A home-grown approach to building talent

Attracting and retaining quality staff isn’t an issue exclusive to large metropolitan Councils; their Regional counterparts face the same challenges compounded by skill shortages and smaller talent pools in their communities.

AlburyCity is addressing the problem with an innovative approach based on an old philosophy: Grow your own.

In 2007, AlburyCity introduced a traineeship program to address its workforce shortage by taking the bold step of structuring nearly all of Council’s vacancies in a way that they could be offered as traineeships or apprenticeships. 

Targeting school-leavers, university and TAFE students and mature age workers looking for a career change, the ‘Grow Our Own’ program offered opportunities in everything from horticulture to finance.

“We had introduced flexible work opportunities and other incentives to attract and retain staff, but this was a new direction for us,” says AlburyCity’s Group Leader of HR Murray Watson.

 “We decided to address the problem at its core by targeting and developing talent from within.

“It’s generally local people who are employed in the ‘Grow Our Own’ program.  We view this as a positive way to support local employment. We have also noticed that younger people joining Council has led to a shift in demographic and culture. They’re brimming with ideas and enthusiasm and they are a real asset to the organisation,” he says.

While staff at AlburyCity spend time grooming the next generation of town planners, engineers and child care workers, ‘Grow Our Own’ doesn’t actually guarantee each participant ongoing employment at the end of their traineeship.

Although the program has been an effective way to address the skill shortage, AlburyCity has used ‘Grow Our Own’ for a broader aim: Creating a skilled workforce that can contribute to specific industries rather than just local government.

As one traineeship ends, Council is on the lookout for the next wave of employees looking for an opportunity.

“The philosophy behind it is to build capacity not only in our own workforce but also within those industries where there is a shortage of qualified people. So rather than take from the pool we wanted to give back to it as well,” Murray says.

Offering apprenticeships and traineeships is nothing new; the difference with AlburyCity’s ‘Grow Our Own’ initiative is that apprentices and trainees become an integral part of the Council’s workforce rather than an addition to it. Currently, 10 percent of AlburyCity’s workforce is made up of trainees and apprentices.

Traineeships range from three to six years depending on the position and the associated qualification. It allows trainees to gain valuable on-the-job work experience and formal qualifications towards their course or degree.

The program is fully funded by AlburyCity, with trainees working full-time while studying off-the-job and AlburyCity paying course fees and material costs and offering dedicated coaching and mentoring.