Digital capability more and more a focus in Whitehall, says GDS

On Friday, “If you don’t have developers, you don’t have content. And if you don’t have content, you don’t have a service,” GDS’s Holly Ellis reminded delegates at Think Digital Government 2017

Posted 19 September 2017 by

The government knows it needs to do more about skilling up in all things digital – but the good news is, it has a structured plan of action to get there.

That was the encouraging message from one of the main agents for positive change in capability in the heart of Whitehall, Holly Ellis, Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession, Director of Capability at the Government Digital Service (GDS).

Speaking at last week’s well-attended Think Digital Government 2017 conference in London, Ellis told her audience of frontline public sector IT practitioners all about her team’s activities around the core issue of Capability.

“Capability building is happening as part of our overall journey to digital transformation in government,” she emphasised.

That matters, she added, because of the close linkage between development and outcome: “If you don’t have developers, you don’t have content. And if you don’t have content, you don’t have a service,” she pointed out.

Ellis and her fellow GDS skills trackers have identified 17,000 IT professionals in government, and DDaT is one of the fastest-growing career tracks in the whole civil service, she reports.

These are spread right across Whitehall, though, and the challenge is to not just help these individuals but also aid colleagues or joiners who could also perform well in the profession.

To do so, work’s well underway in rationalising what are now around 20-odd separate IT-related internal job titles down to more common cross-Departmental ones, as well as collecting information about gender and other useful HR data points, she said.

GDS Academy has so far trained 6,000 civil servants with digital project skills, the audience also heard, while there’s a growing awareness of how to attract and retain Millennials through techniques including hiring of University-age interns for short term contracts, as well as have the flexibility to recognise that some individuals will come in and out of government IT.

“We appreciate there’s high competition for these skilled individuals, but we also want to welcome them back with a strong offer around the high social impact their work can make when they’re ready to hear it,” she said in a later special Skills panel with other members of her team.

All in all, there’s a real basis for optimism, she concluded:

“There are potentially tens of thousands of civil servants who could be upskilled and re-trained, and into the 37 digital roles that aren’t just coding, either.

“There’s an abundance of opportunity in central government for digital, and it’s just as important as the other roles we train for like HR, finance and commercial.”