Three ways to build digital skills
Digital is being taken seriously in justice
In our two-year tenure on the Justice and Emergency Services Management Committee (JESMC), we’ve seen a noticeable increase in focus on digital skills, not just in justice but across government more broadly. Government has set an ambition for 6% of the civil service workforce to be in Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) roles. And it is having some success. The DDaT workforce grew by 19% from April 2022-23 and the Cabinet Office recently announced an additional 2,500 digital roles across government, mainly digital apprenticeships.
It’s not just focusing on emerging talent either. Alongside the 2,500 roles, the Cabinet office also announced a Digital Secondments Programme, which aims to get experienced digital talent involved in the public sector and helping to solve some of government most gnarly issues. Bringing in new talent is evident in justice, with external recruitment at senior levels of Justice Digital offering fresh perspectives.
Both the progress made, and the latest commitments (including this weeks’ additional investments in AI) show government is serious about building digital capability. To build on this, we think there are three things the justice sector can focus on to accelerate its development of digital skills and capabilities: 1) Focus on digital as a mindset; 2) Think differently to build DDaT skills; and 3) Make technology choices with skills in mind.
- Digital as a mindset
Government recognise this. There has been targeted focus on upskilling senior civil servants, with DDaT essentials for SCS being rolled out and ‘One Big Thing’ focused on providing a day of data upskilling at all levels across government. There is much more to do though.
In their article for Harvard Business Review, Tsedal Neely from Harvard and Paul Leonardi, from the University of California, talk about a digital mindset being a set of attitudes and behaviors that enable people and organisations to see how data, algorithms, and AI open up new possibilities and to chart a path for success in a business landscape increasingly dominated by data-intensive and intelligent technologies. In their experience, organisations do best when they focus on two critical areas: (1) preparing people for a new digital organisational culture and (2) designing and aligning systems and processes.
In terms of preparing people for a new digital organisation, the highest levels of digital adoption occur when A) employees are motivated to develop competence because they fully buy into the transformation strategy and B) feel capable of helping make it a reality. We perceive there is work to do on both aspects in justice and wider government.
Is a digital mindset core to the roles of many justice civil servants? We’d argue that for many sections of the large operational workforces in justice (e.g. Prison officers on landings, probation officers supporting rehabilitation in the community), a digital mindset is not high up on their priorities. Quite often, technology can be seen as a hindrance rather than an enabler. For many, digital remains something done for them/to them by teams in HQ. Equally digital can still be perceived as competition for jobs rather than something to enable productivity or improve services. A wider digital mindset is still needed to really realise the benefits of digital.
We’re not sure there are quick fixes. For us, user centered design will be critical in engaging the operational workforce in how digital enables them to do a better job. And the provision of excellent digital products - which they use on a daily basis - will be critical in building a more digital mindset across the broader workforce. Also expanding the DDaT essentials from SCS to mid management will be key. Here justice could make better use of the many vendor provided skills programmes (e.g. ServiceNow RISE) as free development resources. This will help mid managers understand the potential of doing things in different ways and help create more of a pull from Justice Digital.
- Thinking differently to build DDaT skills
Most TechUK members are acutely aware of digital talent challenges for their own businesses. IT business analysts, architects, programmers, web designers and other IT professions all feature on the list of shortage occupations for the UK Skilled Worker visa scheme.
The further commitment to DDaT apprenticeships is encouraging. This focus on emerging talent could be further enhanced through recruit/train/deploy models through the supply chain, which can focus on particular locations or demographic groups. Examples come from own organisations. Capgemini, successfully employ this to bring new people into the workforce, develop targeted digital skills and then either bring the recruits into our own workforce or become permanent civil servants. Capita has invested with WithYouWithMe, which matches ex-military and other cohorts with DDaT aptitude to government DDaT roles, and then actively supports individuals with training to maximise their chances of success.
We perceive the crunch is at mid-levels, when government DDaT professionals may not clearly see a career development pathway, and when salaries in the private sector start to outstrip public sector equivalents.
Again, there are no easy fixes but designing a business model where it is expected that a percentage of experienced DDaT professionals will leave the organisation and to actively plan for this is sensible. Tactics such as aligning more junior talent to products - where they learn from senior employees - could support deliberate succession planning. Experience shows product knowledge is the key. Technical skills can be (relatively) easily developed. Other organisations incentivise senior employees not to touch/fix products, instead rewarding them on the basis of coaching other to do this. These types of tactics could be employed in the justice sector to ensure product specific knowledge is retained and passed on.
Other ideas include DDaT job swaps as part of procurements or scaling the Digital Secondments Programme through closer relationships with industry.
- Adopting technologies that open up new talent pools
Finally, additional focus can be given to the concept of internal talent markets and the role technology choices have in facilitating this.
Back in April 2022, Omar Arab published an article in Forbes on ‘How Companies Can Relieve The Stress Of The Tech Talent Gap With Low-Code Innovation’. In it he references a Forrester report saying future-fit firms will increasingly adopt low-code/no-code technology to reduce their need for the most advanced technical skills.
We feel this is something Justice Digital, and government more broadly need to deliberately consider. Where should open-source technologies be used (with the associated demand for scarce skills) and where can Low-code/No-code platforms be used, which open up access to talent who can be quickly trained as citizen developers?
With continued focus on overall civil service headcount, using low-code/no-code for appropriate applications offers significant potential to bring staff in with related skills or offer alternative career paths for displaced civil servants.
The challenge for the next JESMC is to support Justice Digital to maximise these opportunities.
Authored by Andy Lea, Vice President at Capgemini and John Cheal, Market Development Director at Capita
Developing a Digital Mindset, Tsedal Neely & Paul Leonardi, May 2022