Grow Your Own
After trialing what Watson describes as a “normal suite” of initiatives to counter the skills shortage, including flexible work opportunities and enhanced incentives, Albury City developed a trainee and apprenticeship program called Grow Your Own five years ago.
“We thought we’d try to address the problem rather than continuing to treat the symptoms. The approach was to try to make our own talent rather than buy talent,” he explains.
Grow Your Own involves providing opportunities to engage an apprentice or trainee for nearly all current and upcoming vacancies at the Council; Watson comments that rather than trainees and apprentices being in addition to the normal workforce complement they are actually part of it.
“The philosophy behind it is to build capacity not only in our own workforce but also within those industries where there is a shortage of qualified people. So rather than take from the pool we wanted to give back to the pool,” he says.
The added bonus to the region is that local people gain relevant qualifications – some up to degree level – and valuable work experience. Positions lie right across the business – engineering, planning, building and surveying, IT, finance, cultural services, mechanics, horticulture – and the program employs around 50 staff at any one time. At around 10% of the workforce it’s not an insignificant figure. Although participants are not guaranteed employment at the conclusion of their time in the program, Watson says a significant number have gained permanent employment both with the Council and other employers around the region.
“When I say they’re not guaranteed a job at the end of it that sometimes is difficult for our supervisory staff to digest as they put time and investment into those people only to see them move on but we need to continue to be mindful of the big picture of what we’re trying to achieve. Our GM was one of the key drivers of the program and he holds the philosophy that we were all given an opportunity at some point in our career to be trained and developed and we should be trying to ensure we continue to provide that to other people.”
An unexpected benefit for Council has been a shift in the demographic profile of employees. Watson says although some mature age employees have moved through the program, the majority are Gen Y and Gen X. He adds that they’ve been able to introduce fresh ideas and new ways of thinking about services and how Council goes about operations.
“That’s resulted in a shift in the culture,” he says. “It’s also shifted some of the perceptions that people had about traditional government employees, and had some spin off benefits in making Albury City a more attractive place to work.”