Civil service head of Fast Stream Greg Hobbs answers your questions

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What you need to know about the civil service's graduate leadership scheme

If you're interested in going into a leadership role within the civil service, you're probably considering the Fast Stream graduate programme.

The Fast Stream discussion thread on TSR is constantly buzzing with posts from students discussing the process of applying for this popular grad scheme, so we thought it would be handy to get the scheme's boss to come onto TSR to answer some of your questions.

So we invited you to post your questions for Greg Hobbs, head of the civil service's Fast Stream programme, and then we got him to answer them. Here's what he had to say.

On political freedom in the civil service

TSR member GW243 asked: "Can you give advice about political freedom in the civil service?"

Click the spoiler to see GW243's full question

 
Click the spoiler to see GW243's full question

Hi - can you give fairly detailed advice about political freedom in the civil service? 

Obviously, a civil servant can't be a member of a party, actively campaign or comment publicly on political issues, but what about attending events as a private citizen in their free time? This may range from protests to lobby-group funded events/conferences. I guess I'm emphasising that it is perfectly possible to go to some events without sharing the beliefs of those around you, but what is the civil service take on it?

Also - and this may sound stupid - but what about chatting down the pub and social media? Personally, I would think that being politically active on social media is probably too close to making public comment, but do they have to watch what they say in person as well? (Of course, I mean chat that is unrelated to their position, job, or information gathered while at the job).

I hope this question isn't at all inappropriate or stupid, but I find being engaged in politics (in a non-partisan way) is a sure way of staying abreast of important and relevent current events and developing yourself as a citizen, but with engagement comes debate and opinions and I'm not sure where the civil service draws their lines.

While Corbog added: "Can you clarify for me whether past affiliations with political parties and other organisations affect the eligibility and/or preference of potential candidates?"

Click the spoiler to see Corbog's full question

 

I first encountered the fast stream about a year ago when I was looking for job opportunities post university (Currently in S5 studying Scottish Highers) and it immediately hooked me and it is high up on the list of things to consider and potentially apply for for post-graduation.

In particular I'm looking at the Diplomatic Service and from an overview it looks like the perfect place for me to develop my skills in languages and overall understanding of the state of the globe and important regions in the world.

However, I'm aware of the restrictions in political campaigning and representation as was alluded to by one of the first posters. Can you clarify for me whether past affiliations with political parties and other organisations affect the eligibility and/or preference of potential candidates?

Greg Hobbs: Civil servants are obviously people with their own views and interests. There are restrictions but we can be members of political parties and we recognise that some civil servants have been politically active in the past. 

The Civil Service Code sets out guidance for all civil servants on how they must balance their personal views with their work, and we work to uphold this at all times. We also have important values that we stick to, they are integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. 

The important thing is that none of us do anything that compromises our ability to serve the government of the day, whatever their political persuasion, and that we maintain political impartiality.

On the Fast Stream's 'cluster' system

Toolson asked: "Does the introduction of the cluster system reflect a wider trend in the civil service away from generalists and towards specialists?"

Click the spoiler for Toolson's full question. 

 

The “cluster” system is a recent change to your generalist fast stream. Are you concerned that this narrowing of scope will have an adverse impact on the generalist nature of this stream, and limit the sectors that future grade 7s emanating from this scheme will be able to work in? Does this, and the introduction of more specialist streams in recent years, reflect a wider trend in the civil service away from generalists and towards specialists? 

Also, how will you ensure the allocation of generalist fast streamers to these clusters is fair? Will the process be mostly a matter of luck or will the skills and experiences of future fast streamers be considered?

Greg Hobbs: The cluster model was introduced to provide Fast Streamers joining the generalist scheme an opportunity to express a preference for working across a group of departments who focus on common areas of work: eg security, environment etc. The Generalist Scheme is still an important part of the Fast Stream but we want to give people an opportunity to focus on areas that might be important to them, and for their experiences to be consolidated.

You don’t have to express a preference but the option is there for those who wish to do so. The variety of postings remains varied within the clusters. We are confident that the cluster model offers the opportunity to build experience within a theme, if desired, however this does not stop Fast Streamers from experiencing a variety by postings, and it certainly won’t limit you in your career post-Fast Stream
 
More information on the cluster model is available to applicants when they join the generalist scheme. 

On diversity within the Fast Stream

Vexper asked: "What steps are you taking to ensure the majority of successful Fast Stream applicants aren't just from the upper tier Russell Group universities?"

Click the spoiler for Vexper's full question

 

Hi - as it's been highlighted by the media on many occasions in the past, what steps are you taking to ensure the majority of successful Fast Stream applicants aren't just from the upper tier Russell Group universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge? As this is the case for a long time now, there must be entrenched bias in the recruitment process that is not being dealt with appropriately. This is before there's even a consideration for diversity outside of where you received your grades.

In addition, how do you plan to keep Fast Streamers within the Civil Service after, and during the Fast Stream - as there's been a high percentage of Fast Streamers reported leaving, both during and after the process, often with the destination of the private sector. 

Greg Hobbs: Over the past three years, we have taken a number of steps to increase diversity in the Fast Stream. For example, we work with over 50 universities and actively reach out to students from less privileged and under-represented backgrounds to show them what the civil service can offer. We also work with diversity partners who provide insight sessions and support students from diverse backgrounds to apply to the Fast Stream. We’ve also increased the amount of interaction that our existing Fast Streamers have with potential candidates to help demonstrate its relevance and accessibility, and we’ve increased the size of our Internships to help improve our diversity even further.
 
We’ve reviewed our tests continuously to ensure that they offer all applicants an equal chance of success - and interview candidates at centres in Newcastle or London. We monitor the proportions of applicants from people from a diverse background so that we can keep track of how we are improving.

We also carry out blind recruitment, when additional information forms are sifted, we do not have a name, age or diversity information. We only see the answers to the questions which makes the process fairer.
 
The majority of Fast Streamers go on to gain promotion and stay in the civil service. Some may leave to join other sectors, we see this as an opportunity for them to take what they have learned with them to benefit their new team. On leavers, every graduate programme has members who do not finish. This is an individual decision and we support those involved to find their most suitable career path that. The civil service offers a unique employment package; part of my role is to ensure all Fast Streamers know what that is and how valuable it could be to them.

On switching from private sector to public sector

BEllenK asked: "Is it possible and/or common for people to move from the private sector into the public sector later in their career? And if they do what is the transition like? It is an easy transition to make?"

Greg Hobbs: We welcome people from all sectors and at all stages in their careers. Their transferable skills are very valuable. These include leadership, team work, alongside bringing in innovative ways of working in a range of areas such as finance, commercial and project delivery. 

The civil service is committed to being an inclusive employer, and that means people from all backgrounds including age and work experience.

There are a number of ways for career changers to move into the civil service, including through the Fast Stream, apprenticeships for those who have been working in the private sector and other graduate entry programmes.

That transition from private to public sector will be different for everyone but my team work closely with all Fast Streamers to help them settle. 

Within our own Fast Stream talent development team we have recently employed staff from both the private and voluntary sector.

On mature graduates and career changers

Reality Check asked: "What is the CS's approach towards mature graduates and career changers, particularly those who apply to the Fast Stream? What tips would you give to these groups specifically to improve their chances of success?"

Greg Hobbs: People from all backgrounds have the opportunity to join the programme and age is not a factor at any point in our recruitment process. We actively market the programme to both existing graduates and undergraduates in their final year at university.
 
There is no upper age limit on the Fast Stream and we welcome joiners who are at different stages in their careers.  We have a number of parents and carers on the Fast Stream; we also have people who have joined the scheme following a career break and those who have used the Fast Stream as a route to changing profession.
 
Our advice to mature graduates and career changers is no different to our advice to other applicants; just be yourself and be confident in your abilities.  

On recruiting those with disabilities

Princessmaire80 asked: "Do you actively recruit those with disabilities into the Fast Stream as despite having two degrees and doing a third via distance learning I can only get offers for low grade entry level posts and seem to get ignored for Fast Stream!"

Greg Hobbs: We are a Disability Confident Leader Employer, meaning that we are strongly committed to being completely inclusive and to removing barriers for people with disabilities in our workplace. We are working hard to create the right conditions for every candidate to be able to do their best through our assessment process and into employment with us.
 
We actively monitor the number of people with disabilities who apply to, and join us, and offer adjustments to our assessment process when they are needed.
 
In terms of your own aspirations, we would encourage you to make the most of your previous experiences of applying to the Fast Stream. Many people apply more than once before they succeed in joining. Don’t be discouraged. Try reading some of the case studies at www.faststream.gov.uk to seek inspiration. Good luck!

On salary progression

Jonathanjames asked: "How quickly does/can your salary progress from joining the fast stream?"

Greg Hobbs: The salary on joining the Fast Stream is £28K, and upon successful completion of the scheme will see you earn around £45K to £55K.
 
You also get some fantastic and unique opportunities to work on the biggest and most exciting projects in the country, which are often highly politically sensitive and make a huge difference to the UK. 

On departmental opportunities

Mimma asked: "Why do more departments not want fast streamers these days (e.g. HMT making their own graduate scheme and BEIS following)? Is it the randomness and short posting length or something else?"

Greg Hobbs: A significant proportion of civil service departments do participate in the Fast Stream programmes. Providing they are able to offer suitable, developmental roles for Fast Streamers, they bid for Fast Streamers according to their size and requirements to create a pipeline of potential senior civil servants (SCS), 

Not all departments require a large number of Fast Streamers or any at all. Some have other routes for graduate recruitment and most have other talent development routes that compliment the Fast Stream. The requirements of their own schemes may be different to the Fast Stream, for example developing particular sets of technical skills, rather than focusing on leadership and progression into the SCS. 

On G7 promotion

Mimma also asked: "Is it fair that completing the generalist stream (and others I imagine) is linked to a G7 promotion but the analytical streams are not?"

Greg Hobbs: Fast Stream schemes are designed to deliver what the departments need, while also providing the flexibility for you to focus on the areas you personally need to build your leadership potential.
 
Some Fast Stream schemes offer the opportunity to study for a professional qualification and others focus on rotating postings and grade progression.
 
What all of the schemes have in common is a unique opportunity to join a community of Fast Streamers and to deliver work with a strong social purpose. You’ll gain experience of working in a variety of settings and with experts in your profession. 

On applications by those from ethnic minority backgrounds

Quiet Benin asked: "I have given up hope on this potential career, I feel it's for the elite. I am a hardworking black person, yes I'm about to probably graduate with a 2:2 but I am hardworking and have a passion. I look at the LinkedIn profiles, most who work for Fast Stream went to Oxford or Cambridge or Nottingham."

Click the spoiler for Quiet Benin's full question

 

This is going to be an unusual response.
 
Why is it so goddamn hard to succeed in an application for fast stream. In fact why is it hard to even apply for a normal civil service job.
 
I have given up hope on this potential career, i feel its for the elite. I am a hard working black person, yes im about to probably graduate with a 2:2 but i am hardworking and have a passion. Why is it that i feel you, both with fast stream and any other civil service programme, the job accepts the elite. I look at the linkedin profiles, most who work for fast stream went to oxford or cambridge or nottingham. come on man

And username3973192 added: "When are you going to start taking on more people from ethnic minority backgrounds?"
 
Greg Hobbs: Thank you for raising these points. We are 100% committed to improving diversity representation. The Fast Stream has attracted more applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds this year than ever before and we are working hard to keep building on this. We want to ensure that the civil service offers a culture where people from all backgrounds feel that they belong and can build successful careers.
 
Just under one fifth of successful applicants to the Fast Stream are now from an ethnic minority background. We’ve taken steps such as expanding our diversity internships, strengthening our promotion of the scheme at the most diverse universities, and continuously reviewing and improving our selection processes to reach out to more and more people who may not have considered the civil service as a potential employer before.
 
The Fast Stream is unquestionably a popular scheme amongst applicants but each has the same opportunity as the next. Its popularity and the number of roles that we have available will inevitably mean that we can’t take everyone. However, I would urge you to apply this September and would suggest looking at the selection guidance on our website to support your application, including the Fast Stream Assessment Centre Guide.
 
The published Diversity and Inclusion Strategy makes clear the civil service diversity goals and, again, I would fully encourage you to apply.
 
We wish you every success with your application, whichever route you choose to apply to join us. 

On the role of the civil service

AOX asked: "Do you think the general public has a good understanding of what the civil service's role is?

I'm interested in joining the civil service but often when I bring it up, people are unsure of what they actually do. If you do think it's a problem, do you have any plans to address it?"
 
Greg Hobbs: The civil service helps the government of the day to implement their commitments and deliver high quality services to the public. Our work impacts every aspect of society and our organisation is built on a culture where people genuinely matter.
 
There is a separation of roles between civil servants and government. We provide expert advice but political direction is entirely the responsibility of ministers.
 
We provide case studies and blogs at www.faststream.gov.uk, and have Fast Streamers on university campuses for much of the academic year, so that existing Fast Streamers can explain in their own words the type of work they are involved in and the role of different departments in providing public services.

On support for applicants

Alex!! asked: "What steps are you taking to increase the volume of posts outside of London and satisfy your commitment to provide reasonable adjustments for those successful candidates with relocation restrictions due to caring responsibilities/disabilities?"

The ak asked:  "What steps does the fast stream and the wider CS take to be accommodating and welcoming for people on the scheme with mental health conditions? What steps could someone starting on the FS take to get support and adjustments if they have a mental health difficulty?" 

Greg Hobbs: The government has set out its agenda to create more opportunities in the regions ensuring institutions and jobs are located in all parts of the UK. The Government Hubs Programme will deliver around 20 hubs around the country by 2022; 14 have already been announced. 

Fast Stream is part of this, and we work with departments encouraging them to consider whether posts can be based outside London, as part of our drive to create careers (not just jobs) across the country. This includes remote working where possible, and use of technology to allow greater flexibility in the way work is delivered, while ensuring that individuals have the support required to enable them to succeed on the Fast Stream. There is more to be done in this area, but this is a focus for all government roles, and we continue to work across the civil service to deliver improvements.
 
We also work closely with individuals on relocation restrictions to understand their requirements and to explore how we can best meet both their needs while also meeting the aims of the Fast Stream programme. Where someone requires workplace adjustments, we work with a specialist workplace adjustment team and with departments to understand the requirements and put them in place to enable individuals to work effectively. If for any reason we cannot fully meet an individual's needs, we will have further conversations with them to explore the opportunities available.

The government’s Disability Confident Scheme ensures that we lead the way in creating a disability-inclusive culture where disabled colleagues can realise their full potential. This supports our aim for the civil service to be the UK’s most inclusive employer. 

All departments have mental health first aiders who play a key role in signposting colleagues to available support, encouraging them to talk about any issues and raising awareness.

On career progression

Quady asked: "What proportion of fast stream entrants progress directly to Grade 7 following the scheme? What proportion of fast streamers go on to become SCS? (as you have)."

Exceptional asked: "What career progression exists after the Fast Stream?"

Greg Hobbs: The vast majority (over 80%) of Fast Streamers pass the End of Scheme Assessment, this means that they are ready to take on a Grade 7 role. 

It is always fantastic to see former members of the scheme progressing into the SCS. As a former Fast Streamer myself, as you mention, I can be confident when I say that career progression exists beyond the Fast Stream and that people can reach the SCS! We don’t yet have the numbers of Fast Streamers teaching SCS from the Fast Stream in its current format (its too soon) but we know that there are former Fast Streamers from previous models throughout the SCS.

Quady: Has the relative drop in starting salary over the last decade compared to other 'Times100 graduate schemes' affected the calibre of external applicants?

GH: The Fast Stream is recognised nationally as one of the leading graduate schemes, and attracts a growing number of applications, year on year. As well as increasing volumes of applications, we are proud to also see an increasing diversity of applications each year. And through our assessment process we continue to recruit high calibre applicants.

Quady: If the civil service wishes to become more representative of society, why does the fast stream have a degree requirement for external applicants?

GH: We are continuously seeking to review our processes, including eligibility requirements. At this stage Fast Stream eligibility is based on having a degree (2:2 or above), having a degree apprenticeship or entering through an in-service route. In terms of opening up eligibility further we have not yet made this step, but can say we are reviewing the potential benefits and will let you know should this be decided in the future.

We also offer a wide range of apprenticeships schemes in every government department, covering a wide range of areas including digital, economics, cyber security and finance. They are open to people of all ages and backgrounds and designed for those who didn’t choose to go to university.

Quady: What are the success factors that are measured for the Fast Stream?

GH: We look at a number of factors when assessing candidates based on the areas set out in our success profiles. By the end of the programme we are looking for Fast Streamers to be able to demonstrate leadership behaviours in line with Level 4 of the Civil Service Behaviours Framework along with demonstrating the potential for accelerated progression to the senior civil service after progressing from the scheme.

On requirements for applicants

Visual_Learner asked: "What skills do you need to work in the industry? What is the first piece of advice you would give a potential employee hoping to break into the industry?"

Palmyra asked: "For students interested in applying for the Fast Stream but that perhaps attended a non-RG university and got a high 2.2/low 2.1, what would you suggest they do (future studies/work experience wise) to boost their chances of making a competitive application?"

Examstressisreal asked: "What do you look for in a candidate? What would make me stand out from the next application you look through?"

Presence asked: "I researched this because I want to become an economist in civil service but I saw most people who got in are from Oxbridge, what advice would you give a year 12 who hopes to get onto the scheme in the future ?"
 
Greg Hobbs: There’s no such thing as a typical Fast Streamer. We want to identify talented people from all walks of life to join the Fast Stream so that you can bring your differing life experiences to the civil service to benefit society as a whole.
 
So, the best advice we can give is to be yourself. Take the time to prepare for the online tests and ensure you have a quiet space to complete them. Bring your whole self to the assessment centre. Be confident about who you are and what you can offer. Take a good look at both the Fast Stream website and the civil service careers site beforehand, to find out as much as you can about the schemes on offer and what working for the civil service feels like. 
 
Broadly speaking, what we measure for the Fast Stream is your potential to be developed to fill the most senior roles in the civil service on completion of the programme. Therefore we are measuring your motivation, behaviours and strengths, and not just your experience or skills
 
So, give it your all, do your best and if at first you don’t succeed in joining us, don’t be disheartened, try again. A lot of people take more than one attempt to make it on to the programme. Good luck!