“It’s a discipline in demand”: BEIS CDIO Karl Hoods on hiring data scientists in government

Written by Sooraj Shah on 15 March 2019 in Features
Features

‘Future is bright for data scientists in public sector,’ says department’s IT leader

Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

For several years, the role of a data scientist has been talked up as being essential for private sector organisations, but the public sector has also been making steps in this area.

Just this week, NHS Digital posted a job opportunity for a head of information analysis with a speciality in data science, and was offering up to £85k for the position.

According to Karl Hoods, the chief digital information officer (CDIO) at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the future for data scientists in the public sector is a bright one.


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“It’s a discipline in demand and with a relatively short supply it’s a candidate’s market when it comes to trying to attract the right people. It’s a fascinating space to be in with such great opportunities across many sectors,” he has told PublicTechnology.

Hoods believes that while there are many different descriptions of what a data scientist is, it is therefore an organisation’s duty to be clear on what it wants from the role.

“Sometimes you see job adverts for data scientists but what’s being asked for is quite a narrow set of skills and experience and looks more like a report writer or a database analyst than what I’d determine a data scientist,” he said.

“Technology has had a significant impact in this field, consider the data collected from the likes of wearables, IoT devices and autonomous vehicles and how that is and could be used to make decisions or improve services. This coupled with the availability of cloud services to make the infrastructure and tools more readily available gives organisations the opportunity to start or scale their journey more rapidly than in the past,” he added.

One of the key concerns among a public sector IT leaders is being able to attract data scientists to the organisation. After all, competition is fierce and it is highly unlikely that a department can offer the same pay package as a big technology company or bank. However, Hoods is optimistic about the government’s chances of recruiting the right type of personnel, as there are other motives for working within the public sector.

“While it's true that the public and not-for-profit sectors can't always compete with some private sector organisations when it comes to pay we are increasingly seeing candidates across a range of disciplines, not just data science, having a strong interest in relating what they do to having a tangible impact on society,” he said.

“The issue we have with many roles we struggle to recruit for is the supply and we need to think about how we inspire future generations to get interested in data science and related disciplines as well as be creative when it comes to filling the roles, whether that be through apprenticeships, partnerships with universities or developing learning pathways for existing staff.

“There is also the need to make others who aren't practitioners aware of the art of possible and it may well soon be a skill that every employee needs some awareness of to do their job,” he added.

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