Lifelong Learning Centre

The Fast Stream – it’s never too late!

Posted on Friday, 01 February 2019 at 9am
by Lifelong Learning Centre Staff.
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This is a guest post from Ruth Smethurst, a University of Leeds graduate who joined the Civil Service Fast Stream over 10 years after earning her BA in English Language and Literature.

On paper, it’s fair to say that I’m not a typical candidate for a graduate scheme. I’m mature (sort of!) at 33 years old, I have family and financial commitments and I’m not geographically mobile. And yet here I am! Making meaningful career progression whilst maintaining a balanced home life on the Civil Service Fast Stream.

How it all started

I graduated in 2006, aged 21, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The next 11 years proved to be incredibly eventful; I got married, bought a house in the suburbs of Leeds and became mum to a spirited boy with boundless energy (which he definitely doesn’t get from me!). Life was very full, and I was very busy. But…I didn’t feel like I was using the skills I developed during my degree. What’s more, my family and financial commitments made this a far from ideal time to consider retraining or working towards a new qualification. The Fast Stream offered an alternative where I could earn a decent salary while developing a raft of new skills, but naturally I had some reservations before applying. Fortunately, the experience of being on the stream has allayed my concerns, so perhaps I can do the same for you!

Am I too old for a graduate scheme?’

No! While some graduate schemes do impose an upper age limit, the Fast Stream is open to graduates of any age, regardless of when you achieved your degree. The scheme is also open to non-graduates who work in the Civil Service, a route which attracts quite a lot of candidates who aren’t ‘fresh out of uni’.

I honestly believe that my life experience and time spent working in the private sector has equipped me to meet the challenges I’ve faced on the Fast Stream. Although I know several Fast Streamers for whom this is their first job, I don’t think I would’ve passed the assessments or been as successful in my placements if I’d have applied straight after graduating.

Do I need to move to London?

Civil servants work across the length and breadth of the UK, and there are plans in place to make the service even less London-centric over the next 10 years.

Officially, Fast Streamers are expected to be flexible and willing to relocate for work – however, individual needs are taking into account, and relocation restrictions can be granted for Fast Streamers with caring responsibilities or medical needs.

Having a child of school age means that my placements will always be within an hour of Leeds. The Department of Health and Social Care, DWP, Ministry of Justice, Cabinet Office, Home Office, DEFRA and others all operate in the area, so restricting my travel hasn’t restricted my opportunities. It’s also reassuring to know that I will be able to find permanent roles which are challenging and stimulating in Leeds after completing the Fast Stream.

Will I have to sacrifice time with my family to be successful?

The Civil Service offers its employees a level of flexibility which came as quite a shock to me after my private sector experience! Fast Streamers are contracted to a 37-hour week, but in an increasing number of roles how, where and when you work these hours is up to you.

I cannot over-emphasise the positive impact this has had on my family life. Currently, I’m working three shorter days and two slightly longer days a week so that I can do the ‘school run’ from Monday to Wednesday. I can freely take time out of my working day to attend school plays / sports days / parents evenings, and make up these hours when I’m able to.

If I’m required to visit offices outside the Leeds area, my travel costs are covered and I’m reimbursed with flexi-time for the time hours spent travelling. And if my son wakes up with an earache and a high temperature, I can simply plug in my laptop and work at home whilst he watches Disney films on the couch!

I’m currently enjoying a really satisfying balance. But I’m comforted to know that if things change and I need to spend more time at home, I could go part-time and still stay on the Fast Stream. Also, I have met a lot of managers and senior civil servants who work part-time, so I can be confident that reducing my hours would not put limits on my career in the future.

The Civil Service Fast Stream is a 3–4 year scheme for graduates of any age and existing civil servants who want accelerated progression into leadership roles. Fast Streamers move between a number of fixed-term placements, giving them the opportunity to experience a range of roles and departments and to gain a broad understanding of how the Civil Service works. The Fast Stream typically accepts applications in September – October each year. For more information about the Fast Stream, or to pre-register your interest in applying, visit the Fast Stream website.

Categories: Achievements, Blogging, Careers, Graduation, Mature Students, Supporting Students