Jan 21 2020

Data Reskilling Effort Gets Underway at the U.S. Census Bureau

The bureau has been creating an in-house data science academy that could serve as a model for other agencies to follow.

Data science is one of the most in-demand skills that federal IT leaders foresee needing in employees over the next two to three years, according to a recent survey conducted by WorkScoop and FedScoop.

The survey also found that upskilling (51 percent) and reskilling (44 percent) have proved to be the most successful methods for bridging IT skills gaps. 

The U.S. Census Bureau is leading the way in efforts to increase data science literacy and skills and has recently launched a data reskilling program. The effort could potentially serve as a template for other agencies looking to enhance their workers’ use of data. The bureau has worked with the Office of Management and Budget and the Chief Information Officers Council to launch the program. 

Lisa Frid, the Census Bureau’s workforce transformation program manager, said the bureau faces several challenges that are common across government, according to Federal News Network. Those include recruiting and retaining data scientists and ensuring users have the necessary skills to manipulate and analyze data

“We are competing with public, academic and private industry for the top talent, and it’s difficult, it’s hard, especially in the government,” Frid said while speaking last month at Government Executive and Nextgov’s Bold Gov conference in Washington, D.C. “We don’t have the money and the funds. We just can’t attract the talent, and then once we do get them in the door, it’s hard to retain them. As our work evolves, the workforce must change with it.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: What are the top federal IT trends to watch in 2020? 

How the Census Bureau Is Boosting Data Science Skills

The Census Bureau’s academy includes a mix of online coursework and in-person training, Frid said, according to Federal News Network. The program also includes mentorship from data experts within the agency. Those employees will manage work on an in-house data capstone project that academy members must complete in order to graduate. Such projects are designed to give employees “meaningful work” that lets them use their newfound skills in a practical way. 

“The capstone is all about the opportunity for the Census Bureau to test out those processes that will benefit from the new data science techniques, and allows us to acquire the tools and software needed for our work,” she said.

The reskilling program is just a baby step and will only require employees to dedicate eight hours of their time over a six-month period, according to Federal News Network. 

After rolling out a cybersecurity reskilling academy, OMB has made clear it wants to do the same for data science, a skill that is increasingly important at every level of an agency’s organizational chart. 

“Understanding what data and analytics can do for you in terms of decision making, in terms of driving customer experience for the citizen, in terms of protecting the nation — those things are important to understand at a leadership level,” former deputy Federal CIO Margie Graves said in November, FedScoop reports.

Other agencies are also focusing on building up employees’ data science skills. 

“What I’d like to see happen over the next year is for the people within the National Science Foundation to become more data literate,” NSF CIO Dorothy Aronson told FedTech in October

Aronson said she wants employees to be “more aware of how they’re using data today, and to be able to answer questions like, ‘What data do you wish you had in order to answer that better?’ or, ‘What tool do you wish you had in order to be able to leverage that information and make the most of it?’

anyaberkut/Getty Images