Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has begun hiring from ServiceNow’s NextGen bootcamp programme, in a bid to support its growing Now Platform rollout and to foster a new wave of talent. We got the chance to speak with Gary Kinsella, a ServiceNow platform owner at DEFRA, and Diana Tomova, a Service Tooling Analyst at the department, who was hired through NextGen, about their experience using the skills programme.
DEFRA has been using ServiceNow for the past four years, initially as part of a cost saving initiative in government as the department moved away from some large managed service agreements with IT vendors. Part of that migration included service tooling, where ServiceNow was rolled out for ITSM to support IT suppliers and end users.
But the platform has expanded over time. Kinsella said:
Since then it has been much more of a strategic tool for us.
Firstly, Brexit has meant that DEFRA is no longer able to consume services from the EU, which it previously had access to for a number of years - and decided to create those in-house. As such, it deployed ServiceNow’s Customer Service Management module to support the business and its engagement with citizens and industries, such as fisheries. And secondly, COVID-19 meant that DEFRA needed to get smarter with how it supported its staff, in terms of how it serviced their requirements. Kinsella added:
The neat thing about the platform is the flexibility and the ability to respond to those situations.
As we started coming out of lockdowns and saw a return to the workplace, we introduced workplace service delivery to help manage that return to work. Now we’re just in the process of improving the IT side of things, hardwares and software management, as well as HR service delivery. It’s much more of a strategic tooling platform for use across DEFRA.
Competing for skills
A common problem in government, particularly when looking at digital change initiatives, is that departments are competing with the private sector on skills. The Civil Service in Britain has restricted pay bands for certain roles, which means that pay is capped depending on the skill level - a problem that private sector organizations by and large don’t have to worry about. Kinsella said:
I don’t think it’s limited to DEFRA. It’s certainly prevalent across government. There’s real challenges in recruiting experienced ServiceNow practitioners, particularly when you’re competing with the private sector. We have a lot of controls within government that we have to work with. We can’t offer the salaries that the private sector can. And we often struggle to attract suitably qualified individuals.
Knowing this, Kinsella sought other routes to recruitment to try and support the department’s expansion for the ServiceNow platform. It just so happened that at an evening networking event Kinsella spoke with the ServiceNow team about these challenges and they flagged its own skills programme, which has now become to be known as NextGen. He added:
I have a real passion for social mobility and addressing the challenges that social mobility brings. Coming from a working class background myself, and not having the opportunities that I see today when I was young - I very much believe everyone has a right to achieve their potential. The NextGen programme is a fantastic opportunity to do that.
NextGen operates as a 12 week bootcamp, training up individuals in data and service management. It operates part-time, meaning that those taking part can also work to support themselves throughout. ServiceNow then supports those individuals through a recruitment process with organizations that are looking for Now Platform skills.
DEFRA now has three individuals from the NextGen programme and is soon going to be hiring a fourth, from a military veteran background. Kinsella had to seek permission from the Civil Service Commission to explore this route to employment for the candidates, however those that were hired now have permanent fixed contracts. Two of them also are now on level six apprenticeships, going through a BSc Honours in Computer Science. He said:
I very much take the approach that if I can’t attract the most qualified individuals today, I can certainly do my best to develop tomorrow’s. The NextGen programme gives me that starting block.
One of the first candidates to get hired by DEFRA through NextGen is Diana Tomova, now a Service Tooling Analyst at the department. Tomova is originally from Bulgaria and arrived in the UK in 2014, where she came to study European Studies and Modern Languages at the University of Essex. Commenting on her background and ambitions, Tomova said:
That wasn’t really my passion, despite having an interest in politics and protecting nature. I’ve always had an interest in computers, because I was brought up during a time they were becoming super popular. And I’ve always been interested in data analytics, specifically - how data analytics can bring results for businesses, lowering financial spending, response times, etc.
Tomova said that she had been researching courses with IT vendors to try and get a foot in the door. She had notifications set on her phone to get alerted to new opportunities, which is how she learned about the NextGen programme. She explained:
When the boot camp came along and introduced me to the world of ServiceNow, I was just in a state of disbelief that automation and such incredible progress can be achieved. And that that could be taught through a free Bootcamp, part-time, giving me the chance to work full-time to sustain myself.
One amazing evening I got a notification about NextGen. I sat down at that same moment, it was 9.30pm in the evening, and the rest is history. I got an interview, I showed my motivation, and got introduced to the world of ServiceNow.
Tomova explained that the online course meant having two sessions a week, each an hour and a half long. Those enrolled are then expected to spend 10 to 14 hours a week in their own time studying on top of the ‘teaching’ time. She said that you specifically learn about data management, service management, and relational databases. She added:
It’s great because you get all the base knowledge that you need to be able to progress.
Tomova took part of a speed hiring process - much like speed dating - where candidates were given a quick interview with interested organizations. She said:
I wanted DEFRA - that was my first choice from the beginning. I thought I wasn’t going to get my interview, but it was the best moment for me. I had my interview first with them and I just knew I wanted them and would strive to get that position.
I knew that if I was offered that opportunity, I’d definitely say yes. DEFRA cares for nature, for the animals, for the water that we drink. What’s better than combining the passion for something that every person should have - for nature - with IT, stability and sustainability?
Tomova has been with DEFRA for seven months now, where she mostly works on the department’s service catalogue. She said:
I love the idea of creating items and automation behind those items. The process is made so much better, in a way that no manual work is really required. Being able to set all those variables, so that everything just comes up as expected. It’s just so exciting!
Tomova has now got five of her friends enrolled onto the NextGen course too, having seen the opportunities she has been presented with as a result of participating. When asked what advice should would give to others considering it, she said:
Go ahead! Even if you have no background, and know nothing, you will be given that base knowledge that you require. All you need is motivation. I never thought I’d be able to do it, so if I can do it, anyone can do it. That’s my advice. It’s an incredible programme that will give you a helping hand.
Everything is challenging, especially when you’re starting something new. It doesn’t matter if it’s IT or not. It’s like learning a new language. So there’s nothing in particular that I would give advice for, it’s just the motivation to study and to work hard. You will achieve greatness if you put all your effort into it.