Your guide to secondments
A secondment is a temporary transfer to another role, business area, organisation or fire and rescue service away from your primary job. It is more formal than a job rotation and allows you to get first-hand experience so you can truly understand what a different position involves. When managed well, a secondment can be beneficial for all parties involved.
Secondments can be:
- Internal – at a different department or role within your own service
- External – at a different fire and rescue service, a partner organisation or within the NFCC
A secondment allows you to develop skills outside your usual job role and provides networking opportunities that may otherwise be difficult to come by. It can be a valuable way to explore new career possibilities, gain experience and skills, and boost confidence while remaining in secure employment.
The key to a successful secondment is clear communication between all parties and a mutual agreement of what the role will entail.
When to use a secondment
For the individual, a secondment is a great way to explore other avenues. You might consider a secondment for many reasons, including:
- To gain development opportunities by learning new skills and increasing your exposure to different workplace situations
- To utilise your skills in a different area
- If you feel that your skill set is not fully utilised in your current job role
- If you feel your skills might be better suited to a different department
In the NFCC, any secondment needs clear business benefits. However, it is up to the individual service to determine whether this is the case for the individual concerned.
Benefits for the individual include opportunities for:
- Wider career and personal development
- Gaining new skills and experiences
- Applying your skills in a different environment
- Developing a new perspective by seeing different ways of working
- Making you more attractive to employers
- Allowing you to experience working in a new field without a permanent commitment
Secondments can also benefit your employer, for example by:
- Bringing new skills back into the original team, including team-working and communications
- Developing a wider network and range of contacts
- Gaining a reputation as a supportive employer
- Improving employee motivation
- Improving retention prospects
Secondment pros and cons
|Learning new skills: One of the most significant benefits of taking part in a secondment is the range of new skills you will learn. It gives you the opportunity to improve your soft skills, such as communication, networking and building relationships, along with learning new practical skills and possibly even gaining a new qualification or training in a new system. After your secondment, make sure you reflect on how you’ve developed and update your CV accordingly.
|Upheaval to work and personal life: As with any new job, a secondment can prove stressful. It might be a temporary arrangement, but it still involves meeting new people, taking on new challenges and performing at a high level. If a secondment is in a different geographical location to your usual role, this can bring additional pressures. You may have an extended commute, experience the stress of settling into a new place, and it might take you further away from your support network.
|Gaining a new perspective: Seeing how other people and teams work can give you a new perspective to take back to your original team. You get the opportunity to compare two different ways of doing things, which can help you improve systems and operations in your current and future roles.
|Secondment roles are not always clearly defined: A secondment needs to be carefully managed, with clear expectations for all parties. If this doesn’t happen, secondees can find themselves in a role that they don’t quite understand or don’t feel confident in carrying out. Ask your colleagues for recommendations of secondments that have worked well for them to get an idea of whether they can be successful.
|Making new connections: A secondment is an excellent networking opportunity. It gives you the chance to get to know a whole new team, and these relationships can prove beneficial throughout your career. Make a good impression, and you can draw on your new connections when needed.
|The practicalities can be confusing: Your permanent employer usually remains responsible for you, even while you are on your secondment. This means you are still their legal employee, and they must offer you the same legal workplace protections as in your original role. The NFCC Secondment Agreement provides guidance when considering things such as sickness reporting and holiday requests and reporting. Operational colleagues on the flexi rota may also need to consider financial or practical impacts, such as tax implications for having a company car.
|A low-risk opportunity: Secondments enable you to try out a new career path without the risk of leaving your current job behind. If you’re not sure whether to take the leap into a new role, a secondment can be a low-risk opportunity to explore a new position and make sure it works for you.
|Getting long-term value: When you return, start applying your new skills to your current role. It can be easy to slide back into your old routine and ways of doing things, but don’t let your new skills go to waste. You could write up a case study of your secondment experience or produce a guide for future secondees. Show your employer how they have benefited from supporting your secondment.
|A valuable addition to your CV: The skills and experience you gain from a secondment will stay with you for the rest of your career. Having a secondment on your CV shows employers that you are dynamic and motivated to progress. If you plan a secondment strategically, you can fill in any gaps in your CV to strengthen your position in the job market.
|Fitting back into your permanent role: When you’ve been away from your existing employer, job role and team for some time, you may find it difficult to settle back in. Things can move very quickly, and you might notice changes to work processes or new colleagues who have started while you’ve been away. Open communication with your employer throughout your secondment can minimise the impact of changes, along with one-to-ones with your line manager and team catch-ups.
|Job satisfaction: A secondment can be the ideal way to keep your work exciting and give your career momentum. If you are ambitious and enjoy trying new things, a secondment can allow you to move out of your comfort zone and work on your personal and professional growth.
Top 10 tips for succeeding in a secondment
|1. Research your new role
|Before you ask your line manager about a secondment, research what is available. Ask yourself:
· How could it benefit you in the short and long term?
· How could it benefit your current team/service?
· How could it benefit your ‘host’ team?
· What will the workload be like?
· Will it progress your career?
· Will you have the chance to develop your skills?
This knowledge will help you find the most suitable placement and help convince your line manager that you are motivated and committed to doing a secondment.
|2. NFCC Secondment Agreement
|Consider using or adapting the NFCC Secondment Agreement to support you.
|As with most career decisions, good preparation and clear planning can improve your chances of success. Check whether there are any skills you could learn before starting your secondment to help you hit the ground running. If you get the chance to speak to your new manager, ask them what you can do to prepare for the role. You might need login details, equipment or access to programmes so you can be ready from day one.
|4. Contact new team/colleagues before you start
|Starting your secondment with a friendly face will help settle any first-day nerves. If you have mutual connections, ask them to introduce you to some of your new team; otherwise you could ask your new line manager to make some introductions ahead of time.
|5. Stay in touch with your current team
|Ask to be included in email communications and staff updates that are relevant to your original role while you are away. Keep in touch and attend work events. If you can stay relevant and visible while you are away, you won’t have so much catching up to do when you return. Ask for regular (monthly/quarterly) communication with your line manager to discuss what is going on in the team/organisation and for them to plan for your return.
|6. Know what you want to get out of it
|Why do you want the secondment? Think about the skills you wish to develop, and write some clear SMART objectives (see separate guide on setting SMART objectives). Make sure your host line manager knows what you want to achieve from your role so they can support you accordingly.
|7. Ask for feedback
|Keep in touch with your host manager and ask for feedback regularly to help you get up to speed with the rest of the team. You could set up a regular time to check in on your objectives to ensure you are getting what you want from the experience.
|8. Grow your contacts
|A secondment is a valuable networking opportunity. Reach out to people in your host role, attend events and build relationships. Taking your new contacts online, for example by connecting with them on LinkedIn, will make it easier to stay in touch after your secondment.
|9. Debrief and evaluate your secondment
|When your secondment comes to an end, take all the learning you can from it. Review your objectives, reflect on what went well and what could be improved. List the new skills you gained and what you learned from the experience. Don’t forget to update your CV.
|10. Put your new skills into action when you return
|When you think about everything you learnt on your secondment, you will probably find that you can bring plenty of new ways of working and new skills back to your original workplace. Apply them wherever possible, and share opportunities for improvements and best practice with your team and beyond.
The NFCC Secondment Agreement focuses on employees moving to another fire and rescue service as a way of developing individuals and the wider organisation. The NFCC believes that a secondment agreement should be reached between the parties involved. You can use the inter-service secondment agreement template and amend it as required.