A little over a year ago, back when we were allowed outside to frolic and have fun, I spoke at Nesta’s City Data Conference about confronting the skills gap in the public sector, and – in particular – how we can grow our own talent to move public sector analytics into the data science world.
Shortly after that, our Data & Analytics service here at Essex County Council launched a new role of Junior Analyst, with the express purpose of helping to address some of the issues I spoke about at the City Data Conference. It’s now been a year, and all four Junior Analysts and Developers have gone on to secure themselves permanent contracts with ECC and have shed the ‘junior’ prefix of their job titles - they will be sharing more about their journey soon.
The fact that all of them have been promoted, means a couple of things. Firstly, it means they have been an undoubted success. The purpose of the role was to help us to bring talent into the service, without worrying about a lack of experience. We wanted to help develop our talent, and we wanted to help people starting out in their career to get the experiences they would need to be effective analysts in the public sector.
The second thing it means is that we have been recruiting again.
I love recruiting, because I find it fascinating to see the calibre of people that are applying to work with us. I have to say, that if was starting out now, I don’t know if I’d stand a chance of even getting an interview – it is seriously competitive. For the two junior analyst positions that we have just advertised, we had 97 applicants.
To put that into context, that is three more applicants than candles on the Queen’s last birthday cake. To put it into different context, that means that more than 5 people per 100,000 Essex residents applied for these jobs.
Due to the ferocity of the competition on show, I thought I’d share what I look for in an applicant. I’m not going to focus on the first part, which is having the technical skill to do the job. The reason I won’t focus on that is that I have learned from sifting through 97 applications that pretty much everyone has that. Some of them have it in spades.
So, beyond that. What do I look for?
Honestly, it comes down to whether someone wants to work in the public sector, or not. When you have read 50 or 60 applications, it becomes pretty apparent whether someone wants to work in the public sector, or whether they want to work with data.
And that’s crucial to me.
There are plenty of people in our team who could go and work at some financial titan crunching numbers and getting paid a fair whack more than they get from a local authority. The reason that most of us work here is because we want to make a difference to our communities, and to help the people who live in them.
So when I see an applicant who has volunteered on a stroke ward, or has been a teaching assistant, or has focused on inequality and deprivation in their studies, then that tells me that this is someone who will care about the job, and will care about what it means.
Because it can mean a lot. The work that we do in the public sector may not always be as flash or exciting as things we see from private sector industry leaders, but it means a damn site more when our work helps to commission new services to support people with their emotional and mental wellbeing, or to support victims of domestic abuse, or to help young children be ready for school when the time comes, or any of the dozens of examples we have from where analytics and data science has enabled us to actually, genuinely help people.
When I think back to the Nesta City Data Conference, I remember speaking a lot about the technical skills we needed to develop to be the service that we wanted to be. If I was to have the opportunity to give the same talk again today, I would spend a lot more time talking about the importance of having civically minded, conscientious people who want to make a difference in their communities.