Our people are at the heart of GCS and central to achieving the aspirations set out in this strategy.
The world of work has been transforming, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. This has led to shifting expectations from employees, from more flexibility in the way people work to increasingly flexible career paths and less of an expectation of ‘a job for life’. People are rightly demanding more in terms of sustainability and diversity and inclusion, and as a profession we must respond. Whilst we will always need people with generalist communications skills, we increasingly need people to complement their breadth of knowledge with deep and specialist expertise in one or more areas. That means a re-evaluation of our approach to learning and development, career progression and professional accreditation.
We need brilliant leaders who are collaborative and innovative and able to operate in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world. We need new ways of attracting the best communications talent. A stronger brand and offer will promote GCS as a place that supports innovation and delivers purposeful work that transforms lives. We should also focus on how we recognise and retain talented individuals within the profession, celebrating success and providing opportunity.
Finally, we must challenge ourselves on diversity and inclusion. Increasing diversity is critical to our operational success. We cannot communicate effectively with people across the UK unless we draw our talent from every section of society. We want GCS to be an open and inclusive environment where people know that different views, backgrounds and experiences are welcome. That includes creating more opportunities for people to develop their careers outside London if they choose.
Developing our people and raising professional standards
We must be confident in applying our training in the latest communications practices and techniques, together with demonstrating the deep, specialist expertise and knowledge we need to deliver exceptional communications. We must challenge ourselves to assess both individual ability and team performance with rigour and consistency to create a culture of continuous improvement.
If we want the communications profession to be respected and taken seriously, we need to take our own standards and accreditation more seriously. It is time to move beyond a voluntary approach to improving our skills.
Over the lifetime of this strategy we aim to move from a situation where we have no formal assessment requirements, to having the best professional accreditation of any communications employer in the world. We will create a professional accreditation and qualifications model, working with internal and external partners, to ensure that all communicators are operating at the expected standard and to the benefit of those who are accredited.
The steps to achieving this goal are challenging but identifiable. We will need to develop:
- An understanding of global best practice
- A catalogue of the modern skills and knowledge we need to assess and accredit against
- A funding model to support the programme
- A core curriculum, setting entry and expert level requirements
- An online learning platform that allows people to access learning where and when they need it
- A management information system that tells us who holds what skills and qualifications
- Evaluation and success measures
We will work in partnership with the Government Skills and Curriculum Unit (GCSU) to help drive performance and be a trailblazer for wider reform. General skills required across the civil service, such as understanding Parliament, leadership and management, or project delivery skills, could be provided by the GSCU, with specialist functional communications skills provided by the GCS curriculum.
We will update the existing Modern Communications Operating Model to detail the knowledge, skills and attributes we require of government communicators, ensuring that we capture all the disciplines which are needed across the profession. Alongside this work we will develop a revised and updated Communication Functional Standard to provide rigorous and robust professional standards at all levels so that people know what is expected of them.
We will undertake a GCS wide skills audit to understand where we are now and where we need to get to. We will use the outputs from the recent “Future Communicator” project to articulate the skills that we need and provide clarity for people of what is expected of them at different levels. We will use the data from the skills audit and Future Communicator project to develop new and exciting L&D offerings through our curriculum, working closely with internal and external partners.
We will focus on enhancing our digital and data skills and capabilities, working in partnership with other government professions, GDS and external tech firms to develop a digital learning offer which evolves with the pace of change of technology developments.
Attracting, recruiting and retaining talent
Our aspiration is for GCS to be a destination of choice for communications professionals. We are operating in a competitive environment where it is difficult to attract and retain talent. We must get better at highlighting the exceptional and unique roles and opportunities for Government communicators and be clear about how roles in government can meet the changing expectations of employees.
We need to build a more inspiring and motivating GCS brand to increase our profile and dispel the misconceptions around the profession. We will create a brand strategy to attract more people who have built skills in the private and third sector to government communications. GCS should be something that every credible communicator in the UK wants on their CV. GCS combines purpose led work with an innovative culture. It is a place where people can do the most important work of their career and where there is a genuine opportunity to change our world and people’s lives for the better.
We will also articulate a strong internal ‘GCS People Offer’ so that GCS members know and understand the benefits available to them from being part of the profession. We will aim to increase pride in being part of the profession and in our abilities, having individuals being ambassadors for GCS. We will increase our visibility within the communications industry, and the Civil Service, by active participation and nominations for industry awards and sharing of success stories. We will seek to participate in professional networks, conferences and events where there is a clear opportunity to attract people to work in government communications.
We must also refocus our talent and succession strategy, ensuring that we have the right plans and talent programmes in place to identify future leaders and support people to progress their careers. This will include building a better understanding of our ALB talent pipelines and working collectively to grow and nurture our talent.
To do this we will review our existing talent strategy and programmes to ensure that they meet GCS objectives. We will continue to focus on our early talent strategy. Our flagship apprenticeship and internship programmes are key elements in attracting a diverse external early talent pipeline. Our award-winning apprenticeship attracts 35-40 apprentices each year, with a current retention rate of 97%.
It should be natural for people with careers and skills built in business or the third sector to serve in government for a period, and for those in public service to spend time in organisations which are not dependent on public money. We will develop new entry routes from industry, academia, and the third sector with flexibility to suit those who want to build a career in government and those who want a shorter tour of duty. We will promote secondments to and from private and third sector organisations to learn from each other, build networks and relationships and harness innovative practices. We will ensure there are transparent and consistent processes, effective management of any potential conflicts of interest, and induction which firmly instils the Civil Service Code and its values.
We will support improved recruitment and talent acquisition practices across GCS. This will include:
- Developing a suite of standard job profiles, aligned with the career framework and technical competency framework
- Considering opportunities to increase the centralisation of recruitment for roles in addition to the GCS Faststream and apprenticeship programmes
- Developing relationships with executive search firms for our most senior roles
- Creating a virtual outreach programme ‘Discover GCS’ using communications ambassadors across GCS to build networks and increase awareness of GCS careers
We will develop a consistent GCS induction approach for those new to the profession and a returners’ pack to assist line managers with professionals joining or returning after a secondment, career break, or role outside of GCS.
Building brilliant GCS leaders
Brilliant leadership is crucial to meeting the aspirations of this strategy. We increasingly need leaders that are not only brilliant at communications but are also comfortable working through complexity and ambiguity and that have the ability to inspire and motivate teams.
We will establish a stronger GCS leadership community to grow and learn from each other. This will include dedicated GCS leadership events to enable horizon scanning, thought leadership and leadership development. We will create a leadership community space on the GCS website with updates, blogs, events and networks available to join.
We will identify and invest in skills development for our leaders, through targeted support to ensure we stay up to date as technology and expectations change. We will promote the take up of the Civil Service SCS Leadership Development offer, including talent programmes, the Leadership Academy and Whitehall and Industry Group (WIG) to capitalise on the excellent provision in this space and to foster greater links with other leaders across the Civil Service. We will develop a bespoke GCS leadership induction approach (programme, mentors, buddy) to ensure that our leaders are equipped to flourish in their new role.
We will set clear expectations of our senior leaders so that people know what is required of them and the standards which are expected. We will pull together existing frameworks and standards so that it is clear what they are being assessed against. This will include launching a new leadership capability framework. We will standardise Director of Communications job specifications and technical interviews. We will create a new standard objective for GCS leaders to be included into their performance objectives. We will also focus on identifying and nurturing future leaders, preparing them to be capable of meeting our future challenges and our vision for GCS. We will create an active talent management approach for people identified as being future Directors of Communications.
We will refresh the Heads of Discipline roles, which are responsible for leading the continuous improvement and professional development within individual communications discipline. Heads of Discipline will be recruited on a rolling two year basis, and will be expected to dedicate at least 20% of their time to building capability and providing leadership in their discipline. We will publish an update description for heads of discipline roles clearly setting out the expected contribution and responsibilities.
Creating a more diverse and inclusive GCS
We cannot communicate effectively with people across the UK if we do not draw on a wide range of experiences and perspectives. This is about increasing diversity of thought as well as representation, but we know there is progress to be made in increasing the proportion of people from under-represented groups in GCS – for example people from ethnic minorities and people with a disability in our senior ranks.
We take collective responsibility across our organisations for creating a culture where people’s differences are valued and individuals can build a successful career regardless of background. Creating a diverse and inclusive profession is a responsibility that each of us should make a priority, regardless of grade, background, or organisation.
The GCS has in place a comprehensive programme that drives our Diversity and Inclusion work. We are driving change and tangible actions through our professional standards, D&I groups and talent and development activities.
Examples of change being delivered include our D&I in Practice group that drives diversity in our communication practice, targeted positive action through our Internship and Apprenticeship schemes, and our Power of Choice accelerated development programme for Grade 6s. We have a GCS Shadow Board who help challenge thinking and bring diversity of thought to leadership discussions, and we have a mutual mentoring programme ‘Connecting Diverse Voices’.
We will increase the ambition of our diversity and inclusion action plan, and will set out clear measures of progress. It will be updated in line with the newly launched civil service D&I strategy. It will include a focus on how we collect and use data to provide benchmarks; how we take targeted action on representation; and how we build an inclusive culture.
Today the latest data we have suggests that just under 14% of GCS members are from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, but only 9% of our senior leaders are. We need broader, and more robust data on the diversity of our profession, and on the teams within GCS, that we can then use to set ambitious goals for representation and inclusion. We will also use the data to provide targeted support for individuals to enter and flourish within the Communications profession, recruiting from a wider pool of talent, as well as working on promotion and progression.
To do this we will work across GCS to collect and analyse data to establish the current landscape, drawing on data in GCS staff surveys as well as wider civil service data.
We will celebrate and share successes across the profession from a wide range of projects, disciplines and teams, ensuring that authenticity comes through across our content. We will set out guidance and best practice for departments on diversity and inclusion, with a checklist of steps that each communications team should consider taking. We will make sure government communications campaigns take into account the need to reflect and reach a diverse range of audiences.
We will evaluate our diversity focused talent programmes to ensure they are increasing representation, inclusion and diversity of thought, and are focused on the right areas.
We will use our GCS shadow board, affinity groups on specific aspects of diversity, and working groups on diversity and inclusion more widely, to keep improving how we include a range of diverse voices in the governance and programme delivery.
Creating careers across all four corners of the UK
49% of GCS roles are based in London, with 41% across the rest of the UK and 2% based internationally (we do not have a recorded location for the remainder). However, in central government departments 81% of roles are based in London. Furthermore, the vast majority of our senior civil service posts are based in London.
We will create more opportunities for people to develop their careers outside of London. The business case for doing this is clear. It will enable us to better reflect the views of citizens in all parts of the country and allow us to draw on a wider pool of talent. We want GCS to be an exemplar function across the Civil Service in driving this change. This will require collaboration and buy-in from senior leaders in Departments across the Civil Service to drive a step change in our location footprint.
We will create the first GCS location strategy in collaboration with Places for Growth and Directors of Communication across the Civil Service. The strategy will include a target for the number of GCS roles in Whitehall Departments to be based outside of London by 2025. We will develop regional networks of communications professionals and we will set up hubs for communicators in different departments to work together.
Directors of Communication across GCS will commit that all SCS comms roles will, by default, be advertised in at least one location outside of London. We must focus on how we build sustainable career pathways outside London, with an emphasis on promoting pathways to the Senior Civil Service without having to work in Whitehall.