15 July 2021

Recruiting activists: ‘We’re never shy about asking’

R&C Leeds branch organiser Max Darby explains how their branch is ensuring there is a role for the many reps and advocates they have recruited.

Twelve new reps have come on board in 2020 and 2021 – some of whom have been recruited via online sessions on Teams – and 25 people have expressed an interest in becoming an advocate, but what next?

How do you identify people to potentially recruit as activists?

After our AGM we look at where we have got gaps, what areas we need representation in. For example, have our equalities groups got active officers? Intermittently we write to all our members asking them if they were interested in a rep position, or any of the other positions that had become available, with a little blurb about what the role is. We've had really good responses from those, which is really promising. Last year we brought in six new reps and the same again this year, which is quite a substantial portion of the BEC.

How are you getting on with recruiting advocates and using the role?

We have had a substantial cohort of people showing an interest – around 25 are on our list. We've struggled with the position a little bit during Covid, as it’s more difficult to find stuff to do for people which is all digital. In the near future, is our plan is to ask advocates to bring us feedback regarding returns to the office and mental health, and also on trials that are happening in different lines of business as a result of our recent pay negotiations [in HMRC], and really trying to get them involved in that sense.

How else have you been recruiting activists?

One way has been taking part in sessions on Teams. People registered their interest in being involved and we held them as a kind of broadcast/ Q&A. I did a PowerPoint presentation, which had been put together by one of our learning coordinators, and intermittently asked questions of the group, took reactions and did a Q&A. It was really successful, we got a lot of very positive feedback. And almost everyone involved went on to, at the very least, get in touch with their branches to ask how they could get involved. For everyone who expressed an interest in particular roles during the meetings, we followed up with their relevant branch secretaries to ask to them to keep an eye out for them, and make sure to respond to them quickly and do whatever possible to get them involved.

I have also taken part in more general activist recruitment, including advocate roles and equality officer roles, as part of the Learning at Work Week that PCS was involved in in HMRC [link to Activate case study Anne Grier]. I delivered a couple of sessions to people which included laying out the advocate role as a perfect place to start if you want to get to know the people involved before you take on a higher role with more responsibilities. It is that kind of avenue in to give you an idea of what life as a PCS rep is like.

What has been key to getting new activists on board?

We're very open and direct with members, and never shy about writing to people and asking who's interested, or asking people on an individual basis. We look at people who we think have the right skills and ask them, as well as doing the blanket approach. And then when they do come in, we give them the opportunity to actually do what they said they wanted to do.  

Also, as a branch we've got a really high proportion of new starters – myself included. Historically, this was a low recruitment area but that's changed significantly over the last few years. A big part of that has been the branch being really welcoming to new starters who aren't among the ‘inner circle’. We've not only been welcomed but we've taken up senior roles and taken on a lot of responsibility, and we've done a lot of good work with it. 

Do you have any other organising tips?

One of the key things that we did, before coronavirus took hold, and has proven to be invaluable since then, is that we set up an HMRC email address for the branch that a number of senior reps can access. From that we've been able to make sure all our members are hearing from us with information on how to get in touch. We've picked up a lot of personal cases that way, rather than them going to an individual rep. This allows us to both allocate the work a lot better and have a good idea of what issues people are facing, identify any kind of underlying issues or themes and just generally have a better knowledge of our membership.

Within PCS Digital the organising app area has been absolutely vital for me, as the branch organiser. It's where we pull all of our information from, about who's leaving and coming into the branch. Three other branches have shut down and all transitioned into ours, almost entirely during this Covid period, so we've had swathes of new people who none of us have ever met face-to-face. Having that centralised resource has been a massive benefit.  We can write to them and say ‘hi we're your new PCS branch, tell us if you want to be involved, let us know about any of your issues’. Similarly, when people are lapsing or we find out that they've ended their membership we are often able to write and find out whether there anything we can do to retain those people, and that work's been quite successful as well.