The skills gap in the Civil Service has been widely reported over the past few years, with particular concern for the digital and technology capability required to transform government. It has been suggested that the government will need thousands of candidates to support the wide-ranging change required to create modern, internet-based citizen services.
We were expecting greater detail from the new, but much delayed, government transformation/digital strategy – but just before the Christmas break, right at the last minute, the Prime Minister’s office put its publication on hold. It had been promised by the end of December 2016, but no new date has been announced.
In a recent interview with diginomica/government, GDS Director General Kevin Cunnington outlined plans to upskill the civil service using an academy training model that was established within the Department for Work and Pensions. However, it has been rumoured that a lack of funding for this plan was part of the reason for Number 10 delaying the strategy.
And today the Cabinet Office has released its annual report on the Civil Service Fast Stream, which in 2014 introduced a Digital and Technology track to support the transformation plans in government.
The Civil Service Fast Stream is aimed at attracting the brightest graduates into government, with the view to promote them in three to five years into senior positions. The programme had been criticised for being too generalist in the past, and more specific roles have been introduced to plug necessary gaps in capability.
The programme also aims to boost the diversity of the Civil Service, so that it better reflects the society we live in. However, the data released today suggests that the Digital and Technology track has some room for improvement.
Introducing the report, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Ben Gummer MP, said:
The UK is changing and so must the Civil Service change with it. In order to meet ever rising public expectations and take advantage of new technologies, it is vital that the Civil Service continues to bring in the best and brightest individuals who both reflect the society they serve and can collaborate and innovate to transform the relationship between the citizen and the state.
The Civil Service exists to serve the citizens of this country – and the best way to do so is better to understand the challenges that people face. A dynamic, modern and diverse workforce boosts the legitimacy of the Civil Service in the eyes of the public and also allows us to tap into the riches of the country and draw from the full and varied talents of the people of the United Kingdom.
That is why we are committed to ensuring that the Civil Service continues to attract the highest possible calibre of applicants in both of our flagship entry level programmes: the Fast Stream Graduate scheme and the Fast Track Apprenticeship scheme. We are especially determined to ensure that the schemes are more representative in terms of socio-economic background.
The report released today focuses on the recruitment of candidates during 2015. It’s quite difficult using just raw data to glean major insights into the reasons why certain effects are taking place – but I thought it may be worthwhile to present the digital and technology data versus the averages to give an understanding how this particular stream is performing.
For example, the average success rate for applicants across all Fast Stream tracks is 4.6%. Some tracks – such as economists, statisticians and social research – are seeing much higher success rates (16.6%, 12.1% and 12.1% respectively).
The Digital and Technology track saw a success rate of 3.5%, one of the lowest. This stat is worked out as a % of total applicants and the digital technology stream had one of the highest number of applicants, with 1,091 people applying, so could well be skewed downwards as a result.
However, that being said, only 38 people were recommended for appointment, for a total of 76 possible vacancies – half the number required. And of that 38, seven people declined the appointment.
This compares to 180 economists recommended for appointment out of a possible 229 vacancies, or 37 social researchers recommended out of a possible 46 vacancies.
Interestingly, Digital and Technology is also, on average, attracting fewer candidates with a first class degree than many of the other tracks. 23.9% of applicants to Digital and Tech had a first class degree, whilst the Economists track saw 40.3%, Statisticians saw 42.0%, Operational Research saw 43.3% and Finance saw 29.9%.
As Minister Gummer outlined in his intro to the report, improving diversity in the Civil Service, so as to better reflect the society government serves, should give Whitehall greater validity in the eyes of citizens. It should also help government design better services, which take into account the needs of different groups.
However, the data shows that there is a lot of work to be done in this area too. For example, whilst the overall split between male and female applicants was pretty good (51.9% versus 48.1%), Digital and Technology saw a much more skewed result – with applicants being 65.8% male.
In fact, Digital and Technology saw the greatest weighting towards male candidates out of almost all the streams available (apart from the Northern Ireland and European schemes).
That being said, the female success rate for applicants for Digital and Technology was higher at 4.0% versus 3.4%.
Equally, the appointment of ethnic minorities into digital and technology roles was low compared to other streams. The success rate for a white applicant was 4.2%, whilst just 1.3% for someone from an ethnic minority.
This compares to success rate of 10.3% for ethnic minorities in the economists stream, or 7.9% in the statisticians stream, and 6.6% in the commercial stream.
Equally, the success rate for people with a disability in digital and tech was comparatively low – at 0.9%. This compares with 12.2% for economists, 15.8% for statisticians, 17.6% for commercial and 12.5% for social research.
The success rate for LGBT+ people into digital and tech was also comparatively low, with 6.2% of being recommended for appointment. This compares to 20.0% in commercial, 21.4% for statisticians and 34.3% for economists.
The report also highlights that most applicants to digital and tech roles have parents that come from ‘higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations’ (76.1%). That’s compared to 8.9% with parents from routine and manual occupations. However, those figures are no better or worse than most of the other streams.
As I mentioned above, it’s difficult to get a full picture from just the raw data. And it’s worth highlighting that the digital and tech stream was only recently introduced, so doesn’t have that same recognition amongst graduates as some of the other more established streams do.
That being said, the comparative stats within the Fast Stream seem to suggest that Digital and Technology is underperforming in a number of areas – particularly on the diversity front. If diversity is as important to the Civil Service as Ministers and digital chiefs make out, then more needs to be done to improve representation. In addition, if the Fast Stream is one of the main ways in which we are going to get smart people into the top of government over the next five years – we need to understand why only half of the digital and tech vacancies are being filled.
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