Frontline to Fast Stream

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Frontline to Fast Stream

“It’s invaluable to have that frontline knowledge. You have a unique insight into a world that no one knows.”

Unlocked Ambassador Emily is currently in her first year of the Civil Service Fast Stream scheme. She was offered a place both on the Civil Service Fast Stream and the Unlocked scheme when she graduated in 2018 from the University of Warwick where she studied Law but decided to defer her fast stream place to get some frontline experience. Unlocked is one of the eight frontline graduate schemes that the CSFS offers deferrals for.

We talked with Emily about the deferral process, the complementary elements of both graduate schemes, and why she decided to apply and do both:

What led you to apply to the Unlocked Graduates programme initially?
I’ve always been interested in prisons, and it’s an environment that you can’t find much information about. The application process for Unlocked was the only one that I actually enjoyed. I enjoyed the questions, and I knew how to answer. I felt that this was clearly a sign because while I wasn’t getting through my other applications, but I was progressing further and further along with Unlocked, and I found the whole process really interesting. By the time it came to the assessment day, and I did the role play with the prisoner, and it was actually alright as I got a lot of information and felt quite able to build that relationship with the prisoner. When I then got the offer, I just went for it!

How was the deferral process for the civil service fast stream?
When I saw that I could defer my offer, and that Unlocked was a linked graduate scheme. I felt like it was the best of both worlds. The Fast Stream were really good with it. I carried on the process and notified them that once I passed my fitness and security clearings for Unlocked, I would be deferring my Fast Stream offer for two years. This was confirmed straight away, and after the two years, they got right back in touch with me, and the process carried on. It was so easy!

What are the core teachings that you took from the Unlocked programme?
I always say that I’m such a different person to who I was before I started Unlocked. In terms of confidence, if I can run a wing of 190, then I can definitely do a presentation to 100 people. As part of the programme, I got a chance to do placement (link to placement page) with the MOJ. As part of this I spoke to a few directors with my line manager at the time. My manager was surprised I managed to do it. I just had that confidence now to know that if I can work as a prison officer then I can definitely do this. Having to lead and work with a team in a high-paced and intense environment gives you the skills to do anything.

Even being able to keep up with the Master’s and developing academically throughout was a real achievement. Doing my dissertation helped me to hone in on my writing skills, which is now really helping with writing briefings and ministerial correspondence.

Unlocked gave me so much life experience of working with a wide variety of people, both staff and prisoners. It massively helped me to develop my people skills, which are vital for any job, especially when you’re working online, and you need to get across your point of view virtually.

Has your frontline experience informed your work in the civil service?
I’m working in the MoJ, and currently in HR working on wider work with moving civil servants out of London and into the regions. We work with HMPPS which links to my frontline experience. My experience helps me to be able to foresee how things will land. Working in the MOJ, people often ask me practical questions, because hardly any of my colleagues have worked in a prison. They’re interested to find out what really happens in the prison, especially during the pandemic while prison viewings have been restricted.

During my placement I was on the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody. At this time, my director informed be that only 60% of my workforce had ever stepped foot into a prison, and 40% had joined since the pandemic, so they had never experienced a prison, yet they are writing prison policy. It’s invaluable to have that frontline knowledge. You have a unique insight into a world that no one knows.

Unlocked definitely fits in well with the Fast Stream, because your results are more tangible. I was in a category B local prison with a huge amount of prisoners during my time at Unlocked. I had really good close working relationships with my servery lads, and I had a good few key workers who were really engaged. And you could see the impact you had because they would come and ask me questions to help get themselves ready for release. That’s the kind of impact that I really value when I go home at the end of the day. Whether it’s opening a new office, doing a good presentation or having one good conversation with a prisoner, all those things are what motivate and drive me, far more than anything corporate-based.

Would you say that the graduate schemes are complementary of each other?
The Fast Stream felt that I would gain invaluable knowledge from Unlocked that I could then bring to the Civil Service. And I definitely agree with that. You’ve already learnt a specialist subject through Unlocked, and then you can do the Fast Stream and learn the skills to become a civil servant. After that, you can combine the skills you have learnt from the two, and I now have an area that I know I want to go into.

Whereas, if I had just joined the Fast Stream straight away, I would have liked to work in the MoJ out of pure interest, but I wouldn’t have had any specific skills or understandings of the area to really make me stand out, or to make me feel like I can actually make a difference there. I would have been clueless! But now I have a clear vision for my future where I know I want to work within prisons. I’m excited to find my own niche.