meet the people you serve. Do not forget that you are there to provide services to members of the local community. Even if your job has nothing to do with the local community remember why you are doing the job and take every chance to go and find out what the public think about the job you, and your council, are doing.

6)      Just because you don’t understand something going on in your council do not assume this is because you haven’t got it yet. Often, things are the way they’ve always been and challenging the status quo can be the best thing you could do.

7)      Equally, don’t assume that everything happening in your council is somehow from the 20thcentury. I’ve seen far too many graduates who come in with the attitude that everything in the council ‘must’ be outdated and therefore ‘must’ be changed.

8)      Innovate. Local councils are big organisations and big organisations don’t do change well. However, if you, as a new entrant to the sector can’t come up with some great new ideas for service delivery then we have no hope. Don’t be afraid to come up with new ideas, try them, and then do your best to make them succeed.

9)      Work out the good places to eat locally. Not only is it a good idea to get out of the office occasionally but visiting a few different local places can be a good way to get a sense of the area you work in.

10)   Enjoy it. Local Government is an awesome place to work and you will find your career, whatever part of the local government family you end up working in, to be as fulfilling as you let it be.

Oh, and if you want to write about your experiences please just drop us a line!

Here are a few more tips submitted by our readers.

  1. DSO Says:

    12) Go to meetings. Most meetings are open and can also be a really useful way to learn about how your council works. See councillors and senior management in action. You might even see a member of public and find out what an outsider thinks of the council and why. It can be especially useful if there are meetings about your work area. If you’re in planning, go to some Development Control Panels. Look at how Overview & Scrutiny reviews your service, or another service area and think about what it would do if it looked at your service area. Speak to the councillors after the meeting. Find out who represents you if you live in the area, and whether your service area has an Executive member overseeing it.

  2. Phil Says:

    14) That said, sometimes the speed of change can overwhelm. Often this is change dictated by outside forces (the recent comprehensive spending review for example). If this happens, work out quickly where you sit and the impact on your service. Then adapt. Adapt to survive.

  3. Tim Turner Says:

    15) Some people really will do what you ask if you give them a biscuit.

  4. LGWorker Says:

    17) Don’t know if NGDP or other graduate schemes still do things like the Warwick course, but work out how what you learn on these academic courses actually translate into practical/real life in your Council.

    18) Talk to Councillors and try and get at least one placement working with them. Experience of working with politicians is gold dust.

  5. localgovalso Says:

    Couldn’t agree with 14 more, keep abreast of changes and be ready for them, be proactive and helpful – There is nothing guaranteed to cheese off senior decision makers than “not my job”.

    Oh and 19) – Make sure to check whether or not there are officers and councillors who share the same name. This can help avoid significant embarrassment…. I’m told…

  6. Skinner_M Says:

    20) Network, network, network! Build relationships within and equally important outside of the Council. My networks provide me with information and act as a sounding board to test ideas and have them challenged. They also provide me with an understanding of what’s going on in #localgov and if what the Council is doing is well received. I’m not just talking about social media but contacts and friends I’ve made too.

    21) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to challenge constructively. But be prepared to have to push your ideas don’t let this put you off, innovation is a process.

    (Personally I would put innovation at the top of that list :-) )

  7. Will Says:

    23) There isn’t (generally) any intellectual property of ideas in local government. If you’re struggling to work out how to do something ask someone in an other authority. We’re not in competition with each other and are normally happy to help each other out when we can.

  8. 24. If you want to get to grips with localism/big society/placeshaping (delete as appropriate, most do…), don’t just read the briefings, go meet other players – community groups, small businesses, universities

    25. Go to meetings with funny names (twuttles, pecha kulcha, govcamps).

  9. haypsych Says:

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