The Local Government Apprentice


I’m very excited at the prospect of the new series of The Apprentice on BBC1. I love the drama, the arguments, the madness, the hopes being raised and then dashed. Secretly, I’ve always fancied having a go at it, but I am a terrible saleswoman and that’s all Alan Sugar seems to care about.  But it’s got me thinking about opportunities in Local Government…

Something that really gets on my wick is the widespread belief that anyone who is very good at their job is “too good for local government”. I’ve heard this used on many occasions about colleagues, and quite frankly it’s a load of old tosh. Why shouldn’t local government have good people working in it? Why should local government try and live up to the non-truths that we are slow, unable to change, 9-5’ers? If we keep telling all the good people they are too good for local government, they will just leave and we’ll end up with fewer and fewer good people.

This is why we end up in the situation with quite a lot of (but not all) group managers, service heads, directors and the like not actually being of the calibre we need them to be. Simon Whitehouse recently introduced me to the Peter Principle and that really rings true with me. The good people are leaving because Local Government isn’t good enough for them, and the remaining ones get promoted – unable/unwilling to take risks, push for change, challenge where things aren’t right because they don’t want to risk their job or potential for furthering their career. Local government doesn’t seem to reward people who are passionate and want to make a difference, if anything they punish you for it (OK, well maybe that is an exaggeration). So we have this vicious circle that we are unable to break as the people who can have a very protectionist mentality.

So, back to the Apprentice. I’m wondering about asking our Chief Exec and the Strategic Directors to think about running an internal version of the Apprentice. The final job on offer could be as an assistant to one of the directors or service heads (or Business Unit Managers – look at the acronym, no joke!). That would start a ripple in the internal job market, in a time where everything is static. Maybe this post could be just for one year, when another apprentice, is sourced from within the council. There could be a post for each of our 3 directors and 1 for the exec. That could open up secondment opportunities for those vacant posts within the authority. All in all, quite an interesting development opportunity for all involved.

Will it work? Will they take on board my suggestion? Am I a fool? Is anyone else willing to see if their authority will do the same?

Watch this space, “don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon”.

Image by Lludo on Flickr


4 Responses

  1. We have apprentice schemes but they tend to be aimed at school leavers and whatnot rather than people already employed by the council. However we do also have an internal management training scheme which aims to train up and make the most of the talent we already have with the aim of keeping them at the council and promoting them to more senior roles. I think being someone’s assistant would be pretty dull but I’d welcome other opportunities for personal development (that would in turn benefit my organisation).

  2. Glad that you liked the Peter Principle. It explains many things =0) However, I think you are conflating two separate issues here.

    The Peter Principle states that in organisational hierarchies *everybody* rises to their natural level of incompetence. So, people leaving who go to other organisations will ultimately rise to their natural level of incompetence as well, they’ll just do it somewhere else.

    In my opinion, the Peter Principle describes (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) a problem with large organisations, not a split between public and private. Most of the issues you describe could similarly apply to large private companies. Have you seen the state of Nokia recently?

    Anyway, back to your idea of running an internal Apprentice. What tasks would you set the candidates?

    How about a task to raise attendance at a swimming pool.? Or extend outreach work with refugees and asylum seekers? Or reduce the levels of rent arrears in council housing?

  3. Enjoyed ‘Business Unit Managers’ quip, real LOL, especially if their company cars are Seats. 😉

    I worked in both the private and public sector and I found two things to be true of LG. “Bright young things” appear, usually from Uni, and blow fresh life into departments and come up with ideas run off with projects. Then with successes under their belt (mostly because they have somehow piped the results of their labour onto your website) they quit and move to another authority in order to upgrade their status and salary.

    This leaves a gaping hole, and projects in full flight with nobody to tender them.

    The other truth I found was the tendency to accumulate “warm bodies”** a direct result of weak management finding themselves absolutely incapable of dealing with poor performance by actually disciplining staff until they perform or quit
    (or maybe fear of union action or because so and so is someone’s brother in law).

    So faced with an atmosphere of nepotism and cronyism and a landscape of dead mans shoes and surrounded by zombies, well, now, why do we keep losing the good people? I am not saying it is everywhere, just that this is more the case than you would find in the private sector, in my humble opinion.

    **Warm bodies : The worker who barely meets the minimum expectations of the job and is thusly shunted from project to project, or team to team. Taken from: Local Government Website Antipatterns – a whimsical list I created some time ago.

  4. […] some positive noises about my previous post I have some rather good […]

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