Personnel Today Awards 2020: Excellence in Public Service shortlist

Network Homes collect their award for Excellence in Public Service HR at the 2019 Personnel Today Awards.

In each of these organisations HR and recruitment specialists have delivered stronger performance, often in difficult circumstances while coming up with innovative solutions to tackle specific challenges and develop the workforce. Below we share the organisations to have made the Personnel Today Awards Excellence in Public Service Shortlist. 

Civil Service HR, Cabinet Office

The Civil Service comprises 450,000 employees with each department being a separate employer with its own HR policies. Civil Service HR provides central support including model policies and cross-Civil Service products.

The organisation has made great strides in supporting carers, having gained 85,000 positive responses when it asked employees whether they had any caring responsibilities.

In 2018, a Carers Charter was adopted by all main departments that sets out the department’s overall commitment to supporting carers and links them and their managers to relevant HR policies and support provided by external organisations. All main departments have also adopted the CS Carer’s Passport, introduced in 2018.

The formation of departmental carer networks across the Civil Service has also been encouraged. These link carers together arranging events and distributing information and each department is urged to appoint a carers’ champion.

Personnel Today Awards 2020

The Personnel Today Awards are going online this year! Register here and join us in celebrating the winners on 26 November.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, HR has issued guidance on caring, explaining the availability of paid special leave where carers are unable to work due to their caring responsibilities and/or the nature of their jobs. Carers have been encouraged to amend their carer’s passport to reflect changed circumstances and to complete a new one where they have become a carer for the first time. Performance is assessed on the basis of revised objectives which reflect reduced hours.

Building on this work, a CS Carers Strategy has now been adopted, its four priorities are:

  • to create a culture where people feel supported in combining work and caring
  • to engage with carers to improve how HR policy takes account of their needs
  • to promote the take-up of new and existing carer provision
  • to develop and recognise departmental provision.

Civil Service HR has started to see signs of positive impact, measured through its annual CS People Survey. The 2019 Employee Engagement Index for Carers increased to 59%, up 4 percentage points since 2016. The number of people recording themselves as carers in 2019 is a significant increase from the 67,000 respondents in 2018.


Department of Health NI with HealthSectorTalent

Health and social care in the UK and Northern Ireland have come under significant pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic and faced very high demands for admission of emergency cases for treatment, including critical care, and access to primary care services. At the same time, health and social care staff and their families have also become infected, creating higher than usual sickness absence.

Northern Ireland’s health and social care system employs 58,000 people and includes the Department of Health, Public Health, 5 NHS Trusts and Northern Ireland’s Ambulance Service.

The challenge involved the need to rapidly build a contingent workforce of both clinicians and support workers including porters, cleaners, cooks and drivers, without knowing the quantity, timing or location in what was a rapidly developing and highly pressurised environment. The campaign also had to facilitate the recruitment of final year medical, nursing and allied health students, alongside doctors and nurses that had either retired or left the profession.

This had to be achieved while remote working and amid travel restrictions and social distancing. Recruitment in Northern Ireland’s health and social care system needed to be reconfigured overnight – attraction, selection and deployment.

The strategy included rapidly creating a recruitment brand for the health and social care system in Northern Ireland; assembling a recruitment project team representing each of the key stakeholders and forming a central recruitment command and control centre to act as a single point of contact for all stakeholders and suppliers.  

Pathways and workarounds were required to be found in terms of overcoming strict protocols around the recruitment of clinical professionals including the application and interview process, employment checks and onboarding in a world of social distancing and remote working.

Over the course of 35 days, the Covid-19 recruitment project team of 162 people working across nine organisations delivered the largest recruitment campaign of its kind in Northern Ireland. A total 20,085 initial expressions of interest (EOI) were received by the campaign with over 4,000 in the first 24 hours of being launched.

A total of 11,642 formal applications were completed representing a 57.9% conversion rate from the expressions of interest received.

The candidate journey was clearly mapped with applicants receiving updates on their progress and a series of service user experience spot checks made to ensure a positive candidate experience.

This large-scale, highly complex and time-sensitive campaign was delivered by a dedicated team of human resources and recruitment professionals operating under extremely high levels of anxiety and constant uncertainty.


Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service

Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service launched a “well4work” scheme in 2013 to support its People Strategy. However, by 2018 sickness absence had increased to 7,078 full time equivalent shifts lost, the employee assistance programme utilisation had fallen to 2% and there were only three post-incident support sessions held, despite many more traumatic incidents being attended by crews.

The challenge was to understand the reasons for the subsequent decline in positive outcomes and take action to improve and develop its health and wellbeing provision further. A review of its health and wellbeing provision was undertaken taking into account statistical information and feedback from managers, employees and employee representatives. This highlighted that steps were still needed to break down barriers in accessing mental health support and that attendance management procedures needed to be further embedded. In addition, it identified the need for senior leadership support and employee involvement in addressing these areas.

This resulted in the introduction of a wellbeing steering group, a higher level of support from the chief fire officer, the setting up of an employee wellbeing support network and a review of post incident support which led to more mental health related training. It was found some crews still regarded using support services as a sign of weakness.

The service has used additional training, from induction onwards, with much higher participation results resulting, with 21 sessions held in 2018, 24 in 2019 and 8 sessions during the first five months of 2020. Excellent feedback was given by employees.

A new provider was selected for the employee assistance programme and since then utilisation of the helpline has increased from a projected 3.6% in the first quarter to an annual utilisation of 10.3% in 2019.

Led by human resources, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service has benefited significantly from these campaigns. Outcomes demonstrate a decrease in sickness absence and associated costs, increases in access to mental health support and an increase in employees’ satisfaction as highlighted in the latest cultural survey. In relation to the statement: ‘I believe that mental health and wellbeing are something that DFRS takes very seriously’ the survey shows an increase from 67% (2018) to 72% (2019).

This is further supported by the HMICFRS inspection which took place in 2019 in which the service was rated outstanding in the way it looks after its staff and their health and wellbeing, including those who have attended traumatic incidents.


Energus – nucleargraduates

The UK’s nuclear industry is facing its biggest challenge in decades. A maturing workforce combined with decommissioning and new projects means it faces a skills gap. The sector needs young, diverse and innovative graduates to meet workforce demand and address the critical engineering, science and commercial skills shortages. The Nuclear Workforce Assessment states that by 2030 the sector will require between 40,000 and 60,000 full time posts.

nucleargraduates is a programme where extraordinary individuals with strong problem-solving ability, flexibility and communication skills get their careers in the industry off to a flying start.

The programme furnishes the graduates with transferrable skills, behavioural competencies and valuable experiences from domestic and international secondments, conferences, and visits, all of which enhance their contribution to their sponsors, future employers, and local, regional and national economies.

It uses strength-based questions, assessing candidate potential rather than experiences. This brings equality for candidates regardless of demographics and backgrounds. Research shows 45% of graduates studied in their home region due to living costs and tuition fees. Therefore, they did not have similar opportunities and experiences to those who relocated.

nucleargraduates recognised individual learning and development needed internal and external support to provide broader experiences and learning opportunities. It considered a dynamic mix of face-to-face experiences, virtual, digital and social learning. Experiential, challenging, and reflective methodologies have been implemented to help graduates explore skills outside of their comfort zone, practice and leave with new skills. Blended learning opportunities allow graduates to undertake some training modules “on the move” or during lunchtimes.We listen to aspirations, open doorways and match skills and knowledge to secondments. Successes can be measured through the programmes average completion rate of 98%. Cohort 11 seen 95% of graduates remain within the Customer group.

nucleargraduates is supporting the changes within the industry and targets included in the Nuclear Sector Deal, and currently has 46% female participation. October 2020 will see the largest ever cohort. Recruiting 50 graduates during a worldwide pandemic has been no mean feat. The programme certainly has proved adaptable, flexible and responsive.


NHS England & Improvement

As the Covid-19 pandemic began to unfold across the world, the chief people officer of the NHS, Prerana Issar with the People Directorate within NHS England and Improvement set up a workforce cell to help the wider NHS plan and respond to the specific needs of staff across the NHS system. Part of the cell’s work, led by Professor Em Brice-Wilkinson was to support the physical, emotional and practical needs of the staff exposed to the increasing demands that health and care staff would be exposed to as a result of the virus.

The approach it took was underpinned with how other incidents of this nature took their toll on staff, and included single incident responses (e.g. London Bombings) through to the larger and longer impact on staff ranging from the gulf war through to the Ebola virus responses. This knowledge helped the organisation to develop a framework to guide the interventions it wanted all staff to have access to and gave us three phases of work; ‘prepare’, ‘active’ and ‘recovery.’

It formed nine steams of work and quickly re-deployed internal teams to support this work, the ability to make a difference through the work and be connected to the clear purpose of the NHS has also benefitted the teams working in this area.

The usual organisational barriers were ignored for this work and colleagues joined from Public Health England and Health Education England to provide excellence in data capture, evaluation and supporting the development of screening tools for the next steps of recovery planning.

The prepare, active and recovery framework for the work and the interventions that were developed were quickly adopted by the Department of Health and Social care so that social care staff could also benefit.

All UK-based professional bodies have come together to support and endorse the work, one example is during mental health week where it agreed the messaging, it would share to encourage staff to access the support offers.

To date it has seen over 3,000 calls to the helpline, 1,400 text conversations, 120,000 downloads of the app and 135,000 visitors to the website. Having access to this data has helped us understand what staff need now, how it can tailor and adapt its model of support and what its next steps need to be. As it moves into the recover stage, it knows from this work that staff will not necessarily feel comfortable to reach out for help, the public regard them as ‘heroes’ and they need support to recognise their own needs. The mental health offer will therefore include an outreach and contact centre for all staff, a website to screen your own mental health and to get the support staff need at a place they feel comfortable with.

The wider impact has been to support the understanding and confidence of its HR and OD teams across the country. As one HR director noted, “this is like a pair of arms being put around me and I can see whether I am doing the right thing locally”.


North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College

North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College (NWSLC) is a large general further education college offering full-time, part-time, higher education and apprenticeship programmes over five campuses. NWSLC employs over 600 people, including 200 teaching staff.

The story of its Health and Wellbeing Strategy started three years ago after the college recognised increasing levels of employee sickness absence and a reduced level of overall engagement amongst staff. In addition, over 18 months, the HR team noted an increasing complexity in the challenges that staff were facing particularly with regards to mental health issues. The HR team identified the need for a strategy that would enhance the level of support for the health and wellbeing of all college employees.

Having successfully achieved buy-in at executive level, the HR team worked to develop the college’s first Health and Wellbeing Strategy, with reference to the entire organisation and a specific focus on its people. The college has been consistently reflective starting with rigorous self-assessment and continuing with an ongoing process of measurement and evaluation.

The HR team put in place a formal communications plan to raise awareness of the health benefits offered by the college and to encourage staff to access the support available.

Overall the package of activities and benefits has been significantly improved and staff have access to health and wellbeing information across all campuses including stress and mental health awareness training; an employee assistance programme that offers six face-to-face counselling sessions; and health assessments for all staff.

A key aspect of the strategy included raising awareness of mental health issues with the introduction of an expectation that all staff work towards a mental health qualification, currently completed by 20% of colleagues.

Initiatives for staff included menopause awareness, treatment Tuesday, diabetic and health assessment clinics, healthy mind initiatives, an office hygiene campaign, ‘Get active’ campaigns, a domestic abuse campaign, and a resilience programme.

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, the college became mindful of the imperative to avoid losing ground on the advances it had made in the arena of health and wellbeing.

Absence relating to mental health issues was reduced by nearly 50% (from 8% to 4.5%). Overall sickness absence was reduced by 3% enabling cost savings of around £160,000. The college has seen a reduction in both long-term and short-term absences. There was a 25% increase in occupational health referrals, an overall increase in early intervention and improved staff awareness.


North Yorkshire Police

An in-depth piece of research looked into how the force would need to adapt its workforce by 2025, concluding that policing North Yorkshire and the City of York in 2025 will look and feel significantly different to how it is now. The force felt it could no longer rely predominantly on traditional methods and approaches that have helped it previously.

As the UK’s largest single county force, it needed to continuously respond to the changing nature of demand for policing, including transfer from local partners (e.g. impact of mental health to operational policing) digital technology (fraud, cyber and sexual offences) and also national/global demand (counter terrorism) serious & organised crime and the specialist capabilities). In addition, it needed to manage public expectations and provide a balanced service through visible police presence, improved customer service and enhanced digital policing capabilities, while generating opportunities to drive down costs and release capacity.

Its 2025 vision gave exceptional insight into the Leader and Colleague of the Future. Traditional approaches to recruitment and assessment were embedded in the organisation and standardised across the force. These processes were neither reflective of the 2025 vision nor capable of giving effective insight into life in the Police Force.

The Talent & Resourcing Team needed the support of the entire force, so gaining buy-in from the chief officer team from the outset was paramount to its success. It was important that the expectations of applicants were managed appropriately and candidate experience was positive. Workshops were held across the force for each rank to inform candidates of the changes and to provide support, advice and guidance where required. In addition, full and comprehensive training was provided to all assessors involved in the selection processes to ensure the quality of hire.

The development of a strengths-levelled framework has allowed the force to tailor its approach for different levels and ranks to ensure that the content and candidate experience was appropriate. It used a range of innovative assessment tools including an online immersive assessment, strengths-based interview, micro exercises and virtual reality. As the first force in the country to utilise virtual reality, the force is using innovative recruitment technology to support its 2025 vision and differentiate North Yorkshire Police from other forces and organisations.

Strengths are now embedded across all the police officer rank structure, as well as some core police staff roles, and focuses on making the culture values-based in support of millennial culture. The new assessment process is used across all promotion boards to maintain a consistent approach to recruitment, and as seen, assessor feedback is excellent.

Candidate scores have gone up significantly with one candidate stating: “This was an absolutely brilliant process from start to finish. I really enjoyed the whole experience, particularly the virtual reality assessment which was absolutely fantastic, and I wish to add was a good way of testing my strengths in a completely new way. I enjoyed completing the application form and was able to use this to demonstrate my strengths and experience.”


Now Teach

Now Teach was founded to provide a pathway for people to change career and train to become teachers. Now recruiting for its fourth cohort it has increased the size of the programme from 35 in the first year to 140 in this its fourth year. The mission was to attract and recruit experienced, successful career-changers into teaching​ and then to support those ‘Now Teachers’, training providers, schools and the wider education system to realise the full potential of having older career changers in the profession.

When Now Teach was first set up the likelihood that a 50-year-old trainee teacher would still be in the classroom a few years later was just 10%. In 2019 Now Teach wanted to achieve the following objectives: attract 100+ high calibre career changers and place them on teacher training programmes and retain over 80% of trainees in the training year.

The first objective for Now Teach is to attract career changers into the classroom. The Department for Education has missed its recruitment target for the past seven years. Particularly alarming is the shortage of STEM and MFL subjects. In physics, for instance, just 43% of the target were recruited. This challenge is particularly acute in challenging schools which is where Now Teach focus its energy.

Now Teach sought to differentiate itself from the main DfE campaign, Get Into Teaching, by launching its own, Your Experience Counts campaign. Believing career changers bring a unique experience into the classroom, to the benefit of the children, fellow teachers, and themselves, it identified an audience of mid-senior professionals with years of experience under their belt looking for a new challenge.

To bolster knowledge of its audience, Now Teach carried out a series of candidate surveys and identified that they are driven by extrinsic and intrinsic motivators of both giving something back, but also learning a new skill and balancing work/life pressures.

Now Teach adapted to this need by working with its training providers to launch the only four days a week, one-year teacher training pathway as well as supplying mentors, coaches and subject knowledge experts to support trainees learning their craft. Flexible working is not prevalent in education and it is immensely proud that 50% of its trainees will be part-time this year. “Teacher burnout” is a significant issue facing education and the more part-time working it can encourage and influence, the better.

One candidate told Now Teach’s onboarding survey: “I really feel that NT has been a phenomenal support network. Everyone I have spoken to has been good, but even the resources online and some of the videos – because of the current situation and not being able to get out there. It helps. I think you’ve bridged this difficult period excellently as an organisation, I’m quite pleased with myself that I came across you guys.”

Now Teach is the first organisation to have been set up to principally support older people transitioning into teaching. Where possible it has taken academic work or studies from other sectors to guide it; however, the offering it has provided for trainees has had to evolve to be based on the needs of trainees.

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