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Uplift recruits will 'stay the distance' HR leaders predict

The radical recruitment drive has delivered major improvements despite pressures caused by lockdown and the death of George Floyd, according to the people delivering it.

Early feedback on the Uplift recruitment drive is that the quality of new officers is good and big strides have been made on diversity.

But the Police Federation’s annual conference also heard there is pressure on the officers mentoring them which is likely to increase with the return of the night time economy.

The outbreak of COVID-19 had an immediate impact on recruitment and retention as assessments for promotion and joining switched to online.

Online training and exam programmes were created in just six weeks.

But these weren’t the only challenges: the new recruits were among the first to start degree and apprenticeship programmes. And the death of George Floyd in the United States put the issue of diversity at the top of the agenda.

All of the key figures involved in learning and development in policing gave an upbeat assessment of the achievements so far. 

Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball from the Metropolitan Police said: “Our recruits, who have come into a really uncertain world, have shown themselves to be resilient. We’ve kept the show on the road during a pandemic and during growth.”

There had been no COVID-19 outbreaks among students and no missed intakes.

“Our recruits will respond really well as policing changes. I’m really confident that, so far, we’ve got good quality recruits,” she added.

Kim McGuinness, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, said her force had met the challenge of assimilating new people despite the crisis.

She argued the pandemic had actually created an advantage for recruiters as furloughed workers made new life choices.

“There are probationary joiners who may not have considered putting in an application had it not been for the pandemic. People have reassessed. Sickness and absence rates dropped at the beginning. Police officers want to respond,” she said.

The national drive to find more officers had slightly improved diversity but not at the expense of age.

Helen Ball revealed the average age of new recruits for the Met was 27 and the age range was 19-54.

She said: “I don’t think that’s a great change to before now. I think we’re joining up people with life experience. A real range of people and that’s really good to see.”

Concern was raised across policing after the murder of George Floyd in the United States that it could impact on the recruitment drive and forces would not look like the communities they serve.

Helen Ball said the Met had achieved a 30% ethnic minority and 40% female intake during the uplift. She also said the Floyd case had helped the Met 'think more deeply.'

“We have re-set our own ambitions for recruitment. We are focusing on recruiting even more people from the Black communities,” she said.

The Black Lives Matters protest movement had also encouraged some BAME people to be the change they wanted to see.

She said: “For many it has hardened their resolve. They do want to join. Our cadets, our volunteers are steadfast in saying ‘we want to be with you.’”

But outside of the capital, reaching out to BAME people is more difficult. It’s not just about ‘changing the optics’.

PCC Kim McGuiness said: “There’s a whole range of issue that we have to break down and speak to people about. How do we have more visible BAME leadership in policing? We have to be realistic that the levers we use have to be much more wide than a good recruitment campaign.”

Bringing in the policing degree has been a contentious issue, including a High Court challenge.

One officer, a non-degree female with teenagers, messaged the event and argued that as an older joiner with family responsibilities she wouldn’t have been able to sign up as a new recruit.

Helen Ball said: "We certainly have part time entry routes. We can give a great deal of support. I hope that it is still possible. All of us have to bust the myth that you have to have a degree to join the police. That is really dangerous.”

One delegate, Joe Lloyd Deputy Fed Chair for Leicestershire also pointed to communication as a problem created with the change.

“You need a degree by the end of your probation. We need to focus on why we need it. What is the benefit for the front line? No one has been able to tell me why we need one? I’ve not got one and do just fine.”

Helen Ball said forces needed to “get in the shoes of officers” and think about the pathways into policing. The force had lobbied to get national employment rules changed after research revealed a female officer is unlikely to return to policing after having a second child.

“It is import that we support people coming into the service through different routes,” she said.

But added: “For some people, it [policing] isn’t for them. You do need great communication skills, great problem-solving skills, great people skills.”

Training programmes had been adapted but lockdown had limited crucial patrol work to blend classroom learning into real time incidents.

Emma Williams, Senior Lecturer and Director of Research and Police Partnerships, The Open University, said that would add to pressuring on tutor officers.

“It highlights the real importance of getting the tutor relationship right. I don’t think that’s been consistent across the country.”

That concern was echoed by Jo Noakes, Director of Workforce Development at the College of Policing.

“We recognise the importance role tutors play. We absolutely get that bringing more people into policing will have an impact on tutors. It’s also a really great opportunity for them to get more development.

A concern first raised by the Fed in Police Oracle last year about keeping online assessments has not gone away.

Gemma Fox, a member of the Fed’s National Board, said: “We need to understand what the long-term effectiveness of this is before we in policing accept this as the norm. We don’t want this to become an efficiency tool. It’s about developing staff and ensuring the staff that have additional needs get that support.”

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