Aim for the right mix

In 1998, the government made a commitment to make the Civil Service more open and diverse, setting targets to be achieved by 2004-05, some of which have been met.

But there is still much to be done. Applications from ethnic minorities fell from 17% in 2002 to 16.3% in 2003. The proportion of successful candidates from ethnic minorities in the Civil Service fell from 9.7% in 2002 to 7.8% in 2003. As ethnic minorities progress through its Fast Stream recruitment selection stages, they tend to be less successful than white candidates: 1.2% of non-white candidates were recommended for appointment in 2003, compared to 2.5% overall.

Some 3.5% of successful candidates declared a disability in 2003. This was down from 3.9% the previous year, but disabled applicants were proportionally more successful.

The Civil Service has transferred the initial stage of its Fast Stream recruitment process online, featuring a new range of tests developed with HR consultancy, Cubiks. These include a pre-selection job preview and competency and cognitive tests. The aim of using the internet is to make the recruitment process easily accessible to all, including those who do not traditionally see the Civil Service as a career option.

“We are attempting to demystify and open up the recruitment process and make it more diversity friendly. Going online has helped us do that, with people driving themselves through the process,” says Yvette Radford-Foley, head of Fast Stream, European and recruitment.

As Fast Stream is responsible for rec-ruiting tomorrow’s leaders, it plays a key role in addressing diversity. To bring more ethnic minorities through the Fast Stream process, this year, the Cabinet Office is weighting cognitive and competency tests differently, and has introduced another step to the selection process, the electronic in-tray (e-tray) work simulation exercise.

“We are weighting competency tests against cognitive tests to optimise the share of ethnic minority graduates. At this point in the sifting process, we used to turn 90% of candidates away as we only needed 10%, but we have now introduced another step, allowing us to bring 50% of candidates on to the new e-tray stage,” says Radford-Foley.

Although other recruiters use electronic in-tray exercises, this was a significant change for the Cabinet Office, according to John Harradence, chief psychologist at the Civil Service Selection Board.

“We are trying to improve the situation. Research over many years has identified the problem of negative impact on ethnic minorities where cognitive reasoning is concerned. But it has been unable to pinpoint why it occurs. We do know that the greater the selection load placed on the test, the worse the impact. So we have minimised this by limiting its use to screen out the lowest-scoring candidates,” he says.

Early indications point to some success. “We are still in the process of evaluation and this is only part of the picture, but the results so far show it has worked reasonably well, with the adverse negative impact much less marked. We’re not sure whether we’ve just transferred the problem to a later stage,” says Harradence.

Following the redesign with Cubiks, potential Fast Stream online applicants can undertake a self-assessment of their likely match to Fast Stream requirements. The job preview tool allows them to build a realistic picture of working life in the Fast Stream. It attracts initial interest from 30,000 potential applicants each year for around 500 posts, and, traditionally, one of the problems has been that candidates have little perception of the calibre and type of people required.

“We have introduced the job preview so people can get a realistic understanding of Fast Stream requirements, which are very demanding,” says Radford-Foley.

“We get interest from large numbers of people [who are] unlikely to be successful. We don’t want to put people off the Civil Service as an employer, so it’s better they make a realistic decision about whether to proceed than be rejected later,” she adds.

The job preview presents candidates with a series of scenarios, giving feedback on how effective their behaviour choices would be.
“We wanted something customised to reflect the complexity and contextual way in which information is presented, testing against the sorts of analysis and decision-making we require,” says Radford-Foley.

The Cabinet Office monitors the results of the self-assessment tests to build up patterns of candidates’ reactions and help ensure self-assessment does not impact negatively on any particular group.

In 2000, the Cabinet Office piloted the Summer Development Programme for potential ethnic minority Fast Streamers. The programme offers candidates a six- to eight-week training placement in participating government departments. It also includes a three-day residential training course, to give candidates an overview of current graduate recruitment processes used by most organisations. A mentoring element was introduced last year.

“This training experience is significant because we have found ethnic minorities’ experience tends to be more focused in other areas. The programme is very powerful in debunking the myths of working in the service,” says Radford-Foley.

The summer programme is supplemented by three-day residential training courses in autumn and winter for ethnic minorities. This year, a training course is being added in the spring, as well as a skills workshop to take around new universities to help improve employability skills for undergraduates from non-traditional universities.

“The Civil Service is not traditionally seen as an attractive career path for the best ethnic minority graduates, who tend to go into professions such as investment banking, accountancy, law, dentistry and management consultancy. Not many have contacts within the service, so it is partly a networking issue,” says Murryam Anwar, outreach executive.

The Fast Stream marketing team also attends graduate careers fairs, diversity fairs and makes presentations to around 25 universities a year to promote its diversity and Fast Stream programmes.

The 2004 ethnic minority summer development programme received more than 600 applications, with 105 candidates given training and work placements for six to eight weeks in 22 government departments. This year, there are 111 placements.

According to data gathered by the Fast Stream marketing team, from 2001 onwards, some 58% of ethnic minority scheme participants responding to surveys applied for the Fast Stream. The majority failed at the qualifying test stage. This was prior to the introduction of the e-tray exercise. But in 2004, the scheme produced four Fast Streamers – representing 25% of participants.

A total of 90% of respondents said the residential training course had improved their perceptions of the Civil Service.

Two years ago, the Cabinet Office introduced the Summer Placement Scheme, providing undergraduates and graduates with disabilities work experience within participating government departments. Both summer programmes have grown year on year.

The Cabinet Office has launched a full evaluation programme examining all aspects of diversity within its recruitment activities, and looking at how predictive its tests are of eventual success, as well as how they impact on various diverse groups.

“Over the last five to 10 years, we have changed the profile of the types of candidates we require, with much more emphasis on strong interpersonal abilities and the ability to create policies that can actually be delivered and communicated,” says Radford-Foley.

“We now need to look at whether to increase our activity in diversity targeting, outreach and advertising, and whether there are any fundamental changes we need to make.”

She says that in terms of attracting ethnic minority applicants, one of the areas the Cabinet Office wants to look at is targeting people who initially went into employment in the private sector, but who are now looking for opportunities in the public sector.

“We know there is a lot of talent out there. We have already had some success through individual networking, but we want to look at how to be more strategic about this,” says Radford-Foley.

The Cabinet Office will also be looking at making alliances with recruitment sites for CV matching and databases that segment ethnic minority groups in particular.

“Our ideal would be for minority groups to compete successfully in equal numbers as their white counterparts, as is the case now with women,” says Radford-Foley.

“It’s an area where we work very hard to get very small gains, but being more diverse is genuinely a priority for us. We are committed to making the whole of the senior Civil Service as representative of the population we serve,” says Harradence.

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