Skilling Up in Data and Tech: the vital role of training and career development

According to DCMS, there are 100,000 unfilled data roles alone in the UK right now. Lisa Barrett, vice president of Learning, Innovation and Operations at Multiverse, explains how to close the growing data skills gap in the civil service.

By Multiverse

05 Jul 2021

In a recent survey, more than 4 in every 5 of technology leaders said Covid-19 has put more pressure on their organisation than ever before. Areas that were already growing quickly, such as data and digital, are now skyrocketing. In short, a long overdue digital acceleration is well underway.

The challenging part is that skills in these areas are not keeping pace with demand. According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, there are 100,000 unfilled data roles alone in the UK right now. The Civil Service is far from immune, with ministers and officials pointing to skills gaps, too.

Of course, every organisation needs to continually upgrade its skillset – but the nature and reach of the Civil Service makes it an even more urgent priority in this context. The work civil servants do is crucial for the entire population, so having the right competencies is absolutely essential.

Higher education isn’t working

A shortage of skills suggests something is broken – and we think it’s clear what is. The traditional educational model of university and corporate training just cannot supply the skilled individuals that this digital revolution needs. According to research by Pearson, HR managers are reporting that a fifth (17%) of graduates simply aren’t ready for the workplace.

Just as troublingly, university graduates increasingly don’t represent the country’s population. Here, our most prestigious universities have the poorest track record. The Russell Group has a much smaller proportion of Black students compared to other UK universities – less than 4% compared with a UK average of 8%.

We believe the solution to both of these issues – digital skills and the lack of diversity – is professional apprenticeships

Professional apprentices are full-time employees from day one, expected to perform and deliver alongside their colleagues. Their training and coaching happens in real time, equipping them with digital skills directly relevant to their roles. It’s an approach that allows people to earn while they learn the skills that will underpin the future of work. It also removes a ‘digital skills ceiling’ that people will start to see in their careers.

Crucially, apprenticeships provide a step up for people from all backgrounds, too.

By working with community leaders and judging potential on more than just academic achievements, apprenticeships allow organisations to tap into talent they wouldn’t usually have the chance to meet. In 2020, of the candidates placed by Multiverse: 25% were black, 19% were Asian and 8% have mixed/multiple ethnicity. More than half were women and one in every 3 met 1 of Multiverse's indicators of socio-economic disadvantage.

In order to truly ‘skill up’, the Civil Service must arm its teams with the right skills and capabilities.

Close skills gaps, widen talent pools

Of course the importance of apprenticeships in meeting these challenges is understood in the civil service – it's why departments were set a target for 2.3% of their workforce to be on apprenticeships. Sadly, more than four years on, it's routinely being missed.

But this is about more than scoring points. It’s about leveraging an opportunity to address the skills gap, matching the pain points of the organisation with the opportunity to train, hire and upskill in a modern way. The fastest growing apprenticeships in this country are now in digital and tech. As well as driving new capabilities in fast-growing areas like data and software, they can also help the Civil Service benefit from a far more diverse pool of talent.

Professional apprenticeships are currently being underutilised by the Civil Service. In order to truly ‘skill up’, the Civil Service must arm its teams with the right skills and capabilities. Professional apprenticeships are the way to do it.


Read more about how KPMG embraced apprenticeships with Multiverse

Lisa Barrett is the Vice President of Learning, Innovation and Operations at Multiverse, a startup tech company focused on high-quality education and training through a unique apprenticeship model. Prior to that, Lisa led the UK's Digital Identity work for the British government and was a senior leader in the justice system, running all of the data and analysis for the UK Ministry of Justice. She has worked with world-leading organisations to upskill individuals, including as MD of AVADO Digital and as a Director at Coursera.

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