HackIT Apprenticeship Programme – a managers view

Planning a successful induction for our first group of apprentices

I recently attended the manager’s induction session for the Hackney apprentice programme. This was a session run by the Hackney Works team for all managers that either are,  or will be, managing apprentices under the scheme.

At HackIT we’re investing in long term digital skills by hiring 21 digital apprentices. To be successful we know that we need to make sure our managers are equipped to support our new recruits. I’m one of those managers – and thought I’d share what I’ve learnt so far. I’m looking forward to welcoming our team’s three apprentices later this month, and working with Arch, their learning provider.

What is an apprentice?

Firstly – it’s important to know  what an apprenticeship is, and indeed what it isn’t.

It is all about learning and development, this may well be the apprentice’s first experience of the workplace. Where they will gain hands on experience, mentoring and nurturing to become, in our case, the future of ICT.

What it is not,  is a lesser option than going to uni. Although society seems to put more emphasis on academic success, we should not see an apprenticeship as any less important or valid than further education.

This may be the first time they have entered the workplace formally so during induction apprentices may need  more structured first days, weeks, or even months than other staff would. We need to explain where they fit in and what we hope they will be achieving. We’ll be asking ourselves, who are the key people that they need to meet on those first few days? We have to be careful not to overload or scare them by introducing everyone in a large office like a conveyor belt. Apart from this being a little overwhelming, it’s also very difficult to remember so many people all at once.

Learning on the job

During their apprenticeship 20% of their time will be spent on learning. This must be structured and regular. We must provide a quiet place for this in the office. This will be backed  up by creating a month by month work plan. Assigning a “buddy” from the team also helps as they may be more open with someone who isn’t a manager. The buddy will also help the apprentice with work on a day to day basis.

First day at work

We’re not assuming our apprentices will know about the workplace environment. Do you remember your first ever day at work? We had an interesting discussion around this at the training, where we shared our experiences and memories. Although it was a long time ago for some of us we could all still remember the details “It was raining” “the building was massive” “I didn’t know who anyone was, or what they did for the organisation”

I’m also mindful that that the apprentices will possibly be much younger than other members of our team. Or have different cultural barriers. So we’ll need to find ways to make them feel comfortable and welcome.

What happens at the end of the apprenticeship?

We want apprentices to move on to role in their chosen profession – this might be with us, but it might equally be in the wider industry -and that’s very much still a success story for the organisation. There isn’t a guaranteed job at the end – but we will help with next steps like updating CVs. Three months before the end of apprenticeship we’ll start having conversations to discuss their next steps. 

HackIT digital apprentices programme – delivering long term change

Our programme is taking shape

Since Rob Miller last blogged about our apprenticeship programme we’ve been working hard to get it off the ground. It’s a key part of our workforce strategy – we know that in a market where digital skills are at a premium we will need to work hard to attract the right candidates, and that growing our own talent is vital.

A successful recruitment campaign over the summer means that we have 21 new people joining us in September on a variety of level 3 and 4 apprenticeships. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds but they are all either Hackney residents or attended a Hackney school – part of the borough’s commitment to providing opportunities to residents.

In fact the standard of applicants we got was so good, and our managers are so engaged in wanting to develop the opportunity, that we’re hiring 3 more than we originally planned to. We’re confident we can support them all to develop over the next 2 years, in partnership with our 3 learning providers Ada, Arch and WKCIC.

Building a pipeline of talent is a team sport

We couldn’t have done this without the Hackney Works team who have given us fantastic support throughout. Their skills and experience have been invaluable in helping us through the process.

We’re also working with the wider digital community in Hackney to help us grow digital skills in the borough. Hackney has a thriving tech sector with world leading business (large and small) based here. In June we hosted an event for local employers and asked them for ideas.

They said:

  • Make sure apprentices are given specific projects to deliver so that they can build their own personal portfolios of experience
  • Support your managers with the skills they need to manage people who are at an early stage of their careers and have limited experience of the workplace
  • Work with us to share ideas and create opportunities to work together

And that’s what we’re doing.

We’re working with local employers to help the new recruits build their professional networks.  This includes working with MadeTech organising meetups with their trainee developers and our apprentices, Diva Apprentices to connect our apprentices to others in Hackney media companies and Amazon Web Services, developing mentoring relationships between Amazon’s graduate trainees and our apprentices.

We’d love to work with other local employers as well – if you’re interested please get in touch with us.

Looking ahead – women in tech

We’re also thinking now about the next time we recruit to our programme – in 2020. We will be working with people from different backgrounds, life experiences and heritages – an important enabler of building empathic digital services people prefer to use. We have 5 women and 16 men joining us in this first cohort. As a reflection of the IT industry as a whole this isn’t bad, but we are ambitious about improving it in the future and we think there is a lot we can do over the next two years to make that happen.

Sharing our work: Data Awareness Training Content

Over 1,000 of our staff have completed our mandatory Data Awareness training so far, and we are aiming to reach 100% compliance by the end of the roll-out. One of our aims of the project was to share our work, so here are our reflections and the content itself.

In preparation for GDPR, we asked:

How might we:

  • … equip our staff to fulfill their responsibilities to keep our resident and staff data safe, and to handle it lawfully.
  • …equip our decision makers to make decisions about data with an understanding of the law.
  • …support people working on behalf of Hackney who don’t have access to training budgets eg. foster carers.
  • …support people in our communities with data protection responsibilities that don’t have access to training eg. scout leaders.
  • …give other organisations the chance to use our content instead of spending their own time and effort on creating something similar.

We talked to several specialists agencies about how they could help, and selected Helpful Digital to work with us on development of the content. We decided to use their Digital Action Plan – their personalised, digital skills programme to help groups develop the confidence and skills to use digital tools at work.

How did we develop the content?

We kicked off with a workshop with Helpful Digital and staff from our Information Management and Information Security teams. We decided to develop one plan for people handling data, and one plan for people making decisions about data. We started by producing Hackney-specific content that referenced our policies and procedures.

The content took some time to refine – we wanted to make sure that it contained useful practical advice rather than regurgitating the law. The Council deliver such a vast range of services that it was a challenge to find examples that would be applicable to everyone. After our first draft we were lucky enough to have willing volunteers from across the Council to test out the content. Getting some extras eyes and perspectives on it helped us to identify the changes needed in the next iteration.

What next?

  • We will remove the references to Hackney Council policies and procedures, to produce equivalent plans for non-Hackney users.
  • We will adapt the decision-maker’s plan to to include scenarios specific to our Councillors.
  • We will plan for our annual refresher, thinking ahead about how we adapt content to support this.

How can you use this content?

You are free to use this content however you will find it useful. You might keep it in document form, but could also choose to move the content into your own Learning Management System. Another option is to use Helpful Digital’s Digital Action Plan platform with our content at a small cost – you can read more about this option here.

The Content:

We have published the content on GitHub here.

  • Content for people handling data is called ‘Beginner’ and marked 1-5.
  • Content for people making decisions about data is called ‘Intermediate’ and is marked 1-5.
  • There is a final quiz for all levels of plan.

Some of our post-it note ideas in the early stages of creating the content:

Developing a minimum viable Business Index

Hackney has  successfully completed our MVP for the Business Index (BX) a couple weeks ago and now we’ve had our project retro, I thought I’d share some thoughts after reflection. This is my first experience of working in an agile way, along with other team members in Data & Insight. There was much to learn along the way and valuable experience gained. To that extent, the BX MVP was much more than the creation of an automated ETL process and REST API.


At Hackney, there has historically been an issue with duplicated business data within the systems as the business name has usually been a free text field with no validation. There’s a famous case where a supplier who was on our trusted supplier/contractor list had had numerous enforcement actions taken out against it but because there was no validation on the business name, upon investigation it was seen that this particular business had been created differently 18 times – therefore avoiding detection and being able to remain on the ‘trusted suppliers’ list. This was just one of the examples of how free text recording of businesses in the council has been allowed to proliferate bad data and therefore making it much harder to join up data and services.

Set up

We appointed two agencies to work with us – Unboxed and MastodonC. Unboxed were to carry out our user research and MastodonC for the technical build. I was appointed Product Owner and so the project started in earnest. We had 6 x 2 week sprints to complete our MVP. After extensive user research and many times defining and re-defining our scope for the MVP, the user that we thought we could benefit the most in this iteration would be the developers working with the Public Realm Digital Transformation team – namely working on a new application for businesses wishing to apply to for a Shop Front License. This would be a new application for a license which would then serve to hold all other license details in the one portal. They had a need for an applicant to enter their postcode, select their address and select their business name associated to that address – thus keeping the data consistent.



The build

The technical discovery and build came next. We needed to derive the business name and the key datasets we would be using would be LLPG (Local Land and Property Gazetteer), Non Domestic Rates and Civica APP (where currently all license data was sitting).  The LLPG is the councils core address dataset and each address has a unique property reference number (UPRN) – most systems in the council are integrated with the LLPG and hold the UPRN against their addresses. Civica APP has the UPRN attached to it’s licensing data. Non domestic rates doesn’t have the UPRN but the reference number for Non Domestic Rates is held in the LLPG which creates a link. By using these 3 datasets, we would determine which was the correct business name for property. Our logic was determined as – Business Name would come from LLPG – if no business name was present in the LLPG then it would come from Civica – if multiple names existed in Civica then the last seen date would be used to determine the name put forward for Shop Front Licenses in the API. We had decided that only 1 business name would be returned in the API and there would be an option to add a new business name if it wasn’t returned. This will be sent through to the Data & Insight team for investigation/verification and then added to the LLPG. A link to our API is below.



Looking back…

As mentioned at the start, this was the first time I and other members of the Hackney team had been working on an Agile project and I don’t think we could have achieved our MVP without doing so. The project team stand-ups were an essential part of this – even if you had nothing to update, just keep in the loop and give a smile and a wave to the other members of the team made a difference. Same format each day – What did we do yesterday, what are we working on today and any blockers – jointly being able to update our trello board. This kept us on track for each sprint. However, after our fortnightly Show & Tells where we shared what we had done in the previous sprint – we would hold a Sprint Retrospective and planning session for the next one. It was these that were, I would say, the most important part of the process. Even though we spoke to each other everyday, it was during the retros (mostly) that concerns were raised – honestly and with respect.  

After successfully completing our MVP we had our final Project Retrospective. Whilst working on the MVP there were a number of things that went well – some that didn’t… by having a Project Retrospective it was a great opportunity to capture all the learning – by everyone. There were a few things which were specific to this project alone but most things can be applied to future projects.

Committing to working in the open

Every three months we provide an update to our board which sets out what we’ve been working on, the progress we’ve made and areas that we need to focus on.

As part of our commitment to working in the open (a key part of the Local Digital Declaration) we’ll be publishing these on our blog so that others can see what we’re up to. We’re particularly keen to hear from other councils who’d like to compare notes, share ideas and suggest ways that we might be able to go even further with the work we’re doing at Hackney. And we’re very open to following up opportunities for closer working together too.

In this quarter’s update we’ve got plenty of great progress, including:

  • Over 4,000 residents checked their registration to vote in the May 2018 election using our One Account service
  • The design led approach we’ve taken for the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act means we are able to complete interviews with people presenting as homeless much more quickly and easily
  • We’re starting to link in with the ‘Government as a Platform’ services provided by GDS through our work to improve income collection
  • 50% of repairs contact is now entirely online (with no need for a call back from the contact centre)
  • Our new digital service for fostering is live, making it easier for people to find out how they can provide a caring home for vulnerable children
  • We’ve successfully moved c 3,500 people over to modern productivity tools
  • Our Local Land & Property Gazetteer has achieved the gold standard for data quality this month
  • Our commitment to data is continuing through a broad programme of work supporting the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation, including new Digital Action Plan training for all our staff – designed to make it easy for our people to understand their data responsibilities
  • We’re continuing to do the hard yards to make sure our systems and applications are reliable and secure (thankless, never-ending, but vital)
  • We’ve had brilliant new colleagues joining our team following our recent recruitment, and we’re well underway with the recruitment to our new apprentice programme
  • And our work with colleagues in other support services is helping to make it easier for our users to get help and advice when they need it so that they can focus on delivering excellent services for our residents

But it’s also essential that we’re frank about where we need to give more attention so that we can do even better. Key areas we’re focusing on at the moment include:

  • Making sure that we can demonstrate and realise the benefits of the work we’re doing
  • Supporting our team so that they can provide high quality support for the new services we’re rolling out
  • Learning more about how we can understand data and data quality
  • Making sure that we are focusing on users and user needs in everything we do
  • And making sure that we take the time to bring new colleagues joining other Council services up to speed, which is well worth the time and effort

You can read the full update here: http://bit.ly/2KdM6Wb