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September 11, 2023updated 12 Sep 2023 11:27am

DSIT aims to boost tech expertise by joining Whitehall’s STEM Futures programme

It is the first central government department to join the scheme, which is aimed at building links with the science and technology industries.

By Sophia Waterfield

Civil servants in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) could soon be mentored by the brightest minds in the technology industry after the department joined the STEM Futures programme. However, the move appears to duplicate the work of the Expert Exchange scheme which DSIT announced earlier this year.

DSIT is the first department to take part in the cross-Whitehall scheme. (Photo by Tupungato/Shutterstock)

The STEM Futures programme is a partnership of organisations from across the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) industries, as well as academia and the public sector. The Government Office for Science (GOS) confirmed to Tech Monitor that 26 partners are currently involved. People working in government will get the opportunity to shadow experts, undertake placements and receive mentoring.

According to the joint announcement from DSIT and GOS, experts will specialise in subjects such as data science and systems thinking. It is hoped that the programme will boost civil servants’ knowledge and competence in STEM over the long term.

“Joining STEM Futures is another milestone in DSIT’s mission to build the world’s most innovative economy here in the UK, building on the UK’s unique leading role in science and technology,” said Michelle Donelan, science and technology secretary.

DSIT banks on secondments and mentorship schemes to boost STEM skills

As reported by Tech Monitor back in April, DSIT launched its Expert Exchange secondment scheme, which Donelan says will complement the department’s participation in STEM Futures. The first phase is being delivered by the industry trade association techUK, with roles available in departments such as Building Digital UK, the Cyber Directorate, the Digital and Tech Policy Directorate, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the Geospatial Commission.

Both programmes are similar, focusing on leveraging knowledge from academia. However, the secondment scheme focuses on workers from the private sector working within DSIT, the department explained.

Donelan also said that the participation in STEM Futures cements DSIT’s commitment to “overhauling” how it works with the science and technology sectors. She also pointed to the UK government’s vision to achieve its 2030 goal to make the country the most innovative economy in the world, set out in thet out in the Science and Technology Framework.

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In March, DSIT launched the framework, which was backed by £370m to help boost “investment in innovation”. It also looked to secure the best talent for the UK as well as take advantage of emerging technologies such as AI and quantum.

Secondments are the new craze in government

The trend of secondment and mentorship programmes is taking the UK government by storm. The Cabinet Office also announced its intention in July to start a programme that would “turbocharge” the digital skills of civil service workers.

As reported by Tech Monitor, Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quinn said that while there are “brilliant people in our civil service” it needed to do more to eradicate efficiency waste. The way to do this was by having access to “outside voices and fresh ideas” described by Quinn as “digital gurus”.

This would be achieved, he said, through a scheme called ‘Digital and Data’. Like DSIT’s Expert Exchange, the government would work with tech players and FTSE100 companies to exchange talent. Civil servants would be able to spend time within the private sector, shadowing experts.

Read more: Labour hands DSIT brief to Peter Kyle in shadow cabinet reshuffle

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