How the Cabinet Office is using open data to tackle youth unemployment

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The Cabinet Office has hosted an event in an attempt to solve the problem of youth unemployment in the UK through the use of open government datasets.

The so-called Job Hack event saw technology professionals from across the industry come together with young people to use open data to think of ways to reduce the number of young people not in work or education.

The participants used datasets including statistics on the number of young people not in education, employment or training (Neet), as well as on school performance, apprenticeship vacancies, earning outcomes and available educational options.

Matt Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “I’m here because I believe passionately, like all of you do, in the power of technology to unleash human ingenuity.”

Hancock highlighted the use of open data for the event as being representative of the two main objectives of his role – building a government that has access to good technology where data is increasingly open, and reducing youth unemployment.

As chair of government cross-departmental taskforce Earn or Learn, tackling youth unemployment is high on the agenda for the minister, alongside tasks surrounding digital transformation and government transparency.

“These are two separate parts of my job, but it struck me that although they are technically separate, we can do an awful lot to bring them together,” said Hancock.

It was important to the event to involve not just people who have a handle on using open data, but also those closest to the issue, such as careers advisers and young people themselves.

“Making the most of open data is really hard if you’re used to working with what’s been done in the past. So breaking through the thinking space on the existing data is important – sometimes you need to step back and get people from different backgrounds to make that happen,” said Hancock.

“You need to get a good mix. Everybody needs to be open minded to open data, but the best combination of people is those who have worked on the front line getting young people into jobs, the young people themselves, the best data scientists and the best programmers.”

Technology ideas for employment

By the end of the event, teams were asked to present what ideas they had come up with for ways to help young people access the training and employment they need to succeed, which can then be built as applications by technology specialists using a range of government open datasets.

Officials from varied disciplines from different government departments such as the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions were also in attendance, and Hancock hopes some of the more viable ideas can be implemented as soon as possible.

“There are enough people in the room from key departments who are able to make changes very fast,” said Hancock.

“If something needs to go up to ministers and get cross-government agreement, then we can do that too.”

Among the teams, a total of 11 ideas were produced, including a job advert validation website to prevent job seekers from wasting time looking through poorly advertised jobs, a self-assessment tool to help young people choose a career path and a career development tool that maps career progress around an individual and helps them to find suitable entry-level jobs.

In 2014, the government ran a Flood Hack, where software developers were given access to data to help develop systems to cope with widespread flooding across the UK.

Three-quarters of the IT industry still holds concerns about the growing IT skills gap, and some are concerned the current solutions focus too much on young people.

“You need action in all the different age groups, but to get a deep transformation in the whole of the UK you need to start at the beginning. Coding at eight is incredibly exciting, but digital skills among teenagers are just as important,” said Hancock.

“It’s true that our most radical policy is at the younger end, but there is action throughout.”

The new curriculum focuses heavily on teaching children to code, a skill Hancock claimed will still be relevant for digital-focused jobs in the future.

“To understand how the digital world works, the best thing is to understand how it’s coded. That way, even if you’re not going to be a programmer you know how things fit together,” he said.

“I can code and I learnt to code at a young age, which means that my feel for digital technology and for data is just that much stronger, because even though I’m not current I know what’s going on underneath.”

Hancock also hinted at the continuation of the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) government-as-a-platform (GaaP) idea, stating one of the responsibilities of the digital department in government was still “making sure we work across departments” rather than continue with siloed working.

Hancock said digital teams were responsible for building “the platforms on which government services can be built, rather than rebuilding platforms over and over again in all the departments”.

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