Randy Barrett at FedTech: “The federal government is vast, and the challenge of understanding its oceans of data grows daily. Rather than hiring thousands of new experts, agencies are moving to train existing employees on how to handle the new frontier.
Data literacy is now a common buzzword, spurred by the publication of the Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan last year and the growing empowerment of chief data officers in the government. The document outlines a multiyear, holistic approach to government information that includes building a culture that values data, encouraging strong management and protection and promoting its efficient and appropriate use.
“While the Federal government leads globally in many instances in developing and providing data about the United States and the world, it lacks a robust, integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission, serve the public and steward resources,” the plan notes.
A key pillar of the plan is to “identify opportunities to increase staff data skills,” and it directs all federal agencies to undertake a gap analysis of skills to see where the weaknesses and needs lie….
The Department of Health and Human Services launched its Data Science CoLab in 2017 to boost basic and intermediate data skills. The collaborative program is the first try at a far reaching and cohort-based data-skills training for the agency. In addition to data analytics skills, HHS is currently training hundreds of employees on how to write Python and R.
“Demand for a seat in the Data Science CoLab has grown approximately 800 percent in the past three years, a testament to its success,” says Bishen Singh, a senior adviser in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. “Beyond skill growth, it has led to incredible time and cost savings, as well as internal career growth for past participants across the department.”
The National Science Foundation was less successful with its Data Science and Data Certification Pilot, which had a class of 10 participants from various federal agencies. The workers were trained in advanced analytics techniques, with a focus on applying data tools to uncover meaning and solve Big Data challenges. However, the vendor curriculum used general data sets rather than agency-specific ones.
“As a result, participants found it more difficult to apply their learnings directly to real-world scenarios,” notes the CDO Council’s “Data Skill Training Program: Case Studies” report. The learning modules were mostly virtual and self-paced. Communication was poor with the vendor, and employees began to lag in completing their coursework. The pilot was discontinued.
Most of the training pilot programs were launched as the pandemic closed down government offices. The shift to virtual learning made progress difficult for some students. Another key lesson: Allow workers to use their new skills quickly, while they’re fresh….(More)”.