GDS building IT capability in government

Holly Ellis, Director of Capability at the Government Digital Service, will be speaking at the upcoming Think Digital Government 2017 conference. Here, she gives us a flavour of why

Posted 21 August 2017 by

Holly Ellis is Director of Capability, Digital Data and Technology Profession in GDS and central government. The digital, data and technology profession currently comprises 17,000 digital, data and technology colleagues across government. She will be a main speaker at the upcoming Think Digital Government 2017 conference, in the session on Skills, so we sat down with her in advance to try and understand her role and why she sees this as a key topic

What is your role and responsibility, then, Ms Ellis?

My job is to lead the cross-government strategy to help departments recruit, develop and retain the right people and skills needed to transform public services. I’ve worked in the digital industry, in both the private and public sector for 18 years. Before joining GDS, I was interim Chief Operating Officer for Digital, Data and Technlogy (DDaT) at the Home Office and prior to that, I was the Deputy Director for Digital Delivery.

What is the worse case scenario with digital, data and technology capability in government?

That the skills we are looking for, and in the volumes we’re aiming for, simply aren’t available. We know there are shortages in some very specialist areas which can potentially delay our progress. Recognising this now is important, and we already continuously mitigate against this risk, designing training programmes to develop the skills we need, making sure our resources are working on the highest priority projects and programmes and improving our approach to attraction and retention.

What can departments do?

Individually, departments do an enormous amount themselves already to attract talent and develop capability and there are some excellent initiatives in place to build skills for the future. My team’s role is to support departments and help solve the digital, data and technology capability issue once for government.

A recent significant initiative was to co-develop the first single national structure of digital, data and technology job roles in government. This capability framework was delivered in March 2017 following several months of close collaboration with numerous departments and specialist communities across government. A beta version is published on GOV.UK.

Within this framework, 37 Digital, Data and Technology job roles have been defined. The Job roles include; a description of the Job role, the skills expected at different levels of mastery (skills and knowledge), high level template job descriptions and a career pathway.

The aim of the framework is to:

  • Assist departments to more easily define and recruit DDaT specialists
  • Provide consistency across government in role definitions which in turn enables; clearer career pathways; consistent learning and development offers and the ability to review and develop attraction and retention strategies. Cross departmental consistency within the profession is a critical enabler of other projects we are running.

We also run the GDS Academy, which is now available to all departments (the GDS Academy, formerly the DWP Digital Academy, having transferred over to GDS in May). It aims to train 3,000 civil servants a year in Digital skills. The current prospectus is designed for:

  • practitioners already in the profession with a need or interest to develop their skills
  • people who are part of a digital transformation project, but not practitioners, with a need to build greater awareness of Digital, Data and Technology.
  • people wanting to join the profession .

We are also in the process of running a discovery across departments to capture their current and upcoming DDaT learning and development needs. This will help develop our strategy and test our vision for the future.

Our team also supports departments with senior level recruitment acting as the centre of expertise for Digital, Data and Technology leadership roles. We have already helped source over 250 senior roles across government.

We also manage two cross-government talent schemes; the prestigious graduate programme DDaT Fast Stream which opens for applications on 14 September and our apprentice scheme DDaT Fast Track which attracted a record number of applicants earlier this year.

I’m also aware, by the way, that some organisations outside of government have been using the Capability Framework we have developed. This is massively exciting for us. Digital, Data and Technology is an industry where in some roles career pathways (for example) are in their infancy, where the terminology used to describe roles is inconsistent,  and where rapidly evolving technology requires equally rapid learning and development offers to be made available.

Developing common language in this space, and defining roles and career pathways consistently can only be a good thing in helping us build a better cross-industry capability for the future.

Sounds exciting. What will all this look like in a year’s time, say?
In a year’s time, my hope is that we will have significantly raised the profile of the opportunities available in our profession and within government – which are truly at the forefront of some of the most exciting and challenging digital transformations in the industry.

My hope is also that our learning and development offer will have grown significantly and that all the ground work we are doing today on the Capability Framework and recruitment approaches will have made in significant difference to the make-up of our DDaT workforce, particularly ensuring we are making good traction in addressing the gender balance and diversity in the profession.

Thanks for your time today, Ms Ellis, and we look forward to hearing more at Think Digital Government 2017.

If you’re interested in Digital Data and Technology Profession’s ideas and achievements in Capability, don’t hesitate to secure your place at the conference, which is taking place on the 15th September at the Business Design Centre, Islington, to find out more.

Go here to find out more about registration, which is FREE to qualified members of the public sector.