CDDaT skills framework - background and methodology

We worked closely with heads of council services, workforce leads, and cyber, digital, data and technology practitioners in councils, to understand how Heads of Service wanted to use a skills framework, which digital and data-related objectives should underpin the skills in the framework, and which skills were most important to include in the framework.


Introduction

In May 2023, the Local Government Association (LGA) commenced the Workforce Capabilities Project. The purpose of the project is to:

  • Support heads of key council services to identify and articulate the cyber, digital, data, and technology (CDDAT) skills needed to effectively execute the council’s role in commissioning, designing, and delivering the service.
  • Identify ways for the LGA to support councils to address challenges in accessing the skills which they need.

The key deliverables for the project are:

This report sets out our approach to achieving these deliverables. It includes information on:

  • The project background and our motivation for carrying out this work
  • Our delivery approach, including our research and development activities and findings
  • Next steps for the framework

Background and motivation

Background

Our research into this area began in 2022 when we commissioned a study into the feasibility and desirability of a skills and qualifications framework for CDDAT professions in local government (conducted by the Society For Innovation Technology and Modernisation (Socitm) Advisory). The key findings from this work were that: 

  • Insufficient CDDAT capability within councils is a concern for the sector, with numerous local authority roles in this space having remained vacant for several years.
  • There is a national shortage of relevant skills which is not unique to local authorities.
  • There is a desire among local authority hiring managers to identify the skills needed to deliver on required outcomes and meet the needs of their functional service.

The Workforce Capabilities Project builds on the findings of this earlier research by attempting to fill outstanding knowledge gaps associated with the above challenges, and ultimately by delivering a CDDAT skills framework for councils.

Motivation

Understanding skill requirements is crucial for recruiting, retaining, and reskilling for several reasons:

  • Streamlining recruitment: Identifying specific skill requirements helps to create job descriptions and recruitment strategies. This ensures that the hiring process is focused on acquiring the skills that are most needed within the organisation.
  • Targeted training and development: Understanding skills gaps among existing staff enables organisations to provide targeted training and development programmes. This can enhance the skills of current employees as well as incentivising retention.
  • Effective reskilling: Understanding skills gaps can help organisations anticipate future needs. This foresight allows for proactive reskilling efforts, ensuring that employees are prepared for new technologies and evolving job requirements. 
  • Strategic decision-making: Organisations can align hiring, retention, and reskilling efforts with long-term business goals, ensuring that the workforce is well-equipped to support organisational objectives.

Recruiting and retaining talent is a significant concern for many councils, especially in areas such as digital and IT skills. The scale of this problem is detailed in the LGA’s Local Government Workforce Survey (2022) – which provides information on some of the key elements of the workforce within local authorities in England.

The LGA’s workforce survey found that 94 per cent of responding councils were experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties. Of specific interest to this project, 43 per cent of councils reported difficulties in recruiting ICT professionals (the third highest area of concern), and 29 per cent in retaining these professionals (the second highest area of concern). 

Additionally, the LGA’s workforce survey found that 83 per cent of responding councils had a capacity skills gap in at least one area. The skills gap of the greatest priority for councils, at 15 per cent, was supporting digitalisation/use of technology. 

Councils are experiencing CDDAT recruitment and retention issues due to:

  • Pay constraints: pay is uncompetitive for specialist CDDAT skills, partly due to budget constraints in the local government sector.
  • Career progression: the career path for CDDAT roles is unclear making it difficult for job-seeker to understand the options and opportunities for job progression.
  • Articulation of skills: hiring managers may struggle to understand, articulate, or demonstrate the CDDAT skills gaps within their teams.
  • Changing landscape: the digital landscape changes quickly, with government-led digital transformation strategies requiring significant adaptation from councils, and evolving expectations from residents.

Delivery approach: Activities and findings

There were four key stages in the development of the draft skills framework:

  • Exploratory research
  • Problem framing
  • Scoping
  • Developing the framework

We have explained each of these in detail below.

Exploratory research

Activities

In this stage, we conducted a literature review, with the aim of gaining a general understanding of:

  • The digitalisation context for key council services
  • Workforce planning activities in councils

Findings

Our research uncovered five main findings:

  • Rising Demand for CDDAT Skills: Ongoing changes in the council service landscape, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasises the increasing importance of Cyber, Digital, Data, and Technology (CDDAT) skills. Councils are increasingly exploring digitalisation and innovative uses of data to create efficiencies, enhance service delivery, meet statutory requirements, and address cybersecurity risks.
  • Skills Gap Across the UK workforce: The UK faces a growing digital skills gap, impacting both basic digital competencies and specialised CDDAT skills. The workforce is underprepared for the digital future, with a significant percentage lacking essential digital skills. McKinsey (2019) predicts substantial shortages in advanced IT skills, reflecting the existing gaps reported by businesses, particularly in areas like cybersecurity.
  • Varied Progress in Digital Transformation: Councils are at different stages of digital transformation, influenced by factors such as available resources, existing systems, and organisational culture. Progress is hindered by insufficient staff capacity and a lack of digital skills.
  • Accessing CDDAT Skills: Councils are likely to primarily acquire CDDAT skills through direct employment, outsourcing, and upskilling existing staff. Apprenticeships are a popular route, providing a pathway to enhance digital capabilities. ‘Growing their own’ digital skills through upskilling existing staff should be recognised as a crucial strategy, considering the challenge posed by the 2030 workforce's under-skilling.
  • Recruitment and Retention Challenges: The wider UK faces challenges in recruiting and retaining CDDAT professionals, with significant competition from other sectors. Financial constraints, limited remote working options, and a lack of progression opportunities contribute to retention difficulties. Upskilling efforts face barriers related to costs, organisational culture, and the absence of clear career paths for specialists.
  • Procurement Challenges: Limited research exists on the impact of procurement challenges on accessing CDDAT skills. Barriers include lengthy procurement lead times, usability of frameworks, and payment thresholds, discouraging small innovative suppliers.

Problem framing

The next stage of research focused on gaining a more detailed understanding of the workforce planning challenges faced by heads of service in councils.

Our exploratory research enabled us to generate a set of focused research questions:

  • What are the drivers of demand for CDDAT skills in key council services?
  • To what extent are services preparing their workforce for digital reforms?
  • What are the skill requirements for services?
  • How are key council services seeking to access CDDAT skills?
  • What are the challenges that councils face in trying to access CDDAT skills?

We focused on a set of five “key” services: Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, Public Health, Planning, and Environmental Health. These services were chosen as they provided a broad representation of council types, functions, activities and tasks. We therefore intended them to provide a proxy for council services generally.

Activities

We conducted a mixed-methods programme of research exploring the above questions, including:

  • Desktop research
  • Interviews with informants representing each of our key council services, as well as Organisational Development (OD) and workforce planning functions in councils.
  • Five workshops, conducted with a total of 74 Heads of Service from our key council services. As well as participating in activities focused on our research questions, workshop participants were asked to provide feedback on a prototype CDDAT skills framework (Annex one).

Findings

For each key service, our research generated detailed findings on digitalisation objectives, skill requirements, and workforce planning challenges.

We also analysed themes which arose across all five services, to generate a series of research insights, and associated user need statements:

Heads of Service need a clear link between technical skills and their service’s strategic objectives.

As a Head of Service, I need to understand how CDDAT skills are relevant and useful for achieving my service objectives, so that I can:

  • Identify which skills I have access to, and which skills I still need – both for delivering my core strategic priorities, and for delivering new, emerging, or nice-to-have objectives.
  • Ensure that I’m specifying the correct skills in recruitment or training initiatives, to avoid inefficiencies or wastage.
  • Ensure that enough people in my team have the most important skills, to enable business continuity.
  • Draw on these skills when needed, including when they are held by a different service, council, or partnership organisation.
  • Advocate for the value of new skills, technologies, processes, or ways of working to my workforce, to encourage them to adapt.
  • Demonstrate skills gaps in my service - and the benefits of filling those gaps - to senior decision-makers, to make the case for resourcing my service.

Technical skills need to work in tandem with service-specific knowledge when developing digital solutions for services, so that those solutions can effectively meet services’ needs.

As a Head of Service, I need access to the following skills:

  • The ability to identify emerging tools or technologies which could add value to a particular service, and to articulate the additional possibilities which they would bring to a range of stakeholders, including decision-makers and users.
  • The ability to relate technological requirements to an endpoint business use, to enable informed discussions about technical solutions in a specific business context – either with central teams or with suppliers.
  • The ability to communicate or visually present data insights to stakeholders, to inform decision-making in a particular business context.

Councils might have the required capabilities, but specific services can struggle to access them when needed.

As a council, we need consistency within the organisation in the way that CDDAT skills are described, so that we can: 

  • Audit our skill needs as a whole organisation, to identify whether we have enough CDDAT skills to meet our organisational objectives and plan routes for adding extra capacity and capability.
  • Identify our areas of strength in relation to CDDAT skills and ensure that skills are being used effectively and efficiently across the whole council.
  • Enable services to access a wider range of skills than they could resource as an individual service.
  • Highlight progression opportunities across the whole organisation, so that people with CDDAT skills don’t leave.
  • Ensure that roles with similar skillsets are consistently and fairly remunerated across the whole council.

There is stiff competition for specialist skills across all parts of the public and private sectors.

As a council, we need consistency within the sector in the way that specialist skills are described, so that we can:

  • More easily assess the market rate for specialist skillsets, and ensure that we are appropriately remunerating those skills .
  • Share specialist skills with partners in other councils or in integrated systems such as the ICS, and therefore: 
    • Avoid competing with our partner organisations for the same skills.
    • Access a wider range of skills than we could resource as an individual council.

CDDAT skills are increasingly important for everyone, not just specialists.

As a council, we need to ensure that we understand the CDDAT skills needed by our whole workforce, so that we can: 

  • Ensure that the whole workforce is equipped to adapt to new or emerging ways of working, especially as the baseline for “basic” digital skills gets higher over time.
  • Upskill our existing workforce at all levels, without being reliant on a small flow of new entrants for our specialist skills.
  • Bridge the gap between technical teams and service teams, so that all members of the workforce can act as informed users, commissioners, and producers of technology, and to ensure that solutions are more likely to meet business needs and achieve strategic ambitions.

Some CDDAT skillsets are already well-specified and well-understood by Heads of Service.

  • As a Head of Public Health, Adult Social Care, or Children’s Services, I have a mature understanding of data skills and how they contribute to my strategic objectives.
  • As a Head of Public Health, I have access to many formally-recognised frameworks that outline the core analytical skills for my profession.

There is no single source of intelligence on CDDAT skill needs within most participating councils, or across the local government sector as a whole.

  • As a policymaker or intermediary organisation, I need to understand which CDDAT skills to build across the whole sector, and in what quantity, so that the size of the skills pool is increased.

Scoping

Activities

In this stage, we created a detailed proposal for the Cyber, Digital, Data and Technology skills framework for councils, using the needs statements outlined above.

This proposal outlined the specific features to be included in a skills framework. These features were split into “core” features, i.e. those to be delivered in financial year 2023/24, and “additional”, i.e. those to be delivered in a later phase of the project.

We then tested this proposal with key stakeholders representing CDDAT, service, and HR and OD practitioners in councils, as well as DHLUC. These conversations enabled us to revise the scope - in some cases, taking features from the “additional” list into “core” and vice versa, and in other cases suggesting more “additional” features for future exploration.

Findings

The finalised proposal is as follows:

Core features:

  • A framework of cyber, digital, data and technology skills which focuses on those which are core or common across the whole council, and promotes a common definition.
  • Alignment of skill definitions with the most commonly recognised industry or sector frameworks, where possible 
  • A “strategic objective” layer which maps CDDAT skills onto councils' key strategic objectives.

Additional features:

  • The inclusion of service-specific strategic objectives and the corresponding service-specific skills (e.g. the implementation of technology-enabled care is a key strategic objective for adult social care; epidemiology is a data skill which is mostly relevant to public health).
  • Defining skills on a spectrum from basic to advanced, in alignment with the most commonly recognised industry or sector frameworks. 
  • Inclusion of a knowledge layer, to reflect where contextual or service-specific knowledge would add value to a core CDDAT skillset (e.g. understanding the children’s services context would add value to a business intelligence skillset).
  • A directory of existing relevant CDDAT skills taxonomies, especially those which are service-specific and owned by a formal professional body or the relevant government department; Avoidance of wholesale replication of the content of these taxonomies, including only the skills which are common across them.
  • Role layer – mapping skills onto common roles, either as a formal taxonomy or as a set of suggestions for “persona” councils (e.g. London boroughs etc.).
  • Suggested training and qualification pathways for each skillset.

Example illustrations of some of these additional features can be found in Annex two.

Developing the framework

In this stage, we developed the core features of the framework, using the above specification.

Activities

Developing a list of key strategic objectives for inclusion in the framework

This stage involved identifying councils’ core digitalisation objectives. This served two purposes:

  • Setting the context for councils’ digitalisation activities. This in turn would be used to determine which CDDAT skills are most important and relevant for local government delivery, and therefore which skills to include in the framework.
  • Creating the list of strategic objectives for inclusion in the framework, onto which key CDDAT skills would be mapped.

To do this we:

  • Analysed a sample of published digital strategies from 24 councils, to identify commonly occurring digitalisation objectives. We selected strategies from a mix of upper and lower-tier councils, and excluded strategies published before 2020.
  • Cross-referenced findings from this analysis with our findings from the workshops conducted with Heads of Service, to ensure that councils’ overall digitalisation objectives were aligned with Heads of Services’ priorities.

This produced a list of six key strategic objectives.

Developing a list of skills to include in the CDDAT skills framework

This stage involved developing the draft framework.

To do this, we:

  • Developed a longlist of skills to potentially include in the framework. We combined two frameworks, selected for their prominence and comprehensiveness: The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), and the Government Digital and Data Professional Capability Framework.
  • Held four workshops with a total of 84 CDDAT practitioners from local government. We presented participants with our list of core digitalisation objectives, asked them to nominate skills from the longlist which they felt were most important for achieving these objectives, and explain the rationale for their nominations.
  • Analysed findings from these workshops, identifying the skills which were most identified for each strategic objective, and the skills which were most identified overall.
  • Built the framework, including all of the most commonly identified skills, the six strategic objectives, and the key skills which contributed to each of these objectives.

Findings

We identified the following six key strategic objectives for digitalisation in councils:

  • Reduce manual or transactional tasks for the workforce, creating efficiency savings and enabling a focus on more creative tasks.
  • Implement working methods which allow for a more mobile and efficient workforce.
  • Develop digital, self-service routes for customers, creating efficiency savings and reaching more residents.
  • Enable residents to communicate with services and access information about themselves in one place.
  • Improve data-driven decision making. 
  • Ensure continuous and strategically-informed improvement.

We also identified a list of 71 skills for inclusion in the draft framework. Each skill has been explained in terms of:

  • Its name
  • The ability it represents
  • Why it is important and relevant to councils’ delivery of their digitalisation objectives

 The full list is published on the LGA website.

Next steps

Consultation and finalisation

We have now closed the consultation into the draft framework and are analysing the responses. 

An updated framework will be published in due course. We are still accepting feedback on the framework, this can be sent via email to [email protected]

Ongoing management

After the publication of the updated framework, additional updates will be subject to a change management process. This is intended to achieve the following benefits:

  • Enabling the framework to be updated to reflect changes in the local government digitalisation landscape.
  • Balancing the need for periodic change with the need for a stable framework, which enables Heads of Service to set out medium-term plans for workforce development. 
  • Enabling ongoing sector ownership of the framework.
  • Establishing a clear scope for the framework, ensuring that it continues to be relevant and beneficial to councils.
  • Enabling ongoing suggestions for new tools and products related to the framework.

The change management process will be as follows:

  • The LGA will publish a set of acceptance criteria for assessing proposed changes to the framework.
  • The LGA will publish a form via which proposed changes can be submitted.
  • Proposed changes will be reviewed annually via a two-stage process:
    • An initial review by an LGA technical advisor.
    • A second review by a panel of expert council CDDAT practitioners.
  • Changes will be either accepted, declined, or deferred.
  • All proposals, including those which are pending, will be published in a log, alongside the rationale for any decision made.

Additional products

We will be working with Heads of Service to understand which tools, services, or products could support them to easily use the framework for workforce planning.

Exploratory research and delivery will be carried out in financial year 2024/25.