How Equal Experts is helping HMRC to develop the next generation of data engineers

Homegrown data engineering talent at HMRC

We’re increasingly seeing demand from clients for help to grow their in-house talent. It’s a trend that stems from Equal Experts’ collaborative style of working with customer teams, to help build internal capability that facilitates continuous innovation. HMRC’s Data Engineering Academy is an excellent example of how we’re helping our customer to increase data intelligence and reduce their reliance on external suppliers.

Recruiting experienced data engineers externally is always a challenge. HMRC knew that training engineers in-house would yield massive economies of scale and secure the organisation’s technical future. Equal Experts’ consultants have both the technical skills and a history of passing those skills on through coaching in-house teams. 

Here’s how we enabled HMRC to grow their in-house talent pool by supporting the strategic planning of their Data Engineering Academy. 

About the client:

HMRC is a non-ministerial department of government. It is the UK’s tax, payments and customs authority, and has a vital purpose: gathering the approximately £740b tax revenue that pays for the UK’s public services (hospitals, schools, etc.), and helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.

  • Industry:

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  • Organisation Size:

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  • Location:

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  • Services:

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    Client upskilling

  • Length of project:

    18 months

The Challenge: Growing data engineering talent to facilitate scale 

Five years ago, the Data Platform Services (DPS) team at HMRC consisted of around 37 permanent staff working in silo to support legacy systems; meanwhile, a team of ~70 contractors – including Equal Experts – was helping to build new products that would enable HMRC to become one of the most digitally advanced tax authorities in the world. The demand for services was growing exponentially, but there was limited cross-functional engagement between these two areas of work. 

To achieve the levels of data expertise required to support the massive growth of the team, funding was agreed for the first cohort of data engineers to go through a brand new data academy, building skills in technologies fundamental to HMRC’s future plans. 

Outstanding technical skill was a given, and Equal Experts was able to supply that, but equally important for the success of the Data Engineering Academy was: 

  • A collaborative style of learning and coaching; this helps new data engineers cultivate the softer skills required for the role. This is something our consultants do as standard, so our ways of working were ideal to help give participants ownership of their work and the confidence to speak out about their ideas, from a place of innovation and psychological safety. 
  • Agile development skills; academy participants learned about agile techniques, sprint planning and other continuous improvement methodologies as our consultants used them throughout the duration of projects the participants worked on. 
  • The ability to work cross-functionally with multiple stakeholders and partnership teams; this is crucial to the way we operate with HMRC.

Our Solution: A truly individualised Data Engineering Academy

Typically, academies offer a basic bootcamp, where engineers learn the front and backend of a business’s systems, so that they can effectively do a job within that organisation. HMRC needed more than that – and that’s where Equal Experts stepped in. 

Once the essential technical skills are embedded, our approach entails having all of HMRC’s Data Engineering Academy participants take placements on one or more of the Product Oriented Delivery units (PODs) that operate within DPS, Equal Experts’ biggest engagement at HMRC. We facilitate invaluable learning through the support participants receive whilst working with our highly experienced consultants and HMRC’s top data engineers on initiatives that are critical to the UK’s tax infrastructure. We also give them a wider understanding of business operations, and an awareness of the commercial impact of their work.

Further, we make sure trainees are involved in every aspect of the live work they undertake, including our hack days, chaos days and pairing with expert consultants. Placements are run in multiple areas over the 12-18 month programme, allowing trainees to pick their preferred learning discipline. 

Participants spend time with all the roles in the team including Delivery Leads, Business Analyst and Quality Assurance, to give them a rounded experience and open their eyes to related roles. They are supported to self-direct their learning.

Our approach to HMRC’s Data Engineering Academy 

The Equal Experts approach to the Data Engineering Academy isn’t a classic graduate training scheme; it’s a programme of growth for anyone who’s passionate about data; those who – for whatever reason – haven’t yet found their opportunity. Nor is it a one-size-fits all schedule. We’ve supported training for graduates, career-changers, and bedroom developers, and all of them have had individualised experiences from the academy. This means that, in some cases, we’ve seen individuals displaying the potential to move quickly through HMRC grade levels, thanks to the niche skills acquired, an advanced capability and their own ambition. 

A snapshot from the end of placement retro shows an overwhelmingly positive response to the Data Engineering Academy experience:

The Result: Homegrown data engineering expertise

Equal Experts has helped HMRC create a data engineering academy that is industry leading, taking a hands-on, individualised approach to learning by doing and supporting trainees to explore their own areas of expertise within a major government department.

HMRC’s first Data Engineering Academy looks incredibly promising for the future of UK government systems, with all 20 of the first cohort graduating and going on to find permanent roles. From grass-roots nurturing of engineering talent, the academy is building the data capabilities that will secure the trust of UK taxpayers for the long term.

Want to know more?

Are you interested in this project? Or do you have one just like it? Get in touch. We'd love to tell you more about it.