Rijks Data Science Programme kicks off

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
Group of participants in the ‘Rijks Data Science Programme’,
© Miriam van der Sangen
Monday, 3 September 2018 marked the official launch of the ‘Rijks Data Science Programme’, an initiative of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands (CBS). As part of this programme, 35 young graduates will join CBS for one or two years to receive training with an emphasis on the development of knowledge and skills in the field of data science.

Integrated approach to tackle staff shortages

The Rijks Data Science Programme is part of an action plan of the Dutch government involving the recruitment of ICT professionals, as addressed by Minister Ollongren in a letter to the Lower House of Parliament in December 2017. This letter states that an integrated approach is necessary to tackle ICT staffing shortages within central government. One element of this integrated approach is the launch of the Rijks Data Science Programme, in which recent university graduates with a Master’s degree can enrol following an extensive selection procedure.

Specialising in data science

As explained by programme manager Rien Stor, the programme has two tracks: ‘The Rijks Data Trainee Programme allows candidates to work at three different departments within central government, altogether for a duration of two years. At CBS, they will learn how to translate policy questions into research questions and vice versa. In addition, we offer the Rijks Data Science Programme which combines vocational training and work. Candidates are employed by the same government organisation for two years, and are seconded to CBS for one year to further specialise in data science. They learn about data modeling, data cleaning and combining of datasets through programming in R of Python, for example. In short, this is where they gain in-depth knowledge. In both programmes, candidates also learn about the civil service and personal development.’

Selection

There were altogether 260 candidates for the Rijks Data Science Programme, with 35 finally selected. They will be joining a ministry or an executive organisation. How did the selection take place? Stor: ‘Based on a number of criteria, such as their CV, an academic assessment test (at an average university level), a personality test, an interview with a recruiter and a selection committee with BZK and CBS staff. The final phase involved carousel-style interviews of the candidates by colleagues from the various participating ministries. After this selection, we tried to arrive at a good match between both parties.’

‘With its huge amounts of data, CBS is in a unique position to contribute to the trainee programme’

Knowledge and data

According to Stor, collaborating with CBS in the implementation of the Rijks Data Science Programme was a logical choice for several obvious reasons. ‘CBS has in-depth knowledge in the areas of data and data science and has huge amounts of data available. It is also one of few organisations which is able to combine data from different sources.’ Jildou Nicolai, programme manager at CBS in charge of the Rijks Data Science Programme component: ‘It is CBS’s statutory task to foster the provision of statistical information on account of the government. With its huge volumes of data, CBS is in a unique position to contribute to the trainee programme. After all, public authorities are in need of specialists to help them work in a more data-driven way; at CBS, they have the opportunity to develop innovative ideas in the wider area of data science.’

Quality first

This time, the Rijks Data Science Programme kicks off with 35 candidates, but this is bound to increase over the next few years as there is a great need for data scientists within central government. Nicolai: ‘We would like to grow, but in a controlled way. These traineeships place heavy demands on the available capacity at CBS. Think of CBS staff that are being engaged as instructors or as mentors who guide candidates in their practical assignments. Moreover, we always put quality first.’ The trainee programme at CBS which is part of this project is one of many statistical training programmes offered by CBS for its own employees and within the European statistical network.