Hi, my name is Zachary Barker-Williams and I’m currently in my second year, studying B.A. Theology and Religion, and as part of my course, I completed the Placement module (worth 20 credits) at Birmingham City Council. It was absolutely fantastic, and I’m here to give you a rundown of how I secured the placement, what I did and my top tips for anyone else thinking about sourcing a placement with a local authority.
Securing a placement
This was more difficult than I had originally anticipated. This was partly because I wasn’t fully aware that local council work (for elected councillors) is only meant to be between 5 to 20 hours of work every week, so asking for a two-week long/70 hour placement with a local ward councillor isn’t normally a viable option. One of the councillors for Selly Oak, however, is a member of the City Council Cabinet. I emailed her directly, getting her contact information from the Council’s website, as she represents the Selly Oak ward and I thought I might have more luck approaching the councillor for the ward that I live in. I asked if I could discuss arranging a placement with her, and my email was forwarded on to a Cabinet Office secretariat and it was from there that I was able to organise the placement.
What I did
My first day with the council was primarily taken up by familiarising myself with the composition of the Council, its constitution, and crucially signing confidentiality agreements and receiving my security pass. Even though the local authorities are just that, local, what they do is still politically sensitive and signing that confidentiality agreement meant that the work I did was purely observational. Throughout the week I sat in on various meetings, even the Executive Management Team meetings and individual cabinet members’ briefings. I was also able to speak to the regional manager for the Prevent program, as well as the chairperson for the standing advisory council on religious education. I was also able to attend the launch event for a councillor’s new food waste and food poverty scheme.
The challenges and highlights
Something that was both a challenge and a highlight was the observational nature of the work I was doing. I got a front row seat and was able to see politics as it happened, in its most immediate form. This was not only incredibly exciting, but also really useful in regards to evaluating and understanding not only the work that counsellors and council offices do, but also the specific skills that they used to do their jobs effectively. There were moments in several cabinet members’ briefings when I was internally screaming the entire time because what was happening was so politically explosive. Being surrounded by people who are passionately dedicated to improving people’s lives was so inspiring, and frankly, heart warming as well. I went into this placement with no particular career ambitions, but I’m now totally set on entering politics.
Advice and top tips
My top three tips are definitely:
- Be enthusiastic!
This sounds obvious, but it was being actively engaged and proactive that enabled me to tailor the placement to what I specifically wanted; your colleagues will be far more likely to help you out if you’re enthusiastic about the work you’re doing. This will also help you make valuable connections you can call on later.
- Don’t be afraid to try something you’re not sure about.
I went into this placement not knowing whether or not I was going to enjoy it, or even if it would be helpful to me. This module is all about finding out how and where you can use the skills your degree teaches you – and that might be somewhere you hadn’t considered before.
- Be ambitious!
You can use your experiences to develop yourself further and to kick-start your career – thanks to my time with the City Council, I’ve been invited back for a month during the summer to work with their Press and Communications Office, and I’ve secured placements with some MPs as well. This is all possible because of the skills and insight that my placement afforded me.
It was an amazing experience, one that has opened up so many others for me, so I’d definitely suggest choosing the Placement module if this is available to you!
You can read more information here on the placement modules available in the College of Arts and Law.
This blog post was written by second-year BA Theology and Religion student Zachary Barker-Williams.