Digital and data expertise are becoming must-haves for promotion, says Fast Stream head

Sonia Pawson tells conference technical skills and understanding will soon be non-negotiable attributes for progression to senior civil service roles

Civil servants will soon be unable to progress to senior roles without key digital and data skills, according to the leader of government’s flagship graduate recruitment programme.

Speaking at the PublicTechnology Live event in London last week, Sonia Pawson, head of the Civil Service Fast Stream, told attendees that the government is aiming to grow technological skills across all staff, from entry-level positions right to the top.

Pawson, whose role sits within the Cabinet Office and who also serves as head of emerging talent and occupational psychology, said the Fast Stream “recognises the need to build digital and data capability” in the civil service and do so “in a different way”.

“What we realise is that, in time you won't be able to progress to be a senior civil servant without experience and expertise, for example, in using big data for policy or operational purposes, or in leading a digital project,” she said.

Describing the plans, which are part of the Curriculum and Campus for Government Skills, she said: “In a big organisation, there can often be a lack of clarity, precision and accessibility, and any of you who have worked the civil service will know, it’s been tricky to access the right learning at the right time,” she said.

“And, so, what we're doing with the campus at the moment is shaping the demand and supply across the civil service so that we can develop training based on the critical skill gaps that we have collectively identified.”

The Curriculum and Campus for Government Skills, which launched in January 2021, included an updated curriculum with a “renewed emphasis” on technical and analytical skills.

As part of plans to overhaul public sector leadership and management training, a new Leadership College for Government will open this month.

The new college was announced in the levelling up white paper, published in February, which set out how the college will be the “centrepiece” of management skills development reform and will “equip public and civil service leaders with the skills, knowledge and networks to solve today’s most complex problems”.

The “world-leading institution” will form part of the Government Campus for Skills, which was launched at the beginning of last year to deliver on a promise by then-Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to create a “properly resourced campus for training people in government”.

The Fast Stream is the civil service’s central graduate-recruitment scheme and is designed to identify and develop potential future leaders. 

The most recent set of government data shows that, in the 2021 intake, 100 successful applicants – out of a total of 1,072 – joined the programme’s specialised digital, data and technology track. This made the DDaT profession the second-most popular specialism, behind project management, which recruited 103 fast streamers. 

Some 404 people joined the generalist scheme, which aims to provide graduate recruits with “the opportunity to undertake a wide variety of roles to establish your strengths and leadership potential”.

Included in the 2021 intake of 1,072 were 125 existing civil servants chosen for the leadership-development programme.

Tevye Markson is a reporter on Civil Service World. Sam Trendall is editor of Civil Service World's sister title PublicTechnology

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