Awareness week helps build momentum with Mental Health Action Plan

Our first ever Mental Health Awareness Week took place earlier this month and I must thank everyone who worked so hard to make it happen and all who took part in what was a packed programme of events.

Hundreds attended the sessions that were held at various locations and the support shown by staff is really encouraging.

The events were another important step in the implementation of our Mental Health Action Plan, with many positive steps already taken and lots more in the pipeline.

Since the introduction of the plan earlier this year we have recruited our first cohort of mental health first aiders, who are currently undergoing training, and have introduced mentally healthy workplace training through OIL.

The introduction of monthly events has begun and is being developed further, with partnership working also expanded to harness the support of the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and the Samaritans. Our contract with Time for Talking is also important, providing a free and confidential service to staff and family members who live in the same household by calling 0800 970 3980.

Further information about the initiatives can be found at People Anytime, with the awareness week part of the ongoing focus on mental health.

Developed in partnership with the NHS, Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and the third sector, the purpose of the week was to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and to begin breaking down some of the taboos and stigma associated with poor mental health.

A programme of 28 events was developed, ranging from traditional talks and training opportunities to mindfulness and wellbeing sessions.

Members of the organising committee also took information on the road to some of our schools and depots to ensure all our colleagues had the opportunity to take part.

I know we are all busy and I’d like to thank everyone who attended for taking time out of their day to find out more and to access the support and resources that are available.

 My appreciation also goes to the team who pulled the programme together and our excellent guest speakers for their valuable input.

From the Council this included Jenny Styles, Anna Bennett, Fiona Lindsay, Andrew MacDonald, Louise Ironside, Martin Wyllie, David Keith, Baldeep McGarry, Jayne Boyle, Darren Smith, Tracey Buchan, Andrew Moat, Caroline Duguid and Chris Smillie.

The NHS team of Russell Arthur, Fiona Musk and Liz Howarth was instrumental as were Matthew Brooks (See Me Scotland), Liam Yule (SamH), Dr Robert Plant (University of Aberdeen) and Graeme Skene (Police Scotland).

This is such an important issue and we want your help to build on the success of Mental Health Awareness Week and make it an annual event.

The organising team is keen to hear your thoughts, with a survey now live and would also welcome volunteers with an interest in getting involved in the planning for 2020.

While thoughts are already turning to the next Mental health Awareness Week, there’s an ask in the meantime for everyone to keep mental health and wellbeing at the top of the agenda in every corner of the Council.

It feels right to borrow from a previous post I wrote on a similar theme – it’s fine to ask ‘are you okay?’ and it’s fine to tell those around you and reach out for help if things aren’t right.

Mental and physical wellbeing aren’t always visible, but both can have a profound impact on our lives and those around us – deserving of compassion and understanding. There’s no shame and should be no secrecy, as a society we have to get better at breaking down the barriers and opening up the conversations that might make a difference.

An open invitation to join our Mental Health Awareness Week events

Monday marks the launch of our first Mental Health Awareness Week programme and there are many opportunities to take part in the days ahead.

Running from 7-11 October, there’s a busy schedule of events and activities that I really hope will open conversations and shine a light on the support available.

The time we spend at work is a large part of all of our lives – taking care of our own mental health and that of the friends and colleagues around us is important, but perhaps it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

Mental health has to be a focus every day, not just a date on the calendar once a year, but this week is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and set the tone. I’d encourage everyone to get involved.

In partnership with the NHS, Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and third sector partners, we have developed Connect 2 – a series of events which aim to help raise awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and breakdown some of the taboos and stigma that are associated with mental health.

Talks, awareness sessions and training opportunities both face to face and online are planned. For colleagues not based in the city centre, a mobile information bus will be touring offering insights and advice on mental health. You can find out more and book tickets here.

It’s important mental health is kept at the top of the agenda throughout the Council, with a recent webinar hosted by Derek McGowan and the activity around Suicide Prevention Week worth recapping on if you didn’t catch them first time around.

Value is such an important guiding principle – recognising a job well done, but also acknowledging  the challenges individuals face both on a personal and professional level. This week is about flying the flag for mental health awareness and underlining the value we place on wellbeing in the workplace.

Thank you in advance for your support and to the teams both from within the Council and our partner organisations who have worked so hard to create such a comprehensive and engaging programme.

 

Committee approval opens the door to new opportunities for our valued staff

Local government is built on foundations of good governance, process and policy – but that would count for little if it wasn’t for the dedication, knowledge and skill of our colleagues in all corners of the Council.

As an organisation we can all take pride in the sum of the parts and the way we serve the city day in and day out. It’s so important to recognise the capability of our staff as well as to nurture and develop the talented individuals we have under our wing.

At Staff Governance Committee today we took a very significant step towards realising those goals, where a new approach to internal recruitment and the internal movement of staff was approved.

The full report can be found here and I’d encourage you to take time out to read it.

A great deal of work has gone into shaping the approach and my thanks go to Lesley Strachan, supported by Isla Newcombe, for a really valuable and detailed piece of work.

To give a very high-level overview of what is a comprehensive report, the overarching goal is to create an organisation where every member of staff has the opportunity to develop, progress and fulfil their potential by broadening the opportunities that exist for employees.

As the report outlines, our current selection process is the same whether we recruit internally or externally – we concentrate on technical skills, qualifications, and experience and assess a candidate’s ability to meet these from day one.

The new approach will focus on an internal candidate’s potential ability to undertake a new role based on transferable skills, knowledge and behaviours developed through their existing role with the Council. Where someone demonstrates a good fit to a new role, the transition will be successfully achieved through time, training and personal commitment.

The benefits to individuals are clear but there are also great advantages for the Council, both in terms of retaining talented people but also in our move to building a flexible and adaptable workforce equipped to meet the changing needs of our city and people. The needs of our employees are changing too, particularly our young workforce who we know value a varied career in a dynamic environment.

We want to support individuals to explore opportunities and also be inspired by the colleagues who have already made big decisions about their career path. The recent cohort of 29 Council staff, with a wide range of backgrounds, who have qualified as Early Years Practitioners is a fantastic example of a group who have embraced the chance to get involved in a growth area of our business as part of something new and exciting.

The focus on reskilling and retraining employees in every part of our operations is designed to allow us to recruit on a predominantly internal basis, helping to meet demand in key areas.

The approach approved by the Staff Governance Committee this afternoon will break down barriers for our valued employees and is a significant shift from a traditional recruitment model to a modern, dynamic way of working.

If you have any questions about the new approach to internal movement of staff,  a live Leadership Forum webinar with Isla on Monday, 7 October, at 1pm will  bring the plans to life.

Every one of the guiding principles is at the heart of the approach and I look forward to seeing the principle becoming practice, helping individuals from every function and cluster to thrive as part of one team, one council, one city.

 

Seeing red to raise awareness for national campaign

The invitation to wear red feels like one too good to turn down for an Aberdeen workforce, so I’m expecting a sea of colour next week when we lend our support to a national initiative.

On Friday, 4 October, the Council will be joining organisations up and down the country by taking part in Wear Red Day as part of the Show Racism the Red Card campaign.

You can find out more by clicking here, with opportunities to get involved and to donate to the charity’s work.

The overriding message is that racism and discrimination have no place in society – something we can all play our part in amplifying.

As a Council we’re proud of our commitment to diversity and equality, so the opportunity to add our voice to the work being done nationally is an important one.

I’d encourage everyone to show their support and wear red next week. With the Dons at home to Hibs the following day, it may even bring a bit of luck ahead of that Pittodrie encounter!

Thank you to our Career Ready mentors – and a final call to get involved

I posted last month about the success of our Career Ready interns and the impact they made during their time with the Council. With that cohort now taking the next steps on their career path, we’re looking forward to welcoming the next intake.

My thanks go to the 12 mentors from across the organisation who have pledged their support to a fantastic programme and to supporting the young people who will join us.

There is still time to get involved as a mentor, with the deadline for registrations falling on Tuesday. Alison Paterson has done a power of work in embedding Career Ready within the Council and would be delighted to hear from you.

The Career Ready programme is a national initiative supported by a growing number of employers in the private and public sector.

It is designed to give secondary pupils, drawn from S5 and S6, an opportunity to raise their aspirations and take the first steps on the path to rewarding futures.

Twelve schools from across the city and Shire took part in the last programme, including our own Harlaw Academy, Hazlehead Academy, Lochside Academy, Northfield Academy, Oldmachar Academy and St Machar Academy.

I can’t emphasise enough how rewarding I have found mentoring to be and I’d highly recommend getting involved.

A role for all to play as EU Settlement Scheme registrations continue

Official statistics released recently show that 1 million resident EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members have secured their rights to stay in the UK after Brexit through the EU Settlement Scheme.

It is an encouraging figure but does mean there are still more than 2m yet to apply. I’m mindful that some of our own colleagues are likely to be among that number.

One of Aberdeen’s great strengths is its diversity and we recognise the huge contribution the many nationalities represented within our own staff and their families make to the city, both economically and culturally. I want to ensure that valued employees from the EU who want to remain in Aberdeen after the exit date do so and I would encourage anyone who intends to register to visit the registration site.

The EU Settlement Scheme provides a simple process for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who want to stay in the UK to get the UK immigration status they need after the UK leaves the European Union and protects the right to work, study and access benefits.  It’s free to apply via a short online process.

The deadline for applying will be 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

There is more information about the support we are offer as an employer on People Anytime.

I’d ask managers in particular to familiarise themselves with the information available and be mindful that many of our team members don’t have online access during the course of their working day, so may welcome guidance.

If you work with looked after children or care leavers, be conscious that all local authorities in Scotland have a duty to ensure that applications to the Scheme are made on behalf of all looked after children who are EU citizens and for whom they have parental responsibility.

We also have continuing duties to support care leavers up to age 26. Eligible care leavers will be required to make an application to the Scheme. We have a responsibility to ensure that care leavers are made aware of the need to do this and to make applications on behalf of eligible children in our care.

Our role as care professionals, colleagues and friends will vary but there is an important part we can all play in raising awareness and providing support.

Still time to get inquisitive about Appreciative Inquiry

You might recall I trailed the concept of Appreciative Inquiry in June and the work has been continuing behind the scenes to develop that further.

To recap briefly, Appreciative Inquiry works on the simple principle that we grow as individuals and teams by asking questions (and working towards finding the answers). The aim is to shift thinking towards identifying successes and strengths which provide a positive platform to build from, with a structured approach to seeking improvements and solutions.

It’s a way of turning the focus to what we want to create, grounding outcomes in past successes and the new guiding principles, as well as inspiring us all to embrace opportunities. By opening up positive discussion we hope to encourage creativity, increase buy-in and improve morale.

With that in mind a working group is being set up and my thanks to all those who have expressed an interest in getting involved, it promises to be an interesting and rewarding project.

The team are making a final call for anyone keen to take part, with the aim of finalising by the end of August. You can find out more here.

The initial focus for piloting AI will revolve around how we value each other and recognise a job well done, an essential part of the guiding principles and a great starting point for another really positive innovation.

New term, fresh faces thanks to success of early years initiative

Whisper it, but the school holidays are almost at an end. For one group in particular the start of term can’t come quickly enough as they embark on new careers as qualified Early Years Practitioners in our city settings.

All are existing members of Council staff who decided to put themselves forward for retraining and a change in career, successfully completing their traineeships in time for the start of the new academic year.

A celebration event is planned next month to mark their achievements as they head off to put their skills into practice as part of the ongoing expansion of Early Learning and Childcare provision. It’s such an important and rewarding role, giving children the best possible start in life and the chance to be the best they can be.

The response from staff to the opportunity to retrain has been excellent and very welcome as we aim to cater for demand in all of our communities.

A further 30 council employees will form cohort two and begin their traineeship in early years later this month. I wish all well as they start on an exciting new journey.

As part of our new Apprenticeship Scheme we’re also offering Modern Apprenticeships in early years as well a number of other areas of our business. These include care, housing, business administration and customer service, offering a positive destination for young people who are at the stage of choosing their career path.

Three information sessions have been held over the past week and the response was excellent, so we’ll start to see the green shoots very soon from the seeds that have been sown.

There will be lots of activity continuing around early years in particular and it’s a growth area that presents a variety of options. If you’re interested in finding out more, please contact the Talent Acquisition team within People and Organisation and they will be happy to provide information on all the training initiatives we’re developing.

Congratulations to all of our new Early Years Practitioners and best wishes to them and our new trainees for the start of term.

Celebrating the next generation as successful Career Ready partnership continues

Friday was a day of celebration in different corners of the Council as we marked the contribution of a group of young people who have made a fantastic contribution to the organisation over the past four weeks.

Thirteen passionate and talented Career Ready interns have been lending their knowledge and ideas to our work since July 1 and they rounded off their month with us by taking part in activities to round-off their stay.

Each has had a tailored placement, based on their career ambitions, and has also had the opportunity to participate in workshops on subjects including compiling CVs, interview skills and presentation skills.

I must put on record my thanks to those students, who are drawn from S5 and S6, for their efforts during the internship – I’ve no doubt they have learnt from us just as we have learnt from them. It is always of great value to get insight from the next generation and they have been able to look at our services and business through a different lens.

Thanks also to each of the mentors from across Aberdeen City Council who have taken the class of 2019 under their wing. As a mentor myself, I found it incredibly rewarding and I’m hugely proud of the development I have seen in the intern I have partnered – she has really pushed to go outside of her comfort zone and that has been an inspiration to me as it should be to us all.

To give some background, the Career Ready programme is a national initiative supported by a growing range of employers. It is designed to give secondary pupils an opportunity to raise their aspirations and take the first steps on the path to rewarding futures.

Twelve schools from across the city and Shire have taken part in the current programme, including our own Harlaw Academy, Hazlehead Academy, Lochside Academy, Northfield Academy, Oldmachar Academy and St Machar Academy.

Looking ahead to the next wave of Career Ready students, we already have 10 Council mentors who have volunteered to take part and there are opportunities for more to get involved. If you are interested in finding out more, please take the time to talk to Alison Paterson in our People and Organisation team. Alison and the team have done a great job in coordinating our involvement.

From my own experience, I would certainly recommend taking part and I’d encourage everyone to consider mentoring.

The Career Ready initiative is part of the wider focus on the Developing the Young Workforce programme, which we have supported over a number of years now. The aim is to build on our reputation as an employer who engages, supports and enables young people to learn and develop skills, qualities and behaviours and in turn provide meaningful employment experience.

Our vision is for a city where all people can prosper and giving every young person in Aberdeen the opportunity to fulfil their potential is something we all have a part to play in, regardless of what area of the Council we work in. Our young people hold the key to the future of our communities, our city and our region. To be able to shine they have to be given the tools – and Career Ready is one of a number of ways we’re working to do that.

With school exam results just around the corner, it’s an opportune time to underline that fulfilling potential means different things for different people. Academic excellence is to be celebrated and we will always do that – but we should also be shouting just as loudly about positive destinations and the young people who are fulfilling ambitions in so many different ways and walks of life.

Friday’s Career Ready celebrations highlighted the brilliant potential we have here in Aberdeen and after the contribution of our interns I’m confident there’s lots to look forward to.

An invitation to think differently about our future

Members enquiries, committee queries, customer feedback, media requests, Freedom of Information submissions … we deal with a lot of questions as an organisation every minute of every day.

As staff we tend to be well versed in answering questions, but don’t often get the time to ask them.

As an organisation we really want to change that and encourage everyone in all corners of the Council to become more inquisitive, about what we do now and what we can achieve together in the future.

There’s a working group being set up as a first step towards embracing a technique called Appreciative Inquiry, with expressions of interest invited from anyone keen to get involved. I’d encourage you all to find out more and consider taking part.

Appreciative Inquiry works on the simple principle that we grow as individuals and teams by asking questions (and working towards finding the answers). The aim is to shift thinking towards identifying successes and strengths which provide a positive platform to build from, with a structured approach to seeking improvements and solutions.

It’s a way of turning the focus to what we want to create, grounding outcomes in past successes and the new guiding principles, as well as inspiring us all to embrace opportunities. By opening up positive discussion we hope to encourage creativity, increase buy-in and improve morale.

The first working group will be tasked with looking at how we can better value each other and recognise a job well done – an important guiding principle.

It’s particularly relevant following on from the Star Awards last week, and some of the debate we saw in the build-up to the event. Lots of questions were posed about what recognition should and could look like – and I hope there will be many more as part of the Appreciative Inquiry approach.

That approach can be just as vital in areas including recruitment, engagement and our daily work in looking for ways to improve what we deliver on behalf of customers.

We need to think differently and want to support individuals and teams to do that in a collaborative way. If we continue to do the same things and think the same way, we’ll get the same results.

I’m excited to see how we can use Appreciative Inquiry to shape the future and the first of the working groups is a great opportunity to test and learn.

If you haven’t expressed an interest already, please do give some thought to getting involved in what promises to be a really positive and rewarding project.