From recycling to HR – Kelvin’s varied and rewarding career

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Kelvin Sawkill has worked for Leicester City Council for over 30 years and in a number of different roles. Here, he talks about his career to date and what it is he enjoys so much about working here.

What first attracted you to the council?

When I first started working here in August 1985, I knew very little about it. I’d worked as a Graphic Designer before, but I’d reached a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and had been unemployed. I took a temporary job in the Waste Recycling Team in the City Engineers Department.

This was a small team collecting industrial materials that could be recycled for use by community groups like playgroups and schools. My manager told me she thought I had good organisational and communication skills and she encouraged me to apply for my first permanent role, which was in the Chief Executive’s department. 

How has your career developed at Leicester City Council?

After taking my first permanent role as a Team Assistant in the Chief Executive’s and Town Clerk’s department, I was encouraged and supported to build my skills and develop into a management role. This included support to gain an HND in Public Administration. Eventually, I worked my way up to become Senior Clerk in the department, managing a team of up to 16 people. But by 1997, I’d reached a point where I felt I wanted to explore something different. My manager recognised this and supported me to look for a career change, which is when I joined the HR team.

Moving into HR meant a drop in status and salary, but it was something I wanted to do and I even took a foundation level course (CPP) in my own time and paid for it myself. Since then, I’ve also had more support for my career progression, with opportunities to develop my experience and gain a post-graduate qualification (CIPD). 

What does your current job involve and why do you enjoy it?

I work with a range of Leicester City Council services and schools, offering advice on staff and organisational management, and reviewing structures. I make sure that when managers and headteachers take any actions that they’re legally and procedurally compliant, and that they support the aims and objectives of the service or school.

It’s an incredibly varied and rewarding role and I work closely with officers from other council services and external agencies, such as the police. I also have a lot of responsibility – I need a solid understanding of employment law and LCC policy and procedure, so I can advise managers and headteachers and offer practical and creative solutions, while anticipating any potential risks. I may be reviewing the staffing structure of a school or contributing to safeguarding investigations. My advice will inform outcomes and could be subject to scrutiny, so I may have to justify it at an employment tribunal.

My managers and the services and schools I support often acknowledge and appreciate my contribution, which makes it all worthwhile.  

What’s the work atmosphere like at the council?

Leicester City Council is going through a process of radical change at the moment and HR has been at the forefront of that change. This means we’re passionate about delivering the best possible service to the council with professionalism and creativity.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time as an HR Advisor supporting schools and the way we work with them has changed dramatically because of changes to national education policy. One of the biggest changes was the introduction of academies, which aren’t run by local authorities. In HR, we’ve responded to this by supporting schools as a traded service, in competition with the private sector. We act more commercially and have adapted our service, along with our skills, knowledge and experience, to ensure we understand and meet the needs of both local authority-run schools and academies.

What do you enjoy most about working here?

One of the best things about my job is the people I work with. They’re professional, creative, supportive and passionate about what they do.

I also enjoy facing a lot of complex and unusual situations that test my skills, knowledge and experience. I have a great deal of autonomy in the way I work. I often need to assess situations quickly and offer creative solutions. This gives me the opportunity to contribute to positive outcomes for the services and schools I work with and the communities they support. Making suggestions that translate into real change for the better is incredibly rewarding.

What makes it a great place to work?

Leicester City Council is a big organisation, delivering a diverse range of services that define the quality of the local community. And now, it’s committed to a programme of radical change that means much of the work being done is innovative and creative. On top of that, it genuinely reflects the diversity of the community it serves.

So, if you have to work for a living, why wouldn’t you want to work here?