The work of the Government Digital Service in leading digital transformation is discussed here, with a focus on their recently promoted initiative to meet the demand for software developers in government
The Government Digital Service (GDS) is part of the Cabinet Office in the UK. (1) The main task of GDS is to make government work better for all by leading digital transformation. The aim of GDS is to help people interact with government and support government to operate in a more efficient and effective manner. GDS employs no less than 850 staff throughout the UK and their main office is in Aldgate, London.
The high demand for software developers in government
In early March 2019, we find out that 22 career civil servants, from six government departments in the UK, were chosen to take part in a unique pilot programme that will see them learn vital skills due to the high demand for software developers in government. The Software Developer Accelerated Apprenticeship takes place over a one-year, not a two-year period, and includes the option to take part in a 12-week training boot camp then to spend the rest of the year on placement in their department.
The programme focuses on retraining already skilled civil servants with new technical skills, which can fit in with the needs of their departments. 182 applications have been received from participating departments, which are: Cabinet Office, Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Home Office and Ministry of Justice.
Kevin Cunnington has led an array of large scale, global and digital transformation programmes and took up the post of Director General of the Government Digital Service in August 2016. (2) In his capacity as Head of the Digital, Data and Technology Profession at GDS, he explains why investing in the development of existing staff is crucial.
“Investing in developing our people is very important and we knew there were civil servants who had the potential and aptitude to become software developers but not the opportunity to pursue this. We wanted to offer them a chance to reach their full potential and enhance their skills whilst continuing to work for their department, enabling us to bring new talent into the profession.”
The 22 apprentices took part in a rigorous selection process and all graduated 1st February 2019 and are working on placement in their departments, which is the second phase of the programme. The feedback on the programme has been tremendously positive, such as that from Sharon, a caseworker for the Home Office who is delighted to have the opportunity to re-train, as she explains. “As a civil servant you do not get opportunities as unique as this to re-train. I have always enjoyed solving problems and getting things to work. I have experienced issues as a front end user, but I now know that coding allows you to create solutions.”
Another comment comes from Aga, Executive Assistant in the Director General’s office at GDS, who explains the remarkable progress she has made: “I am surprised at how quickly we are progressing, and in the first six weeks of training I learnt basic object-oriented programming, test-driven development, web concepts, and databases. I’ve learnt more than just coding, I’ve learnt about testing your code with the right tools.”
Transforming public services in the UK
Looking at the wider picture, we know that The Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession is based at the GDS and works collaboratively across government to assist departments and organisations develop, retain and attract, the people and skills required to transform public services in the UK. Up-skilling public servants in crucial skills areas through various cross government programmes and initiatives, particularly the Data Science Accelerator and the Software Developer Accelerated Apprenticeship is a key part of the Profession’s work.
Looking ahead, at the end of the one year programme the apprentices will undertake a final assessment with the British Computer Society and if successful, the Level 4 Software Developer Apprenticeship will be awarded to them which will qualify them to become junior software developers. Following on from these positive results, the Digital, Data and Technology Profession plans to expand the programme across the government. (3)
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