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Developing higher level strategic growth in Public Services

By Dr Lorraine Johnston, Associate Professor & Programme Leader of the MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services Degree Apprenticeship, Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University

Responding to the lack of higher-level strategic and public leadership skills is an area of increasing concern for national and international governments seeking to drive more inclusive and sustainable growth. Dr Lorraine Johnston from Northumbria University, Newcastle, believes the answer for many lies in Degree Apprenticeships.

The extraordinary levels of disruption caused by the ongoing global pandemic, together with the uncertainties of Brexit and austerity, has changed the way that public goods and services are delivered beyond all recognition – and the combined impact has caused unparalleled pressure for public sector leaders.

For many in senior leadership roles, navigating a path through disruption is daunting, ambiguous, and a risk driven strategy, which is particularly unsettling for some. In public sector organisations, agencies and enterprises delivering crucial public goods and services across the UK, the current circumstances have exposed a need to upskill and reskill both new and experienced public sector workers – including local and national government decision-makers, policymakers, managers and administrators – to ensure that they are equipped to deal with the challenges of today and those that lie ahead.

Survival of frontline service economies, in continuously changing and disruptive environments, requires more responsive and adaptive leaders. It’s more important than ever that officers and executives are supported to develop and enhance their strategic leadership capabilities. They must be empowered to gain and build new skills in key areas such as innovation, enterprise and partnership working, economic efficiency, competitiveness and digital expertise, in order to drive the economic recovery and deliver greener and more sustainable, inclusive growth.

Public sector employers are grappling daily with new ways of thinking and working. They are seeking to establish how best to navigate the path through the ongoing disruption and questioning what higher-level leadership knowledge and skills are required in areas of enterprise, health, government, policing, education and social work; they are considering how to upskill the workforce during such unprecedented change and how to safeguard the longevity of public services. I believe that one solution lies in employer-led Degree Apprenticeships.  

Degree Apprenticeships provide personalised, practical and tailored staff development. Importantly employers are involved at all stages to co-design a programme that is fit for purpose and meets their specific organisational needs. Upskilling the workforce in this way, enables employees to gain a professional, higher-level master’s qualification that is directly relevant to their role and sector. Significantly, it also allows for knowledge and learning to be transferred directly into the workplace.

The government backed two-year degree apprenticeship programme is, according to the Department for Education, ‘a job with training’ (DfE, 2019) and offers strategic leaders a unique opportunity to combine full time work with ‘off the job’ university study. Employers can also take advantage of the national government funded apprenticeship levy, which can significantly reduce the cost involved.

At Northumbria University, our Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship is specifically designed for aspiring and substantive leaders and managers within public service organisations who really want to make a difference. This innovative and flexible, work-based postgraduate course is designed to integrate world-leading research insights with apprentices own professional experience to further enhance their skills, knowledge and expertise.

With one of the largest cohorts of public administration scholars and some of the world’s leading academics in this area, our aim is to develop and deliver exceptional graduates, equipped with the latest strategic leadership skills and professional knowledge so that they are best-placed to lead through the extraordinary economic, environmental, social, technological and political difficulties of our time.

A partnership approach to study allows for a dedicated and highly skilled coaching team to facilitate the degree apprentice through their learning journey. From the outset we work with the employer and employee to develop a commitment statement outlining a tripartite agreement. Regular tripartite meetings ensure that combined objectives, project goals and aspirations for skills development, are met.

Those undertaking the programme will draw on individual knowledge and experience to date; engage in debate on issues and topics of contemporary leadership and management practice; develop capability to critically analyse leadership behaviour and actions of organisations; and hone strategic leadership problem-solving skills with reference to current and future challenges.  

Almost overnight, Covid-19 redefined the challenges, work and workplaces of the public sector, with many organisations having to play a leading role in the pandemic response. The pace of change and level of pressure is unprecedented but equally the work and worth of public servants is magnified and, in many cases, widely celebrated.

There is now a real need to build on the successes, embed strategic leadership and new ways of working, continue a commitment to innovate and importantly, invest in the development of those required to lead in the years ahead.

For further information and guidance on how to apply for Northumbria’s MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services Degree Apprenticeship and how to achieve your career development ambitions please follow the links below:

Find out more about the MSC Strategic Leadership for Public Services Degree Apprenticeship here

Find out more about Northumbria’s range of Leadership and Management Degree Apprenticeship courses here

Find out more about Higher and Degree Apprenticeships here

By Dr Lorraine Johnston, Associate Professor & Programme Leader of the MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services Degree Apprenticeship, Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University

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