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Helen Lesowiec – management trainee – local government

Case study, Management, Public Sector April 3, 2009

Helen Lesowiec - management trainee - local government

Name: Helen Lesowiec
Age: 22 years old
Degree and university: History BA (Hons) at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford
Job Title: National Management Trainee (NMT) on the National Graduate Development Programme for local government (NGDP). This two-year scheme combines high-level work placements at a host council with academic study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Local Government Management (PDLGM) at Warwick University.

What do you actually do? I am based at Reading Borough Council and am currently on my fourth placement – I have previously worked in Business Transformation, Environmental Health and Culture, and I am now working in the School Improvement Team, looking at ways of raising attainment at Key Stage 2.

It is difficult to describe the typical work of an NMT as the placements cover strategic, frontline and support services and involve working in lots of different parts of the council and even with external partners. However, NMTs are often in management level roles, working on projects, writing policies, managing partnerships and stakeholders and developing solutions to challenging problems.

Why did you decide to go into the Public Sector? I knew that I wanted to do something meaningful in my career and so have always been drawn to the Public Sector. Local government particularly appealed to me because it is so close to local communities and has a tangible impact on so many people’s lives. It is also an incredibly varied sector and as one of the largest employers in the UK there is no shortage of opportunities for career development.

How did you find this course? I came across the NGDP at a careers fair during my final year of university and found out more about it through the website. I really liked the combination of useful experience with further study. Although the recruitment process took a long time, I was really pleased when I was accepted onto the scheme and I was lucky enough to get my first choice for the region I wanted to work in.

Would you undertake further training to gain promotion? I definitely want to continue learning throughout my career, both formally and informally. After completing the PDLGM there is the option of converting it into an MSc in Public Management – I have really enjoyed studying alongside my day job and would certainly be interested in carrying it on into a Masters. I would also consider more specialist training if I had a particular area of interest.

What do you most like about what you do and are there any downsides? The opportunity to do challenging, meaningful work is what motivates me and it is wonderful to work with people who share that Public Sector ethos. Where I am based at the moment for example, everything is driven by the needs of the children of Reading and that is really inspiring.

Being on the scheme has also been invaluable for the contacts and networks it opens up – on my first day I was introduced to the Chief Executive and since then I have been able to work with directors and the Leader of the council as well as senior representatives from other private, public and third sector organisations. The PDLGM and contact with NMTs at other councils is a useful way of seeing the wider local government context.

Although it is great to have such opportunities, the work can be daunting at first – at the start of each placement you are thrown in at the deep end, often working in areas which are completely new to you. Being young can also be a challenge when you have to influence, negotiate with and manage people who may have worked in their particular area for many years.

Being in a large complex organisation is also a challenge – progress can be slow at times and there is a fair bit of bureaucracy which can be frustrating.

What skills do you think you need to succeed in this sector? Being proactive is essential – there are so many opportunities available and it is important to make the most of them. People skills are also vital – so much of my work has involved consultation with internal and external stakeholders, listening, negotiating, persuading and trying to collectively agree the best course of action.

What advice would you give other graduates? I would encourage people to think seriously about local government as a career choice. Councils often get a bad press and people do not always realise just how much goes on in local government – from economic regeneration to social care to education and the arts, local government is about far more than just bin collections. I would definitely recommend the NGDP scheme as an excellent way into the sector, but there are many other routes as well. If you are looking for job vacancies, or individual council websites are a good place to start.

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