Roundtable write-up: Opportunities for students and graduates within local government organisations

Marina Tapley, Policy and Research Officer at Yorkshire Universities

In April 2023, Yorkshire Universities (YU) held a joint roundtable on Opportunities for students and graduates within local government organisations. This roundtable brought together careers staff from the universities and recruitment and HR staff from local government to explore potential for further collaboration and coordination around local government organisations role as employers. This blog sets out the context for this work, gives an overview of background work to understand existing relationships between Higher Education (HE) and local government and outlines areas for further collaboration that were highlighted in the discussion.  

This roundtable was part of YU’s broader workstream on graduate talent that is led by our Graduate Implementation Group following the publication of our collaborative report on Supporting Graduate Employment and Employability in Yorkshire in May 2022, written by a multi-stakeholder Task and Finish Group, including representatives from Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships. The report highlighted the importance of working on a regional level to improve coordination and collaboration across the HE sector and with partners.  

Universities recognise the important role of Local Authorities (LAs) and Combined Authorities (CAs) as large employers with a wide range of opportunities that can support the experience and employment of students and graduates. Collaboration in this area is beneficial to both sectors as Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can support local government organisations to access the skills and talent they need to fill skills gaps and support the broader development of their organisations. Collaboration in this area is also situated in the broader context of the value of investing in higher-level skills as a means to improve productivity and prosperity in the region. 

Collaboration between the HE and local government sectors is an ongoing priority in Yorkshire following the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between YU and Yorkshire & Humber Councils (YHC) in July 2021. The MoU is a framework for improved collaboration, which identifies areas of joint working to improve the prosperity and wellbeing of people, places and businesses in the Yorkshire and Humber region. In meetings between the YU Vice Chancellors and the YHC Chief Executives, addressing skills gaps, graduate retention and utilisation, and improving the demand side of graduate employment have been identified as important areas.  

Existing relationships  

Ahead of the roundtable YU engaged with HE and local government colleagues to gather information on existing activities, graduate recruitment, what works well, and key asks for potential improvements. YU gathered responses from all careers staff at all 12 YU member HEIs and also put out a survey to local government HR, recruitment and organisational development colleagues, which received 11 responses. The local government responses were from seven local authorities and one combined authority across three sub-regions and had a mix of areas with and without a university within their boundaries. The full presentation of the finding of this work can be accessed in the form of slides or a recording.  

At the roundtable, a range of existing collaborative activity was highlighted ranging across: advertising opportunities for volunteering, apprenticeships, placements, internships and recruitment; student engagement, through the curriculum and external events; workforce training and development; joint work on inclusive recruitment; advice and support around recruitment and skills gaps; and broader engagement including links research, innovation, business support, community engagement and place marketing. There was an overview of the findings of the survey as to the level of geography that local government organisations primarily focus each type of activity to engage with students and graduates. Many examples of projects and activities that exemplify good practice were also highlighted.  

There was a detailed examination of dedicated routes to graduate recruitment, exploring existing schemes, such as LGA National Graduate Development Programme, as well as barriers for authorities without dedicated graduate routes, which were most often staff capacity and budget. YU also presented on the skills gaps local government organisations identified that universities could help them with in the survey, with the most common areas reported relating to digital and sustainability.   

Potential for further collaboration  

The discussion section of the roundtable session build on the responses gathered on what works well about existing relationships and what the ‘key asks’ are for potential improvements. A key area that was highlighted to strengthen collaboration was improved structures for clearer communication, which builds on the ongoing work of the YU Graduate Implementation Group and will be picked up by upcoming work to establish clearer entry points into HE, those interested in contributing to this work can express their interest here. There was also interest in joint-working on key themes such as equality, diversity and inclusivity, building on the launch of a Regional Inclusive Recruitment Guide and the work of the EDI Planning Group. Another specific area of potential activity raised was influencing the curriculum and in curriculum projects, there is ongoing work across YU in this area through an ongoing pilot project exploring sustainability service learning that could be built on.  

Additional areas of potential further collaboration raised that could be scoped through the structures for communication included individual authorities working with university careers staff on the development of recruitment practices to ensure a consistent, attractive offer and to remove barriers in the recruitment process. There was also a suggestion to develop broader collaborative work exposing students and graduates to the breadth of opportunities available in local government organisations. A range of further specific initiatives were suggested covering a range of collaborative areas, which would require further work from across various parts of the institutions involved including around: short courses, leadership and management training for the public sector, and the development of the LLE; apprenticeships; internships; and links between skills and innovation agendas. The structures that YU is putting in place, or developing, in this area should enable additional connections in these areas where there is shared interest.  

The outcomes of the roundtable discussion have been presented at the next meeting of the YU Vice Chancellors and the YHC Chief Executives as part of updates on the progress of implementing the MoU. These discussions will feed into the workstream of the YU Graduate Implementation Group for the coming academic year.

Universities and Local Government Roundtable – Analysis

Universities and Local Government Roundtable Recording

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