Comms apprenticeships: finding people who look, sound and think differently

Blog post by Alexis Bailey, Head of Digital Engagement, Department for Communities and Local Government – @MsAlexisBailey

Thursday 24 March 2016

I was delighted when the Government Communication Service asked me to work with them on a new apprenticeship scheme. The project involved two things I feel passionately about.

Firstly the scheme aims to recruit applicants from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and from working class backgrounds, because these groups are underrepresented in government. Being mixed race and working class myself, it’s impossible not to notice the lack of diversity in the Civil Service, especially in more senior roles.

Coming from an arts marketing background, it’s not the first time I’ve worked in an industry that struggles to recruit and retain BAME and working-class employees. According to the 2011 census, over half the people in London are from BAME backgrounds. The Great British Class survey found that nearly half of the British population identify with being working class. So why is government full of pale, stale males?

A bit of research told me that people see government as intimidating and bureaucratic. People who don’t conform to the white, male Oxbridge stereotype can’t see themselves fitting in. Lots of people still think apprenticeships are low paid and only for manual work.

The second thing that attracted me to working on the project is that it involves digital communications – right up my street.

We agreed a strategy to:

  • be open about the lack of diversity in government, and the need to address it. We want our communications staff to reflect, and understand, the audiences we’re communicating with
  • highlight the exciting range of issues that government communicators work on – from fire safety to superfast broadband to getting more girls interested in engineering – and the opportunity to contribute new ideas
  • avoid the bland, formal language often used in government and make our communications accessible to everyone
  • let people know it’s about working and training, and the salary’s actually pretty good

We found young BAME and working-class civil servants to talk about their work in the hope that they would inspire young people from similar backgrounds to want to follow in their footsteps.

Sarb Atwal Rabi Wilson Patrick Wanzala-Ryan Amina Makele

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to plug our scheme during National Apprenticeships Week so we launched our web page and spread our content far and wide on social media using #NAW2016.

It hasn’t been easy finding people and organisations with links to the groups that we want to reach. It made me realise what a long, slow process networking can be. It’s worth the effort because once you find someone who has the kind of network you need you can save so much time by getting them to help spread the word instead of starting from scratch by yourself. I was lucky enough to meet the directors of Creative Access, who have placed 500 BAME interns in the creative industry. Their tips and contacts were really helpful.

I’m looking forward to finding out whether we succeed in attracting a wide range of people from different backgrounds to the scheme when it opens next month. It won’t change the lack of diversity in government overnight, but it could be a good place to start.

The scheme is now open and ready to be applied for.

To view the regional opportunities, see below.

View our London opportunities

View our Meyseyside opportunities