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The public face of the Civil Service: Creating a professional operational delivery workforce

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Operational Delivery Profession banner at CS Live 2015 London
Operational Delivery Profession banner at CS Live 2015: London

Operational Delivery is the public face of the Civil Service, covering over 70% of the organisation’s workforce. This is every official who works to support and protect UK citizens and businesses at home and abroad. Their roles range from processing visas or driving licence applications to checking passports, supporting citizens in court, managing prisoners, collecting taxes or helping people find jobs and get the help they need to live their lives.

The 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan outlined the learning, development and reforms needed to ensure the Civil Service had the skilled people it needs to become more agile and focused on delivery and results.

This is all in a days work for many of the organisation’s operational staff. But, in the past, many of those working on the frontline were often the last to be offered structured learning opportunities, being given instead just the technical learning necessary to carry out their roles.

For some, that amounted to little more than being told to read the large paper-based instruction manual they’d been handed on their first day in the job.

Any professional development beyond that - like long-term career planning, accessible learning and programmes tailored to meet individual development needs - was unheard of. Even, as the technology developed, with the launch of e-learning, frontline staff still found it difficult to find inspiring development opportunities when they needed them.

It resulted a poorer service for both our customers and staff alike. The Operational Delivery Professions (ODP) team is designed to change that, creating learning programmes that not only reinforce the capability of operational personnel across departments, but also help them to plan and progress their future careers.

As Ruth Owen, Head of the Operational Delivery Profession, says:

The job we do in Operations is vital to how Government services are delivered to every individual and business in this country. That is why it is so important that we develop as a profession – set high standards and support every member of the profession to be the best they can be.

So, how does that work in practice?

Operational qualifications

Firstly, it means giving people the opportunities and tools they need to bolster their skills and career choices, including providing access to a new curriculum of learning and development via Civil Service Learning.

This includes a range of internationally recognised qualifications in Operational Delivery. Created by the ODP team, these are City & Guilds and Chartered Management Institute accredited, starting at Level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) right up to Level 7 (post-graduate equivalent).

Each qualification contains a variety of units, covering everything from ‘working in operational delivery’ to ‘planning’ and ‘leadership’.

These courses are open to operational professionals at all grades and departments, and the ODP team has worked hard to ensure they offer staff value for money compared to similar qualifications available externally.

The qualifications are knowledge-based and use work-based scenarios to reinforce students’ understanding. They are also designed to be flexible, fitting round people’s day jobs with online learning. Candidates can use these digital tools to submit assessments, complete tests, carry out learning and receive feedback at a time and pace of their choosing.

Working for departments and operational professionals

Over 3,000 staff members have signed up for these courses so far and the feedback from students has been incredibly positive.

A Higher Executive Officer at the Legal Aid Agency, studying for a Level 6 Operational Delivery qualification, said:

I have been impressed with the high quality of the qualification and the fantastic learning products and tools created by ODP.

A Senior Executive Officer, who recently completed their Level 7 Operational Delivery qualification, agrees:

It taught me new skills including planning and project management, which helped me to reflect on projects I had managed before and identify how I could do it differently in the future.

This support echoes wider industry research, where 80% of managers said that a CMI qualification is a key part of becoming a professional manager. And 93% of managers undertaking a CMI programme said they would recommend these qualifications.

Building on this success, the ODP team has just launched three new qualifications - developed with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), City & Guilds, Capita and Premier Partnership - that they believe will further develop their understanding of how to manage the delivery of services to customers and build their relationship management skills.

These are:

  • C&G Level 4 Award in Relationship Management (open to all staff)
  • C&G Level 4 Award in Managing the Delivery of Services to Customers (bespoke to DWP only)
  • C&G Level 4 Certificate in Managing the Delivery of Services to Customers (open to all staff)

And, again, frontline staff are seeing the benefits.

A DWP staff member, who completed their Level 2 Operational Delivery qualification said:

I have found the ODP e-learning straightforward, concise and relevant. That this learning leads to a qualification, recognised both inside and outside the Civil Service, is a definite plus and should be viewed as such for anyone, whether they are looking to progress here or elsewhere long term, or simply to improve themselves as a professional.

Looking forward, the team is keen to produce more bespoke work like this: creating new professional qualifications and/or training units, in collaboration with departments, that can bolster operational capability.

As Ruth Owen states:

Achieving externally recognised qualifications is a core part of our strategy for professionalising Operations. We want to increase the take up of our qualifications and ensure they are well embedded into the day-to-day work we do so that the learning also impacts on the service we give. I am very proud to be Head of Profession for Operational Delivery, and want that pride to be felt by every operational professional in the Civil Service too.

A trailblazing apprenticeship scheme

In addition, the ODP is focused on inspiring and training the next generation of operational delivery professionals.

During the course of this Parliament, the Government has committed to create 3 million new apprenticeships across the country. In response, the ODP team has created its own apprenticeship scheme to help future proof the Civil Service’s front-line skills.

Nearly 500 new apprentices have signed up already this year.

Apprenticeships like this help motivate staff, increase productivity and strengthen the organisation’s skills base. For young Apprentices, these schemes offer a sound foundation for their future career, mixing practical experience with high-level, internationally recognised qualifications.

Civil Service Surge Management and Rapid Response Team

But the work doesn’t stop there. When crises strike, it’s operational people who are called in first to help. That’s why the ODP unit has established a new Surge and Rapid Response Team (SRRT). This is a game-changer in the way the Civil Service can respond to sudden surges in customer demand and/or unforeseen urgent events, which tend to require small numbers of people to support departments for short periods of time.

The ODP has already recruited 200 administrative officer apprentices to help pilot a team that departments can call on in operational emergencies.

This team is currently based at three locations: Longbenton (Tyne & Wear), Merryhill (West Midlands) and Peterlee (County Durham), working to specially designed employment contracts that enable them to be deployed quickly to anywhere in the UK or overseas and work flexibly on evening, weekend and night shifts, as needed.

The Surge Management Steering Group, led by Ruth Owen, considers requests for the team to respond to unexpected surges or critical incidents. And, so far, the SRRT have supported HMRC, the Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, DWP and Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Ruth says:

This is one of the most exciting initiatives in the Civil Service right now. We are testing new ways of working across Departmental boundaries and meeting the needs of very different sets of customers at times of peak demand. The team are demonstrating a high degree of flexibility and adaptability in their deployments, and we are still learning just how broad their remit could be.

Looking forward

The ODP team prides itself as being on the leading edge of professionalising the Civil Service. Providing new resources and changing the way in which the Civil Service operates in times of need are helping to improve services and also give ODP staff more professional transferable skills that can be used in roles across government departments.

The team are working to ensure that operational staff can take greater control of their own development and career path, gaining the recognition, opportunities and support they deserve.

Top priorities for the future include:

  • further testing of the surge management capacity and capability to better respond to peak customer service demands
  • developing and designing the future concept of operations in government, alongside the digital transformation already underway in departments
  • identifying and supporting talent in the ODP
  • supporting the Government’s strategy to recruit 1000s more apprentices into government
  • continuing to support its members in career management, personal development and building their skills and expertise to enable departments to meet their delivery objectives

So, if you’re an operational professional looking for a new challenge in the New Year, make sure you sign up to learn and develop with your peers – opening up a world of possibility for the future.

Discover more at Civil Service Learning: Operational Delivery Profession.

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  1. Comment by Anthony posted on

    You state "I've just recently completed a CMI Level 5 in Leadership and Management". Is there any financial reward for taking these courses? I.e. any extra in the pay packet?

  2. Comment by Lesley Heyworth posted on

    I've just recently completed a CMI Level 5 in Leadership and Management, and whilst I found managing the time around my young family and having a job which was at times (most times) full on, I've really enjoyed the experience.

    I decided to choose units, some based on subjects I knew well and enjoyed and others, I have had very little experience of. It didn't matter to me what I had studied earlier in my career, because this was now, and this was a different subject and would help me do my job now.

    It's not often in this climate that businesses are saying to people, 'Yes, go for it and get a qualification and we will provide the funding', so why not take them at their word and do something? The increased confidence and self belief topped off with new knowledge which will stay with me into other roles sideways and upwards and across departments is something to celebrate.

    I cannot rate these qualifications highly enough!! You just need to try one to find out.

  3. Comment by James Bishop posted on

    I’m a big believer in qualifications. I know, I know… I would say that wouldn’t I?! But I suspect a good proportion of the 1000s of operational delivery professionals currently doing one of our qualifications will agree with me.

    People do a qualification for a variety of reasons. There are people who want a structured learning journey to support them in a new role e.g. joining the civil service for the first time or getting promoted, and there are others who want to do one to support their career aspirations. Whatever the reason there is a clear link between the qualification and a job they want to do really well.

    I’ve got a degree but still wanted to do an Operational Delivery Profession qualification that would help me be a better manager. The qualification’s structured units and robust assessment gave me the confidence and skills to do the job well and also the models and language to self-critique and pull together better performance appraisals, job applications and do better at interviews. Doing the qualification appears to have paid off as I’ve been promoted three times since completing it.

    It has never been a better time to do an ODP qualification or simply do some learning to support your career.

  4. Comment by fanwa love posted on

    I agree with Charlotte Smith. I cant prove it but im sure i have been one of those people who have been deliberately discredited by a line manager as they were under pressure to get 10 % of people in the lower box marking. Coming up to appraisal time i started being picked on for really silly things like leaving my chair slightly out from the desk one time, not sitting on my chair correctly, & not getting involved in clubs/groups at work. i was told i had a poor attitude because of this I was given a must improve which i have never had before in my whole career. Looking back i should have put in an appeal but i was so downbeaten, scared & had no faith in my employer that they would protect me,so i didnt bother. really upsetting . Something does need to change.

    • Replies to fanwa love>

      Comment by Dr Carl posted on

      Fanwa, You are so right - something has to change. The only way to avoid a "Must Improve" is for one of your colleagues to pick it up instead – how mad is that? Because regardless of how well you have performed as an individual or regardless of how well a whole team have performed, 1 in 10 *have* to fit the bottom of the curve. Therefore, if you have 20 Einsteins in a performance group, 2 of them still have to be "Must Improve" because they are a bit less "Einsteiny" than the others!!

  5. Comment by Anthony posted on

    Ruth Owen,
    I have 6 GCE O Levels, gained between 19977-1980, an A Level in Government & Politics gained in 1990. Graduate Certificates from the Open University in Business Studies, Social Sciences & Higher Education, and a Graduate Diploma also from the Open University. so why would I need to do what is effectively a lower qualification by doing a City & Guilds. & when will the qualifications I have be recognised instead of being glossed over, as MoD/DE&S no longer appear to regard them as useful.

  6. Comment by ANNON - NW posted on

    I agree with all previous comments / concerns about Civil Service development and appraisal systems. We take time out to compete each annual staff survey and then add to this by leaving these comments but management still don't listen. Operational staff on the front line won't have time to read articles like this, let alone access multiple web pages to source the qualification they need. Those who do so probably work in an environment where they don't deal with customers every day. Those who do can't be released to complete training. They are also the ones who end up with lower performance ratings because they don't have the time to tackle the complex and time consuming appraisal process. It's so unfair because they are the workers who dedicate all their working hours to delivering an excellent customer service.

  7. Comment by Ruth Owen posted on

    I am not going to respond to all the comments on pay and PMR. We know there are strong views about both topics regularly featured on these pages. What I would ask is that we recognise the real progress we have made in developing excellent learning and qualifications for Operational civil servants, which is the majority of the civil service although not always the highest profile parts of the civil service. Every Operational colleague I meet is passionate about the job they do and wanting to be the best at what they do, now and in the future. It would be good to celebrate that and to congratulate those who are already taking their qualifications and being rightly recognised for their excellence. Anyone being denied an opportunity to build their operational skills can always get in touch with the ODP team (see the CSL ODP pages) or with me direct.

  8. Comment by Anthony posted on

    I have just checked on the Civil Service Learning site.
    the cost of the C&G Level 4 Certificate in Managing the Delivery of Services to Customers is £168.
    Given budgetry restraints on training, it's not something I'll be looking to undertake. Why can these courses not be free?

  9. Comment by Donna posted on

    I really like the idea of the Operational Delivery Profession and having the skills to literally work in any government department. I've had 36 years in the department and am encouraged that the department is providing useful learning for people. However, there are two issues I have. Firstly, if the government wants us all to strive to be the same excellent standard, why aren't all departments paid the same? There are massive differences between some departments. Secondly, they should scrap any bonus related appraisal system so that everyone can be judged individually and fairly and the bonus money put back in the pot to give us a decent pay award. At present there is too much inequality amongst what prides itself as diverse and fair employer.

  10. Comment by Maria posted on

    Michael (Watson) I disagree someone will respond and what they will say is that we do not have a forced curve it is guided distribution.....

  11. Comment by Martyn (MOD) posted on

    I asked if I could do a 9 hour CV writing and applications online course. My Manager said "How does that help me?"

  12. Comment by S Wilson posted on

    This is all well and good, but I have been told that there is no way out of a Jobcentre once you are there. You can't transfer out to use your skills elsewhere, develop new skills in a different department. I have been informed that the only way out is external recruitment or promotion.

  13. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    Regarding the issue of L&D itself, would i would like to see improve, is more educational courses that may not be directly related to the business pe se BUT will allow a colleague to develop all the same, ie more A Level, O Level, GCSEs for example. Have the opportunity to learn a new language such as French and German (the languages would be handy in a business environment!) And opportunities to improve their reading skills by doing an English Lit course or provide support for those have dyslexia or dyscalcia. And also basic e learning courses in First Aid for example. It needs more thinking outside the box and offer employees a broad range of skill sets.

  14. Comment by Andy posted on

    I have been a learning & development professional in operational delivery for nearly 20 years earning degree level qualifications along the way. I have had more interest from Private companies than I have from any Home Office Department. The organisation doesn't see or appreciate the skills individuals have, they only see the cost....until this attitude changes we will never be able to compete with the public sector where success is strived for, valued and supported.

    • Replies to Andy>

      Comment by Kay Penkethman posted on

      I have recently completed level 6 ODP and found it one of the most rewarding journeys undertaken in my 22 years of working in the civil service. It was a personal journey for me having suffered from a couple of TIA's (mini strokes) and became a personal challenge and i suppose I wanted to prove to myself that hadn't lost my ability. I completed and passed within 6 months and am now half way throught level 7.
      Level 6 is the eqivalent to a degree - what an amazing opportunity to undertake this within the workplace for free. In comparison to a uni student I completed mine in 6 months as opposed to someone in Uni taking 3 years. I was able to continue working full time with no loss of earnings unlike most uni students. I incurred no personal cost unlike the majority of uni students who face a £27,000 tuition fees alone.
      My journey was one of development I took time for me and was in control of my own development, I learned a lot about myself through investing the time to reflect and examine my role, impact, values etc.
      This is an opportunity to develop, learn more about yourself and get some tangible qualifications which may be really useful in the future, I would recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity and that you chat to others who have undertaken it to get some support

  15. Comment by Maria posted on

    Time and time again feedback is given to the effect that the curve is forced and time and time again it is ignored/denied/dismissed.

  16. Comment by Michael Watson posted on

    Tremendous comments - just a shame nobody in the position to do something about it will pay attention or even respond to them!

  17. Comment by Amanda posted on

    I asked study for qualification and was turned down due to budget restraints.

  18. Comment by Anthony posted on

    If I'm expected to gain these qualifications,
    C&G Level 4 Award in Relationship Management (open to all staff)
    C&G Level 4 Award in Managing the Delivery of Services to Customers (bespoke to DWP only)
    C&G Level 4 Certificate in Managing the Delivery of Services to Customers (open to all staff)
    Then I expect a financial reward in the shape of a pay rise for doing so.

  19. Comment by glen posted on

    This is great...........BUT if i improve, engage, do more, i expect to get paid more. Simple fact of life,
    being good at your job will not pay the mortgage.

  20. Comment by Dr Carl posted on

    Dear ODP Team, you state "The ODP team prides itself as being on the leading edge of professionalising the Civil Service." Good stuff. This is exactly what we need. However, there is one thing that really lets us down – the unfair performance reporting system in the Civil Service with its forced rankings, the time-consuming paperwork and the frustration engendered among managers and employees alike. At the moment, (in DWP, I can’t speak for other Departments) a person’s appraisal is not judged on his or her performance alone but is compared to any number of others, sometimes not even doing the same job. This regularly leads to staff being given "Poor Performance" ratings simply to meet a distribution curve whereby 10% of staff must be judged as poor performers. This results in the loss of the year's (non consolidated) pay bonus payment and the threat of disciplinary action. Several large commercial organisations are doing away with this nonsense – this quote from the CEO of Accenture: “All this terminology of rankings—forcing rankings along some distribution curve or whatever—we’re done with that, we’re going to evaluate you in your role, not vis à vis someone else who might work in Washington, who might work in Bangalore. It’s irrelevant. It should be about you.” – Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme.
    Can the Civil Service now do the same?

    • Replies to Dr Carl>

      Comment by Mick posted on

      Hear Hear to both comments above

      • Replies to Mick>

        Comment by John posted on

        Totally, completely and utterly agree! How much longer are we going to continue with this divisive, time wasting and downright unfair performance system. How many comments are needed until someone in the SCS wakes up to the fact??

    • Replies to Dr Carl>

      Comment by Dale posted on

      "results in the loss of the year's (non consolidated) pay bonus payment " Pay bonus, I wish that was still even a possibilty. Some departments did away with them years ago, no matter the performance rating.

    • Replies to Dr Carl>

      Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

      I have to agree with Dr Carl. I have worked in the Civil Service for over 22 years. During this time i have had to endure the complete removal of a pay scale that you could work up until you reached the top. And we have all had to endure a pay freeze for the last five years and the measly 1% rise that is offered hardly covers the cost of rising bills and living costs. Unlike MP's and Government Minisiters who happily awared themselves a huge 11%.

      Now i come to how this relates to the appraisal system. With no pay incentive, what is the point of having it in the first place. We are here to sell our labour first and foremost. People are going to say to themselves why bother to go the extra mile! That is not reflective of my personal opinion but i am sure this will be thinking of many who are struggling to live on bread and baked beans as they are struggling to make ends meet.

      The good Doctor has also made a very good point about the distribution system being flawed in that it requires managers to place 10% of their staff in the lowest box marking. This is discriminatory and is open to abuse whereby malicious line managers deliberately discredit a colleague for this very purpose.

      I do agree performance has to be monitored of course, but we should take a more holistic approach and look at the person and be asking what skills they have and can they be better employed in a role they will flourish in.