Former UK HR Boss Calls For Civil Service To Recruit Non-graduates

By on 12/08/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Former UK HR boss calls for civil service to recruit non-graduates

A retiring senior UK official is calling for the civil service to take a fresh approach to developing talent.

Kevin White, who left his post of HR director at the Home Office on 10 July, told Global Government Forum in an exclusive interview that the civil service is “at the risk of having a slightly simplistic view that the only real high-flying talent is made up of people who have come from universities.”

He said the civil service should remember that “the investment in the skills of our people at all levels helping them to be the best they can be is really important, and that we have to keep an eye out for talent in all shapes and sizes, because there’s a lot more there than we sometimes tend to think. And our leadership is not sufficiently diverse.”

White was reflecting on his 39-year-long career as civil servant, which, he said was shaped by five people.

One of them was his late fiancée Dame Lesley Strathie, who joined the civil service as an administrative assistant after leaving school with the equivalent to O-Levels, worked her way up and eventually became chief executive and permanent secretary of HM Revenue and Customs.

Strathie would have found it harder to get to the top of the civil service today, White said, because of “a slightly mono-cultural sense of the social and educational background of our top talent”.

The other four people who made a mark on White’s career were his mother – a career civil servant with “a strong sense of social purpose and mission” – plus Sir Geoffrey Holland, who developed fundamental labour market reforms, such as special programmes to reduce the impact of recessions on vulnerable groups and “active labour market policies”; former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell, who he called “the father of the modern civil service”; and former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.


See also: Our full interview with Kevin White

And news:

Outgoing Home Office HR Chief: Attacks On Civil Servants Damage Recruitment

Former UK HR Boss Calls For Civil Service To Recruit Non-graduates

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.


  1. Sandra MacDonald says:

    Never a truer word spoken! We have a wealth of talent across the Civil Service. Unfortunately some people feel threatened by talent so do not nurture or develop it and some really do not know what talent really looks like. There is so much to do – but we shoud ALWAYS do something to improve matters.

    • Anonymous says:

      Totally agree, we have many good senior leaders who have made their way up the ladder without degree level qualifications. Its a shame Kevin did not do anything about driving that forward when in post, infact i remember personally challenging him on this and his view at the time was quite the opposite!

  2. Susan says:

    As ‘a woman of a certain age’, like Kevin’s late fiancee, I can remember when most people left school with no qualifications as such or only O Levels but we still had some ‘talented’ managers. Being a Manager is all about knowing your ‘product’ and knowing how to treat your employees, not book learning. I know some people who now own their own companies who started on the ground floor as an apprentice and worked their way up. I’d say an apprenticeship has more advantages for a company than a degree.

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