Leadership development is standard practice in most blue chip companies, and yet is uncommon within FE. MidKent has decided to change that, as Adriana Temali-Smith explains

Many of us battle daily with raising the aspirations of our students, but what about the aspirations of our staff? Do we actively encourage them to fully consider the options and opportunities within FE? Do we inspire them to want to lead within our sector?

At MidKent College we are growing our own leaders; nurturing the creativity and drive of people on the ‘shop floor’. We are readying them for the next step up the ladder by diversifying their skills and giving them opportunities outside their current roles.

Our talent development scheme aims to give staff both the appetite and ability for leadership. Skills are fostered and mentored within their current role, but for many it provides the preparation and confidence for a lateral or upwards step within the organisation. We aim to select our best talent, so we have an open application process, with individuals putting themselves forward rather than having a sponsor or nomination.

It’s tough to get into the scheme. Applicants must complete an assessment centre day, including a business presentation to the executive committee and participation in a group task. As Steve Grix, our outgoing principal, puts it: “We want to know that we are taking people who can step up to a challenge and excel. For many this will be the hardest interview process they will ever have to face.”

Formally accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management, each scheme of work is tailored to the specific learning needs of the participant. It works on a combination of coaching and mentoring, workshops, project work, and direct input from senior leaders, including the governing body. But while each scheme may differ, the main theme always centres around confident leadership.

We are growing our own leaders; nurturing the creativity and drive of people on the ‘shop floor’. We
are readying them for the next step up the ladder”

We have seen a lot of recent media coverage about the lack of suitable leadership and the reluctance of professionals to move to the top jobs. There could be a significant skills shortage over the next decade in our sector, both as a result of an ageing workforce and significant talent shortages.

This is where the talent development scheme was born; a recognised need to nurture a network of promising staff from all levels of the organisation – what some might call a talent pool, though I prefer the term leadership bench.

MidKent College’s leadership bench is now in its third year with visible results: 40 per cent of the graduates have been promoted into management posts, and nearly two-thirds have taken on the leadership of special project groups.

However, not everything has gone smoothly and we have learned along the way. Three of the 12 participants in the first year subsequently left the organisation. We quickly recognised that having a great programme wasn’t enough if we didn’t do more to integrate the participants at the end of the experience. It was important that we continued to provide an appropriate level of intellectual stretch in their core roles.

Sue McLeod, formerly the deputy principal and now the newly appointed principal of MidKent, says: “One of the outcomes I feel most proud of is when graduates of the scheme feel confident to state their aspirations out loud, even if that means saying to someone ‘I want your job one day’. Sometimes I feel we are all very British when it comes to ambition, politely letting others jump the career queue or keeping our aspirations to ourselves.’’

MidKent is creating a network and culture of people who not only aspire to top jobs, but who have the skills to be successful in those jobs. We are confident that we have contributed to the leadership bench that we hope will change the future landscape of FE.

Adriana Temali-Smith, programme
manager for MidKent College’s Talent Development Scheme