Australian government tackles data skills shortage in public service

Employees of Australia's public service will undertake short-term job placements, university courses, training partnerships, and a data literacy program to improve their data skills.

The Australian government has released a framework featuring four key components around how it plans to tackle the data skills shortage across all levels of public service.

Under the Australia Public Serivce (APS) Data Skills and Capability Framework [PDF], up to 10 APS employees will annually be selected to undertake three-month job placements either within Data61, the organisation formed by the merger of NICTA and the productivity arm of the CSIRO, or another appropriate private sector organisation where they will be provided with advanced data training as part of the Data Fellowship program.

In addition, APS employees will be offered the opportunity to take up specialised data analytics university courses run by universities across Australia including the Australian National University, the University of Technology, and the University of New South Wales. It is expected the university courses will allow the APS employees to develop specialised skill sets such as mathematics, statistics, and social research methods.

The Australian government also plans to launch the APS Data Literacy program, which will be a suite of initiatives designed for non-specialist APS employees. The program, which has been developed together with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, will focus on five skills: Providing evidence for decision makers, undertaking research, using statistics, visualising the information, and telling the story.

The framework also pointed out the Australian government will continue to link the APS to partner organisations for their training and expertise related to data and data use. There are currently three partner organisations: Open Data Institute Queensland, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, and Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre, with the Australian government noting it will continue to scope relevant partner organisations for the initiative.

Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor highlighted the importance of upskilling workers, saying it would mean better service delivery and more efficient program management.

"It is important -- both in government and in non-government sectors -- that we remain committed to improving the data skills and capability of our workforce. Data skills are critical for developing evidence-based policy, which is so important in improving the lives of Australians," he said.

The framework builds on the Australian government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which was launched at the end of last year.

Under the agenda, the APS are not the only ones that will receive a data skill boost: AU$48 million has been pledged to inspire pre-schoolers through post-graduates to participate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); existing university research programs will receive a further AU$127 million than previously promised; and AU$51 million will be invested across five years to help students embrace the digital age and better prepare for a digital future.