First cohort of federal employees graduate from OMB’s data science upskilling program

The upskilling program gives agencies a chance to fill critical skill gaps faster than what they could accomplish by onboarding new talent through the competiti...

The first cohort of federal employees to enroll in the Office of Management and Budget’s data science upskilling effort have graduated from the program, OMB officials announced Friday.

OMB accepted 61 federal employees from 20 agencies to pilot its Federal Data Science program. Agencies put a call out for nominations and submitted names for the program between July and August last year. Accepted employees then went through training from September through January.

The upskilling program gives agencies a chance to fill critical skill gaps faster than they could accomplish by onboarding new talent through the competitive hiring process.

The program also gives agencies the people and skills needed to meet the goals of the Federal Data Strategy, and sets up professional development opportunities for the existing federal workforce to fill in-demand jobs.

The coursework gave employees exposure to 21 different federal job series. An OMB official said upskilling graduates are “returning to their regular duties with a deeper understanding of, and competencies with, data science tools and techniques.”

“They will be able to use those to address current and future challenges, unique to each of their agencies. They have been challenged to share what they have learned with their leaders and peers, increasing awareness of the value data science acumen brings to their organization and the federal government,” the official said.

OMB launched the Federal Data Science Training Program last August, building on lessons learned from the Census Bureau’s own agency-wide training program that began December 2019.

The bureau’s first cohort of 50 participants completed the program in June 2020, and the bureau launched a second cohort in January, expanding the coursework to include two tracks — one for data science generalists and the other for machine learning experts.

OMB developed the data science upskilling pilot based on the lessons learned from the Federal Cyber Reskilling Academy the agency launched in November 2018.

OMB accepted federal employees with a non-cyber background in the first cohort, then expanded the program to feds with some cyber experience in the second cohort. The Office of Personnel Management also stood up a job rotation program for cyber upskilling program graduates.

Earlier this year, OPM, working with the Chief Data Officers Council, and U.S. Digital Service, posted a joint hiring announcement giving applicants with in-demand skills consideration for more than 50 data science positions through a single application.

Ten agencies put out the call to hire program analysts at the GS-13 and 14 levels with at least a year’s worth of prior experience, and employed a Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment that integrated data skills assessments into the recruiting and hiring process.

Less than 48 hours after posting the joint hiring announcement in January, OPM received more than 500 applications.

Each participant in the Federal Data Science program went through more than 3,700 cumulative hours of online learning and completed 180 assignments.

OMB worked with the Chief Information Officers Council and the Chief Data Officers Council to stand up the program. An OMB official said both councils have taken steps to continue these upskilling discussions.

“Feedback from agencies has been overwhelmingly positive regarding the pilot cohort.  We will be carefully considering the outcomes of the program and determining how best to build on this success in the future,” the OMB official said.

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