GROW Traineeships – recruiting remotely during Covid

ICM are currently busy planning the final year of the GROW Trainee programme. In doing so we have been reflecting on our last recruitment cycle back in November, which saw us welcome four new GROW Trainees to the ICM team. This year we have Lily based at Back on Track, Steve on the Housing First team and Stan and Kelvin in our engagement team, and we couldn’t be happier. However, recruiting GROW Trainees during a global pandemic is not the ideal set of circumstances we’d hoped for. So we’d like to share a little about what we learned and what we will be taking forward in our eighth year.

For this recent cohort of GROW Trainees their first day in the new role happened to coincide with day one of lockdown two (remember that one). In all honesty, everyone was apprehensive about how this would go. We’ve never recruited GROW Trainees remotely before, and naturally we worried that this induction period wouldn’t have the same sense of connection for the new team members. We might practically be able to tell them everything they need to know over zoom, but how do we create the feeling of being welcomed into an organisation when everyone is physically so removed? What’s more, how would we support people going through such a major life transition in entering paid employment, during what is already such a challenging time. There was a lot to consider.

First of all, we decided to ease our new team in gently, we reduced the working hours for the first 12 days of the traineeship down with everyone working a 10 – 4 day. After all, we didn’t want to induct people to the wonderful world of zoom fatigue in the first two weeks. Each day was balanced between information sessions, introductions to colleagues and more social activities and ice breakers.

One of our main challenges was inevitably IT set up. Training people in using IT via a computer is not ideal. Thankfully, after 8 months of the pandemic all of our Trainees were used to using Zoom so we were able to muddle through by making the most of the share screen function so that we could provide demonstrations where possible. There was a silver lining to this aspect of remote working though, with every one of our trainees having the time to significantly develop their IT skills in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. A core skill that will continue to serve them throughout their traineeship and future careers.  

There were some other unanticipated benefits to remote recruitment. We found that introductions with colleagues were more in depth than usual. Instead of what would normally be a quick hello in the office, our trainees were spending at least 30 minutes with each person, finding out exactly what they did and how they would work together. This isn’t always something you have time for in normal circumstances. In addition to this, we found that we put more time and energy into ensuring that those initial weeks were person-centred. With everyone having to transform their homes into their office we focused more on the person as a whole, taking into account how the personal and professional worlds blend into one another and affect each person differently in times like these. More than ever, our support for GROW Trainees was as much about how they were coping personally as they were professionally. This meant more time talking about boundary setting and wellbeing, and more time dedicated to creating an environment of mutual support. One of the core elements of being a GROW trainee is about having the freedom to make mistakes, stumble or fail, with the knowledge that it won’t be met with judgement but with support and encouragement to try again. This was even more important for this cohort as people adjusted to the intensity of remote working, and after three months we’ve certainly managed to create that team bond we worried so much would be missing this year.  

Lastly, without the rapid pace of the hub to distract us, we spent more time covering the theory side; psychologically informed environments (PIE), trauma-informed practice, reflective practice, co-production, systems change. All of which nurtured more thought-provoking conversations between us all, highlighting our values and different perspectives.

All of this is not to say that we didn’t come away with areas to improve on. Some of our learning for next time would be:

  • Build in more time for personal reflection and head space – we have created a reflection diary to help us do just that.
  • Despite our best efforts to avoid zoom burnout, there was still too much time staring at screens.
  • Allow more time for IT queries, dramas, malfunctions.
  • Make sure people have the equipment they need before their first day where possible, e.g. desks, chairs etc.

We are overjoyed to have our four new trainees in the ICM team, and we want to say a huge thank you to them for their resilience, determination and positive attitude in starting this job during such difficult circumstances. We’re looking forward to putting some of this learning to practice again soon. Watch this space…

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