Behind DWP Digital’s data recruitment drive
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) digital function, DWP Digital, is carrying out a sweeping recruitment drive for data roles as it seeks to execute an ambitious digital transformation agenda - with data at the heart.
“Every week we are launching new recruitment positions for data skills as we look to build up our in-house capability. We are currently working on transforming the digital architecture of the welfare state and that takes a lot of very talented people with experience in a whole range of technical disciplines,” Paul Lodge, Chief Data Officer at DWP tells Government Transformation Magazine.
Last year DWP launched its Digital Future strategy, which sets out how the department aims to significantly transform the way it works over the next three years. The strategy looks closely at where data can be used more effectively within the department - particularly with regards to how it is being collected, structured and protected.
DWP Digital is currently overseeing a number of long-term data projects, including facilitating the transition from on premise warehousing to cloud-based data products and rebuilding the department’s database reference architecture through the implementation of a data mesh.
In order to execute on these ambitious data goals, Lodge says the department has been busy recruiting for a full range of roles, “from product managers, agile delivery managers, data engineers to data scientists.”
However, as DWP seeks to bring more digital capabilities in-house, the department faces an increasingly volatile recruitment market.
Competing for talent
Rising demand for data and analytics skills across most sectors makes hiring tricky, particularly for government organisations that have a very strict pay cap at each level - something Lodge says makes it “very hard to compete.”
Against this backdrop, the mission of the department is a "huge selling point", as is the challenging environment it operates in, Lodge explains. “There are lots of people who care deeply about what we do and it’s a place where you can genuinely make a difference. If you are interested in working on data projects that are unusual, difficult, complicated, important and large-scale, this is the place to come.”
Within an increasingly competitive talent market, Lodge believes there’s one important way government can bolster its standing: “We've got to reach out and talk to people about what it is that we do.”
Across the UK government, there are a slew of digital transformation projects in the works, "all of which represent once in a career, once in a generation, complete technical shifts,” Lodge says.
“We're working with a whole range of really exciting partners like the Alan Turing Institute and we're operating at the forefront of privacy enhancing technologies with synthetic data and other techniques to enable us to share more data more effectively and more securely."
However, Lodge adds that this is "a very different environment in which people might assume government works.”
That assumption is probably right: in a recent survey conducted by Next100 and GenForward, just 18% of adults between the ages of 18 and 36 reported any interest in working for government.
Government can be seen to be lacking big tech’s reputation for excitement and innovation, partially because of its propensity to remain closed-lipped.
As Lodge says: "We need to get better at reaching out to people to explain the sorts of work that government is trying to do. If people don't talk about it, then the message doesn't get out there.”
As the biggest government department in the UK, DWP is “ leading digital transformation” in government and “there are big challenges and big opportunities working here,” Lodge explains.
“We’re transforming our use of data and analytics to bring insight to departmental decisions to make and deliver improved outcomes. Certainly, in the UK at the moment, there is an awful lot of really exciting digital work and data at work going on across the whole ecosystem.”
Projects in the pipeline
There are several data projects currently underway at DWP Digital. One of the team’s main aims is the creation of a modern data mesh that will support the re-architecting of the department.
As data demands have increased, new pockets of data sets are growing, but not all of that data needs to be in one pocket, Lodge explains. A data mesh offers an alternative approach that provides teams with a platform to look after their own data as a product.
“It is a way of making sure that the data is more product-centric and customer-centred. We’re trying to make all of our data accessible, usable and governed so that where people have the access rights they can make better, faster decisions.”
According to Lodge, it comes with all sorts of genuine shifts in the way that an organisation thinks about data, “leading us away from the technical stuff into operating model questions, product development and thinking about how you shape the metrics and performance of an organisation as a whole.”
Another project involves the use of a data trust to share information on the labour market - building on the work of the Open Data Institute (ODI) on data trusts and the Alan Turing Institute on data safe havens. It focuses on facilitating the safe sharing of labour market data between government departments, such as the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy and HM Revenue and Customs, to find ways to maximise employment across the country.