Having recently completed the National Graduate Development Programme, Petra Smith, 27, is already in the prestigious role of Catford Town Centre manager, a job in which she is expected to increase the economic viability of the area. "It’s incredibly varied,’ she says. "The kinds of things I get involved in are security measures, environmental measures and physical regeneration." Finance Trainee, currently with the environment and customer services finance division
She loves seeing the difference her work makes to the streets. She comments, "It’s so satisfying to actually see how businesses and visitors benefit from it." Petra knew she wanted to apply her geography degree in the workplace, preferably in urban management. But having got a 2:1 from Newcastle University in 1999, she also knew she wanted some time out first. After three years of teaching English in Japan, she returned to do an MSc in Cities, Space and Society, and it was while she was there that she noticed an ad for the graduate scheme.
"I liked the idea of working in the public sector. It’s that corny old thing of wanting to make a difference," she says. In her first year, Petra was employed as a project officer, and was placed in three different departments across the council. "A typical project involved auditing all the sports facilities across the borough and making suggestions for future investment, whilst another involved me setting up the whole scheme for the council to licence shops to have displays on the pavement outside their shops."
In her second year, Petra undertook several projects at once. "One was a homeless temporary accommodation review. That was hard because my report wasn’t good news for managers, but it was good experience." Another project involved helping the council achieve ‘fair trade borough’ status. "I worked with local businesses to stock Fairtrade products," she says.
The studying element of the graduate programme consisted of four residential training courses over four years, covering soft management skills, as well as six residential modules for the graduate diploma in local government management. "It was so useful being able to apply what we learned in practice immediately," she recalls. Equally helpful was having an internal and external mentor, she says. "When I was looking for jobs towards the end of the programme, my external mentor was brilliant at helping me focus on identifying my skills and working out what I really wanted to do."