Public sector chiefs urge graduates to tackle societal challenges

Heads of organisations across the not-for-profit and public sector have warned they will need a new generation of potential leaders with far broader skills to address huge challenges in the provision of care and services.

Their comments accompany a call for UK undergraduates to apply to be “CEO for a Day”, sharing a working day one-on-one with a chief executive. Twenty-three top leaders are taking part in the 2019 UK scheme, which is open for applications until next week, midnight on 28th January.

Five of the leaders taking part in the UK 2019 CEO for a Day represent not-for-profit or organisations in the public sector, straddling the civil service, NHS, education and charity sectors. All anticipate greater demands on the next generation of leaders as a result of more complex pressures on care and public services.

“We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift, with growth in demand for care, the need for financial constraint, and a wide range of opportunities to improve patient care,” said Roland Sinker, Chief Executive of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. “The opportunity is to work with patients and highly skilled professionals alongside new technology, in areas like artificial intelligence, use of big data and genomics.”

 “There are three big challenges with which we’re grappling,” Mr Sinker added. First, how do we blend a deeply committed and skilled workforce with technological advance? Then how do we join up what patients demand, notably across health and social care, and work with partners in the pharmaceutical industry and universities to bring in new models of care?” The next generation of NHS leaders, said Mr Sinker, will thrive in an ambiguous, changing and diverse environment. They will be doing good.  

Huge challenges also face the country in the provision of infrastructure, and the civil service is driving greater diversity in its bid to attract the brightest and best, according to Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport, who is also participating in 2019 CEO for a Day.

HS2 is well underway and will become the backbone of our rail network – at least 20 city and town centre locations will be served by HS2 trains from the South East to Scotland,” she said.  Crossrail is another world-class infrastructure project which will transform the South East – not only making journeys better but driving regeneration and boosting the UK economy by up to £42 billion.

All of this is being delivered while we oversee the everyday running of the transport network – a network that is likely to look very different by 2040.”

When I started, the Civil Service felt like an elite institution – hierarchical, mostly white and predominantly male. Transport is still a male-dominated industry, but we are making huge in-roads,” Ms Kelly added. “The Civil Service has set its ambition to be the UK’s most inclusive employer by 2020.”

Professor Mary Stuart, Vice-Chancellor of Lincoln University, who is both participating in CEO for a Day and encouraging undergraduates to apply, advises young people to focus on the bigger picture of organisations they may be interested in and not only their specific role.

“Gain as much insight into your organisation as you can - the organisation is bigger than your department or role and having a wider perspective will help you succeed and demonstrate a commitment to the goals of the organisation,” Professor Stuart said, adding that new people should aim to think of new ideas and help others.

“Team working and supporting others in a work environment always pays off.”

The pace of change is also impacting work in the charity sector, according to Javed Khan, Chief Executive of Barnardo's, the UK’s oldest and largest national children’s charity. “The world today is changing faster than ever before, and leaders need to be flexible and responsive,” Mr Khan said.

“At Barnardo’s, we know first-hand that childhood is also changing, with young people facing new and increasingly complex challenges. We believe that with the right support all children can follow their dreams, and any young person, however difficult their early circumstances, can go on to become a leader.”

Mark Freebairn, a senior partner of Odgers Berndtson who leads the CEO for a Day initiative in the UK, said a key objective of the initiative is to give young people who may not otherwise have the opportunity, a chance to experience what it’s like to lead a major organisation and reach the top. “We want to do what we can to inspire young people from all backgrounds, and it’s exciting how many of the current business leaders we work with want to help with that too,” he said.

The UK is one of 12 countries across the Odgers Berndtson global network taking part in CEO for a Day. So far almost 20,000 students across all the participating countries have applied, with almost 1,000 chief executives and young people taking part.