Aug 24 2020

Data Science Reskilling Program Launches for Feds

The initiative from the Office of Management and Budget builds on a similar cybersecurity reskilling academy.

Earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget launched a reskilling academy for data science, building upon an earlier program to retrain federal workers for cybersecurity jobs.

The program, which was previewed in 2019, will launch in mid-September and will teach up to 60 federal employees new data science skills such as coding, graph analytics, data visualization and ethics. As FedScoop reports, “all 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies will receive two to three slots in the Federal Data Science Training Program in a governmentwide effort to develop talent capable of identifying patterns in data.” The U.S. Census Bureau is the first agency to pilot the program, having launched the effort in January.

Denis Ortega, a fellow with the White House Leadership Development Program who is working with the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer, is leading the effort. Although the cohort is miniscule in the context of the massive federal workforce, the goal is to help develop skills faster than feds would in the normal course of work. It is also aimed at giving agencies access to skilled employees faster than they might be able to hire and train them.

“This does offer an immediate opportunity for agencies to take a look at their internal staff [and] who are some high-potential, diverse candidates that would be eligible for this type of training program,” Ortega said in a webinar earlier this month hosted by the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center, according to Federal News Network.

Data Science Becomes a Crucial Federal IT Skill

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 survey conducted in the third quarter of 2019 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.

Meanwhile, chief data officers across the government are gaining more clout thanks to the recently released Federal Data Strategy. Data analysis is also more crucial now than ever as government agencies help confront the coronavirus pandemic and sift through massive amounts of data related to the virus and the response to it.

Under the data reskilling initiative, the first class, which is double the size of the cyber reskilling classes, will take part in classes for eight hours per week for six months and will complete their training online.

Virtual training allows federal workers from outside the Washington, D.C., metro area to apply for the program, Ortega said, according to Federal News Network.

“This is a very good mix to allow full-time employees the ability to learn, to expand their existing data skills, and be able to immediately start to apply that in the work setting,” he said.

“This is definitely an emerging field, and I think from a federal standpoint … we’re going out and looking for the best talent that’s out there,” Ortega added, according to FedScoop. “And at times when we don’t necessarily have the ability to go out and recruit, we’re looking at how we can develop that skill in-house.”

After a break for the holidays, classes will restart in February with two-month capstone projects that are designed to give students more practical learning, Ortega said.

Notably, the capstone projects will be tied to the federal coronavirus response and resulting data agencies have produced, especially data sets from the Department of Health and Human Services. However, the projects will be tailored to the students’ respective agencies.

“Because we know that large datasets were created and established over the last seven and eight months, we’re going to leverage that data,” Ortega said, according to FedScoop. “So we are requiring [subject matter experts] and mentors at each of the agencies to provide some of that assistance and help our trainees go through and actually collect some of those important datasets to be able to leverage in their respective capstone projects.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: What is predictive analytics and how can it help agencies?

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