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How we’re broadening our range of opportunities to attract, grow and retain talent

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Strategy

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Gabriella Debens explains how we are supporting the new Civil Service People Plan, a key aim of which is to create and enable fairer opportunities for anyone to become qualified and experienced civil servants, from entry to senior leadership.

Hi, I’m Gabriella and I’m a Senior Workforce Advisor responsible for Equality Diversity and Inclusion, Talent, Apprenticeships and Internships in Defra Digital Data and Technology. Sounds like a bit of a mouthful, I know, but every aspect of my role is focused on developing and nurturing the talent we have, ensuring that talent can flourish and grow.

I consider my role as a kind of trouble-shooter. Our team works behind the scenes, right from the moment somebody shows interest, to helping our teams who want to make a bid to offer an opening. We spend a lot of time working with managers and administrators to ensure things run smoothly.

We also make sure we are available for any questions, concerns, or ideas that candidates or hiring managers may have. Then we take all of that learning and try to make it even better for future cohorts. Our aim is to make an individual’s experience in our organisation as rewarding as it can be.

Opportunities for all

Some people see talent programmes as something that results in a small number of staff receiving disproportionate opportunities to help them progress, while at the same others who aren’t on such schemes receive less investment in them.

In Defra we certainly don’t see it that way. For me, such opportunities are there to develop all employees professionally, either in their current role or by providing options and openings for future roles and new career pathways. Regardless of their current employment status, skillset, or grade.

Our goal is always to provide new or elevated skills which you can use throughout your career both in the civil service and beyond, and the time spent on one of these schemes can range between a few weeks and several years. Our schemes also form a key part of the Civil Service People Plan 2024-2027. The plan sets a clear direction and focus for the Civil Service to be the most dynamic, skilled, and efficient that it can be. It establishes people priorities that will ensure a Civil Service that is fit for current and future challenges.

The kinds of schemes that we offer

The main programmes that I provide support with are the Civil Service Fast Stream, Apprenticeships, and Internships. Each of these schemes offers a unique opportunity for an individual to learn and develop. The Fast Stream and Apprenticeships are perhaps the best known of these, both offering a huge range of opportunities and challenges, as part of us building a Civil Service for a fast-changing world, tackling some of the biggest challenges impacting the UK.

There is also our Academies programme, overseen by my colleague Hermionie. Facing the challenge of a global shortage of digital talent meant that we had to re-think our approach to attracting digital talent. The Academy aims to prioritise potential, rather than current capability, alongside soft skills, and a keen willingness to learn. The outcome of this strategic decision, made in 2022, has provided us with a current cohort of 14 talented individuals who have thrived in their new environment and are enjoying being part of the Defra family, contributing to Defra’s success and making a difference.

Why we use these programmes

We have a lot of amazing talent already working in our organisation, but we are always keen to find more, while also keeping the excellent people we do have. Our talent programmes aim to accelerate careers and develop talented, high-potential people, offering new and improved skills and opening new opportunities.

People joining these programmes are often supporting the business by taking on ‘hard to fill’ roles, and this in turn creates a pipeline of talent for us. Those on our talent programmes can offer fresh ideas and perspectives, or they might take on a new project or piece of work. By having talent schemes we can create a pipeline of talent to support us to meet the challenging demands of the future. It’s also great for now as we get the benefit of having high-potential people working for us.

For the individuals it’s a win-win situation too. Depending on which of the talent schemes they join, they get to learn about something they may never have done before. They get opportunities to broaden their skill set, such as learning how to manage stakeholders or working on big picture strategy.

For our fast streamers it is a great way to catapult their career in the Civil Service in a welcoming environment. For our internships it is a great way to see how varied roles in Government can be. For our apprentices it is a great way to launch into a new career without leaving their current role, or to gain a qualification for the work they currently do.

How we measure success

A priority for me is that those on our talent schemes are happy. We do our best to create the best match and support everyone involved so both sides get maximum benefit. We also notice that those on apprenticeships tend to stay longer in their roles or more generally with Defra because of the positive experience and how much we have supported them.

Many of our fast streamers stay with us beyond their placement too. Either through moving into a role after completing their third year or by coming back to Defra. We also track completion rates which is a great way to see that a lot of our talent scheme individuals enjoy the schemes and stay for their duration. The Cabinet Office-led schemes such as Fast Stream and Future Leaders Scheme have their own evaluation methods, which we participate in.

And finally, we know this works because we keep getting interest. It is something both parties want, and we get interest year on year.

It’s never too late

When thinking of talent development, it’s important that we don’t overlook the more general learning opportunities that people pursue as a routine part of their career management and progression. Or the fact that everyone learns at their own pace. Those on our talent programmes come from all walks of life and our schemes vary so much. Our message is very much that it’s never too late to learn something new, or change your career, and we enjoy helping people to do that.

Ultimately, talent management is about creating opportunities for all to thrive. We want those who aren’t currently in Defra to see us as a destination organisation, where we prioritise potential and invest in our people so they can enjoy their job, feel valued and contribute to Defra’s aims.

So, for me it’s about us having the right people, with the right skills, in the right roles, where we offer a broad spectrum of career opportunities that encourage people to join us and to stay. This will give us a workforce deeply invested in the success of our collective journey.

Gabriella Debens is a Senior Workforce Advisor responsible for Equality Diversity and Inclusion, Talent, Apprenticeships and Internships in Defra Digital Data and Technology.

If you are interested in finding out more about talent programmes, please do get in touch.

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