Jenny O’Neill, Workforce Management Manager at Buckinghamshire County Council, tells AG how her Council is focusing across the age spectrum in the search for talent

There is a common myth that older people are no longer valued and no longer needed in the workplace. But I can assure you that is simply miles from the truth here at Buckinghamshire County Council.

While we are rightly thrilled at the success of our recent graduate training programme, the search continues unabated for experienced staff to join us. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the world of social work where there remains a shortage of skilled practitioners. Many fantastic workers who have left us and other authorities would be welcomed back with open arms.

Of course, we want fresh new talent and we need to ‘grow our own’ experts of the future, but there is no substitute for an older, wiser head which has seen and done it all before. Hiring older employees will also allow us to give the younger ones valuable support in the shape of official or unofficial mentors as they develop their careers.

And don’t forget, the more mature staff were once young blood too and went through years of training, which will all be left neglected on the shelf if we don’t do more to encourage them back into the market-place.

One such example is our Return to Social Work Programme aimed at experienced professionals who have taken a career break. We are well aware that there are likely to be a number of people out there with skills to match our needs, who may need just a bit of encouragement or support in raising their confidence to return to the workplace.

Our ideal candidate would be a social worker who has had a minimum of 3 years’ experience within Children and Families services. We are hoping to recruit locally as we have found these are the people more likely to stay and are offering refresher training and shadowing days.

The purpose is to give the returning workers what they need with regards to CPD requirements for registering/re-registering with the Health & Care Professionals Council, which they must do in order to practice as a social worker in England. At the end of the programme, we will offer them a guaranteed place on one of our recruitment days, hopefully leading to a position.

We are not alone in our views. I was interested to read a story at the end of January on this very subject on the website of the CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development. This told how research by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation showed businesses need to adjust the way they advertise jobs and provide training opportunities or miss the best candidates in the over 55-age group.

However, as I stressed at the start, we are interested in talent across all age ranges and believe that a flexible, innovative approach to resourcing is key to attracting and developing our own stars of tomorrow.

When we re-introduced our graduate management development programme in early 2013 we weren’t sure what response we would get. We were out of synch with the normal milk round and we wondered whether a local government scheme would attract the quality of applicants we hoped for. We needn’t have worried. Our results delighted us.

Candidates repeatedly said they were interested in us because they were looking for a career that offered more than just a paycheque. They were excited by the challenge and variety of local government offered. They appreciated the opportunity to work alongside Cabinet Members and the Chief Officer’s Management team at such an early stage in their career and recognised they wouldn’t get that sort of contact in many other organisations.

But not only that, but the feedback we received about our recruitment process also told us that what we did really encouraged talented young people to want to work for us.

What we did wasn’t complicated. We told a story about what it was like to work for the Council; and in the main, did it through the voices and video clips of talented young people already working with us – helping to present a candid, friendly face of the organisation.

Once we had pre-screened applicants, we moved on to telephone interviews giving us an early opportunity to engage directly. We started a conversation and made the process personal. By the time applicants were invited to assessment centres, we were already getting to know them and starting to share a story.

By the time we offered jobs, we had an established trainee group with their own closed Facebook group, who were supporting each other before they even started work.

So how do we learn the lessons from that success, with something else such as experienced social worker recruitment?

The challenge for social worker recruitment is well documented and there is no magic wand to wave at this – but the lessons around candidate engagement and employment proposition are just as important for experienced professionals.

We need to ask ourselves whether we really tell the employment storey as clearly, engage with candidates as effectively, on-board them as sensitively. The approaches may need to be a bit different – online, telephone or face to face – but it’s the personal contact that’s important.

Making people feel valued and connected is a critical part of resourcing for talent. Being clear that we welcome diversity and that we want to encourage those with relevant skills and experience back into the workplace. Letting people know that we provide great training and development. People want to work for organisations they respect, with people they like, doing a job they will enjoy and which they believe will make a difference.

People will perform better when they are supported and valued. And people will join organisations where they believe these things happen.

Lots of people come to work for reasons other than money, such as a sense of job satisfaction, working for a great team and performing a role that is making a difference. And I’m happy to add that this is why people right through the age spectrum choose to work for Buckinghamshire County Council.

If you want to find out more about opportunities at our Council, contact Diane Murphy at: or on 01296 383047


Jenny O’Neill

Workforce Management Manager

Buckinghamshire County Council


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