Is there a talent model that can fast-track early-career technologists into the workplace, providing the right skills so they can make a difference from day one?
Yes, it’s the QA Academy, which has successfully propelled more than 1,500 of its graduates into IT careers. The Department for Education is currently successfully using this unique talent solution, which recruited a team of young technologists in March 2019.
The Client: Department for Education
The Department for Education (DfE) is responsible for children’s services and education in England, and its Technology Directorate stabilises, optimises and transforms these vital public sector services.
Within the Technology Directorate, cloud infrastructure and platform services offer scalable, available, cost-effective environments and operating capability to host and support business applications and services, including environment provisioning, infrastructure support, monitoring, reporting, service continuity, application development and support services.
More specifically, its services include migrating existing applications and services onto the cloud platform project, on-boarding new projects, R&D, the cloud platform project early-life support, security reporting, business cases and transition to the live operations team.
But the Technology Directorate needed more technically skilled people, and that's where QA came in.
The Department for Education was looking for young technologists with an aptitude to learn.
The challenge: Technical skills shortage
The DfE partnered with QA to find a solution to a technical talent shortage – and within a tight timeframe.
Leading the project was QA’s Market Enablement Director, Steve Brennan. "The Department for Education urgently needed to bring in cloud engineers with a knowledge of Microsoft Azure to assist in the day-to-day delivery of its services," he says. But quickly recruiting staff with skills in Azure is challenging within the growing IT cloud market.
"The Department was looking for young technologists with an aptitude to learn, but these people also needed a good grounding in business and consultancy skills," he continues. "In short, they had to be able to make a difference in the workplace from day one."
The solution was to recruit from a pool of technical talent, already grown through an intensive 12-week training programme at QA’s Academy in Manchester. Steve explains:
"Our academy uses a recruit, train, deploy consultant model to fast-track talent. We effectively plug the gap where organisations are struggling to recruit the right technical talent into their business."
QA recruits the best and most diverse early-career talent into its Academy by analysing what it takes to be great in individual roles, then using predictive digital AI techniques to select the best candidates. Every effort is made to be inclusive, especially among those groups typically under-represented in the technology sector, including women and BAME candidates.
Forging long-term relationships with employers
Involving employers such as the DfE from the start also means that long-term partnerships can be forged. "We offer a long-term model for the Department for Education to build the talent they need and so ultimately transform their business," explains Steve.
Timing was a critical point for the DfE’s Infrastructure Operations Lead, Angie Paylor, who interviewed trainees while they were still at the Academy.
From these canditates, she was able to hand-pick a team of new consultants who had specialised in the Microsoft Azure learning pathway. The model enabled rapid deployment of the consultants – within five weeks of signing the contract – in locations as diverse as Sheffield, Coventry and London.
"We wanted to bring in young and talented people with these essential skills and build them up over a two-year period," Angie commented. "This would allow them to understand how and why our department functions, and the services that we provide."
During this time, those considered ready are invited to apply for a permanent post within the Department for Education through an open and transparent recruitment process. The DfE can then back-fill spaces through the QA Academy.
There were some very good candidates – all had different skills and characters. My consultants are all technically excellent. They are never afraid to try something new, and I could tell that they lived, breathed and slept IT.
Reflecting on the technical capability of the consultants, Angie commented: "There were some very good candidates – all had different skills and characters. My consultants are all technically excellent. They are never afraid to try something new, and I could tell that they lived, breathed and slept IT."
Upon starting work, the new recruits had to quickly get to grips with their new working environment. "It was very different for them and quite daunting at first. They had to learn the ropes – what we do as a department and our IT, as well as the different ways of working and processes that we have to follow," she explains.
To help in this process, the consultants were buddied up with a permanent member of staff. By Angie’s own admission, however, they were thrown in at the deep end.
Over 95% of the Department for Education’s infrastructure is now in the cloud and there are literally hundreds of applications. "They are responsible for maintenance and support 24/7," explains Angie. "They have to make sure that applications are running efficiently, investigate and solve problems, and get involved in all sorts of project work, for example, upgrading infrastructure, decommissioning infrastructure and collaborating on E2E solutions."
It’s a busy working environment, supporting 8,000 to 9,000 people across the Department for Education who have an interest in the cloud, for example as a developer or project manager.
For Angie, the support offered to both the Department for Education and QA consultants is a vital aspect of the QA Academy solution. As well as monthly catch-up calls, she finds that help is always available. "This is very much a partnership between QA and the Department for Education. QA has nailed its care package to a tee," she says.
Support is also available for QA consultants on many different levels, from pastoral care to learning and development, for example via QA’s Cloud Academy, a leading online digital learning platform providing continuous professional development.
Quick fix for talent shortages
It's clear that QA’s recruit, train, deploy model is providing a quick solution to longer-term technical talent shortages and, for many organisations that lack the specialist expertise to develop young talent, it supplies a convenient resource with little risk attached. "We combine the benefit of outsourcing with building the longer-term capacity of an organisation," explains Steve.
"Before joining the Academy, many of our graduates could not get a job in technology because they did not have the necessary skills," he continues. "We select people who can expect to have a future career trajectory. By providing exceptional technical training during the classroom Academy, complemented by an ongoing programme of learning and development, we are helping the next generation of talent open up their careers in technology."