Employer of Choice: Kempsey Shire Council

Who are you and what is the name of your organisation?: My name is Craig Milburn, General Manager of Kempsey Shire Council, and I’m with Michelle Dark, People and Culture Advisor for Kempsey Shire Council. We have 370 employees.

Describe your core business: Local Government is incredibly diverse, but at the heart of it, our sole purpose is to make the community a better place for everyone to live.

How would you define an excellent employer? A place where you can have a bit of fun, a bit of humour, a place where people want to come to work because it’s not just a job, it aligns with their values. People feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves and doing work that makes a difference 80-90% of the time. A lot of people who work here are passionate about helping the community.

In your organisation, what are some of the things you do that make you an employer of choice? We have reinvigorated our Reward and Recognition program – we recognise every 5 years of service, we have employee, team, safety champion, and traineeship/apprenticeship of the quarter and the year which the whole organisation participates in. We have gift vouchers, certificates, and public recognition at our all staff BBQs, which we have three times a year, plus our annual all-staff Christmas party.

We have spent time developing our traineeship and apprenticeship program – we currently have 20, plus another four starting in a month. We work with schools, attend meet the employer events, and encourage gender balance in non-traditional roles. We also have flexible work arrangements including working from home. Everyone’s situation is different – the GM meets every staff member individually, and makes sure everyone knows that KSC is a family friendly organisation, and if you need to attend your child’s school event, we have the flexibility to allow that. We have a strong focus on staff training opportunities, and we support people’s further education with time and money. We also put senior leaders through leadership training, because if we get leadership and communications right, a positive workplace culture flows. We’ve also been working on our Aboriginal Employment Strategy – we have five school based trainees who do one day a week in school term and then more days during the holidays.

Why is it important to you that you are an excellent employer? You develop a positive culture within the organisation where people want to come to work. Particularly in regional councils, people are deeply connected to their communities, so if we make the effort to treat our people well, the whole community benefits. The better we are as an employer, the better people we can attract, and now people will move from other places to work here. We sell the area not just the job. There are sound organisation and community reasons for being a good employer – if you have good people, you’re running a an efficient business, achieving your goals, and serving the community.

What have you learned along your journey to becoming an employer of choice? Being a good employer comes from the top, but you need a whole team around you who are all on the same page of wanting to create a great place to work and attract people. Good leadership is about people and relationships – you need to attend events, make a commitment to having and maintaining good relationships. It takes planning, time and budget.

Do you employ young people (under 25)? Do you consider you do that effectively? Why/Why not? We have 29 people under 25 in our organisation, which is about 8% of our employees, with half of them on apprenticeships and traineeships. Young people often don’t perform well in an interview, so we take them out of the interview room and instead create a Selection Centre, where we invite a shortlist of 10-15 candidate and put them through a 5-6 hour process including a 6am start, talk them through our values, how we work, give them some hands on activities, and maybe an aptitude test. There is a team of staff participating and observing, and we have found this process helps us get good young people and helps the young people to perform at their best. I tell everyone, young and old, that here, everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher, understanding that we all learn off each other. It helps that our older staff have a positive attitude towards the young ones – it gives them an opportunity to pass on wisdom and experience to the next generation. Nearly 50% of our traineeships end up as fulltime employees, which is a great outcome.

What is your advice to organisations that want to improve as an employer?
Just do it! It won’t just happen by itself – you have to drive it and focus on it . You don’t do it to win awards but because it’s the right thing to do for us and the community. As a big employer, we make a big impact by being a good employer. You need to be patient – it doesn’t come quickly. It needs to be sustained and maintained. It’s not an add on – it’s just the way we do business.

What key trends do you see impacting your business in the next 5-10 years?

Financial security and sustainability for local government is key, particularly if you have a huge work program reliant on borrowings with rising interest rates

International financial system – impacted by the pandemic, wars and other natural disasters

Cybersecurity is an ongoing issue

Sourcing the right people with very low unemployment rates – it’s increasingly difficult to hire for right skills and right fit for culture.

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