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Operational Lead Career Profile

Written by: Fiona Narburgh
Published on: 27 Apr 2021

Meet Matt, an everyday hero working as a Operational Lead Through Care and Edge of Care at Coventry City Council.

Below Matt has shared his story to show what a career as a Operational Lead is like.

What's your role in a nutshell?Matt Clayton

I’m responsible for 750 children and young people in our care and into their adult lives; they might be living in residential children’s homes, foster placements or supported housing. We, the Council, are what’s called the ‘corporate parent’ and aim to give these young people the best start in life possible – we are their family.

I manage a team of 80 people and we get involved in all aspects of the young people’s lives from education and accommodation to finding work and healthcare.  

Was this a planned career or one you fell into?

Fell into to start with! While I was doing my History and Sociology degree, I did some voluntary youth work and really enjoyed it. I didn’t realise that there were actual paid youth work jobs you could do; I thought I’d end up as an accountant. That was until I found out about the Masters in Social Work qualification – getting on the course was my best spontaneous decision.

I started at with a charity, then moved from the voluntary sector, I think because I was always looking to put in place new innovations, things to make life better for children in care and how we could make better links with partners too.

Are you a doer, manager or leader?

Leader. I’m happiest when leading my team; I’ve learned that most people come to work to do a great job and it’s my role to lead and support them to do just that - I’m not a micro-manager. I do love helping and developing people. I’m also quite a doer – I like to make things happen. In the past I’ve led youth trips abroad and been a football captain too.

What do you love best & love least about your job?

I love working with young people, they have so much energy and fire; I really enjoy helping them to channel this into the right places to shape their lives.

When I was first interviewed for a Personal Advisor role (supporting a number of young people directly), there was a 13 year old girl on the interview panel. I then become her Personal Advisor and worked with her for many years, getting involved in all aspects of her life. After her foster placement I used my car to help her move into her first flat, we did the shopping together and learnt about cooking too. She’s married with kids now and we’re still in touch. I get quite a few invitations to weddings and graduations because of that long term relationship I’ve built with care leavers. 

One of the things I love about working here in Coventry is that we are prepared to take risks – if that risk benefits our young people. I had the privilege to lead on the BAFTA nominated documentary Superkids which empowered some of our young people to share their experiences of being in care; some were positive, some were awful – these stories all needed to be heard to build awareness and improve things for the future.

That national and local media coverage has really reaped other benefits, from building greater awareness of children in care to recruitment to the sector. Severn Trent Water is now giving 70% discounts on water bills to young people up to age 25 when they are leaving care – we are the first council to get this is place. We also have more businesses than ever supporting our Care Leavers and Looked After Children in Care Awards – again due to the promotion of our role. These cash prizes and recognition go down really well with our young people.

While I love this development side of the role I don’t enjoy the process side of my job so much; the monitoring side of recording everything we do – I do know it’s really important though.

Do you need: Qualifications? University or apprenticeship or special skills?

You need a degree in Social Work to do my role, or if you’ve done a degree in another subject like I did, then there’s a masters route. You can also do an apprenticeship while working as another route in too.

Routine or variety?

Definitely more variety than routine, because every child and young person is different. I can have my day all planned out then something else more important crops up so that then becomes the focus. Recent examples include child sexual exploitation, County Lines (drug trafficking) and working with the prison service.

The pandemic has meant we are all working very differently too. We’ve been working with the food banks in Coventry far more closely than previously.

Pay check, calling or other benefits?

It’s a real privilege to get paid to work with the most vulnerable in society.

Interestingly among my peers at University, I used to be paid less, now I’ve been promoted up the management ranks, I am paid about the same as my private sector counterparts; but the difference is that I absolutely love my job, I get to make a difference every day - many of my peers don’t have that love, that calling.

There’s plenty of other benefits too - a decent pension, annual leave, flexible hours, it means I can make the school assembly if needed - it’s recognised I can make up the time.

Is there development support available or is it DIY?

One of the benefits of working for the council is all the development and training support. I’m part of a fabulous Practice Leads Development Programme, run by the Department for Education that brings 20 of us together across the country, at a similar level, with input from Directors across the Country – I’ve learnt so much.

Staying put or moving on?

I’ve made the decision to stay put at the moment. The culture here is just so supportive and innovative; I’ve got a great manager that knows I can get easily bored so keeps me busy and interested. I might not find that elsewhere. My family are settled here too – it’s a friendly place.

Life lesson or any specific career advice?

Take all the opportunities you can; don’t wait for things to happen to you, to fall on your plate - take the initiative, put yourself forward.  Go and grab it!

And finally, the best thing about working for the council is… It’s a really innovative council with a big vision to put children at the heart of everything we do, that’s the whole ethos here so it’s an exciting place to work. There’s a really strong sense of team, making life better.

Matt, is an #EverydayHero, working to change and make better the lives of others and you can be an #EverydayHero too. Click here to find roles currently available within Social Care.

Click here to read about more of our #EverydayHeroes