Alex Aiken introduces the GCS Career Framework

Blog post by Alex Aiken

Thursday 28 November 2019

Alex Aiken, Executive director of government communications, introduces the GCS career framework. The framework can be used to help you to develop your career, as well as improve your skills, raise professional standards and deliver outstanding campaigns.

Alex Aiken

I’ve been lucky in my career to cover most of the areas of professional practice that comprise “communication”. 

I started off as a press officer, and thought for some time that this was the main tool of our work. I was offered, and accepted a role in ‘campaigns’ and discovered a whole new set of tools. Then I was challenged to set up an internal communication team, an area of work where I was initially sceptical but soon convinced of its worth. Learning about strategy, management and leadership followed and I created an in-house design team, an evaluation capability and a digital unit whilst working at Westminster Council.

So my career journey to date has taught me of the value of all the communication disciplines and that they are much more powerful when deployed together and in support of one another. The communications landscape is constantly changing, and as professionals we must change with it. Our practices and the skills we all possess need to constantly evolve, keep pace with rapid technological and societal change, all while remaining completely audience-focused. 

Introducing the GCS career framework

That’s why we have developed the GCS career framework, to support you in developing your career and provide a guide to the core standards required of different job roles and different grades. I hope that it enables you to take a more logical and considered route than I have taken. We are a profession that sets an exceptional standard of effective and efficient communication, as evidenced by our skilled people, canon of professional practice, and world-leading campaigns. But we cannot rest on our laurels. 

Recruitment, development and retention of our exceptional people is essential to building a successful function and profession, and with your help we will continue to develop resources like the career framework to improve ourselves and each other, as part of the ‘Our People’ strand of GCS 2020

As a leading function and profession, we have maintained a relentless focus on raising our standards and improving the quality of the public service we deliver, as recognised by the Government Functional Standard GovS011: Communication (which can be used alongside the framework and MCOM2.0 to inform your professional development plans). Our collective understanding of the skills we need is at the heart of our campaigns and cross-government collaboration; this new framework builds on that shared understanding.

This framework is for everybody interested in developing a career in government communication – whether you’re working in a policy role and want to move into communications, a longstanding member of GCS looking to progress your career, or a school leaver exploring apprenticeship opportunities.

Highlights of the framework

Here are some of the main things you need to know about the GCS career framework: 

Firstly, the framework provides a snapshot of core communications disciplines as reflected in the MCOM model. It includes an overview of skills, experience and capability needed in different disciplines and job roles, and case studies from staff across departments and ALBs. The framework is mapped to Success Profiles and can be used by everyone in the GCS as part of their Personal Development Plan. 

This is not simply about promotion. The purpose of the framework is to signpost to the GCS professional development offer available to you as a member of GCS, to highlight opportunities to build breadth and depth of expertise within the profession. I was a press officer for three years, and it took me four years to build a really effective team in my first Head of Communication role. Hard work, delivering great campaigns and consistent development build the experience and capability you need to progress. The development offer also helps to set out the opportunities for learning and relevant skills for the role at each level/grade, from technical skills to leadership capability.

For leaders, recruiting and line managers, the framework is an essential tool for developing your team’s skills and capabilities. It can be used as part of career or personal development conversations to help your member of staff consider the breadth of experience and skills to cover, and help in the process of recruiting exceptional people to our profession.

Finally, the framework builds on the Government Communications Plan, which focuses on ways that communicators can help strengthen our democracy and maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom, maintain the highest standards of professional practice, and help our communities through the provision of timely, relevant and accurate information.

Creating an exceptional communication profession

I believe strong communication professionals should have expertise across all disciplines, developing a breadth of communication and leadership experience gained internally and outside of the Civil Service before progressing to more senior posts. Leaders at all levels across GCS have a critical role in inspiring great performance, providing visible leadership and direction, and nurturing talent and creativity. Every single one of you can have an exciting and fulfilling career here in government communication. 

I’m really grateful to the Directors of Communication who helped build the Framework and to the GCS Professional Standards team who have designed, written and brought it to life. Thank you to those professional colleagues for their expertise. Now it is up to us to make use of it for our personal and professional benefit. 

I look forward to working with you as we use this framework to create an exceptional communication profession.

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