APS reform has identified digital and data as critical skills areas for the future of the public service. On a recent episode of Work with Purpose, we spoke with two young data specialists, Moira McLoughlin, graduate at the Department of the Senate, and Samuel McMurray, data analyst at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) about the appeal of working in data.
More than ever, the public service needs reliable data to create policies and programs that meet the needs of Australian communities.
As the APS reform office is undertaking its digital review to measure digital capability across the APS, data skills and literacy have already emerged as key areas the public service is keen to focus on.
Moira McLoughlin and Samuel McMurray have been working with data for a while now and are enthusiastic about the outlook of the profession and how it can help solve complex issues.
“As someone who's just beginning in their career, I've been really struck by the diversity of opportunities across the APS,” Moira says.
“The reason why I loved data, or I was very interested in it to begin with and still am, is the problem-solving aspect of it. You're always coming across something which you haven't really seen before, and you have to go and research, find a new technique or an old technique, or talk to someone and find out how you can overcome this little challenge to tell the story or to integrate a new data set,” Sam adds.
Both Moira and Sam have had the opportunity to work on meaningful projects at the ATO and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) that will help the government solve some of its most complicated problems.
Moira says she was fortunate to join the Family Domestic and Sexual Violence Unit in her graduate year at AIHW to work on a novel national data compendium to establish leading statistical information on the prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence.
“[Domestic violence] is often hard to identify or talk about or capture, particularly in a numerical way. Once we can release our major project that is really capturing rates of the statistics and rates of violence across Australia, it's going to be a critical step in our ability to communicate with policymakers, program rollout, as well as ensure that we're targeting funding on a needs basis,” she says.
Sam on the other hand has been able to work on better identifying fraudulent activity within the data the ATO is working with. He particularly enjoyed collaborating with different areas of the office, but also with external stakeholders.
“We had to interact with external contractors who knew a lot of the cloud infrastructure side, and we had to combine that with the data that we were getting from our side. It's amazing how much you have to collaborate even within the technical areas between
data science and data engineering, and data analysts who were going to eventually communicate it to the business.”
Whilst learning about collaboration and tackling broad issues for Australia, Moira and Sam also picked up some critical hard skills in data analytics.
According to them, even some basic technical skills open a lot of opportunities.
“Learning even just a few technical skills, [enables you to] apply them in any area. Within the ATO, you've got tax, law, you got a lot of different areas, but you can use a lot of the same techniques,” Sam says.
“Having been able to build some of my capabilities around programming languages, writing and exploring data visualisations, what I've found is I'm able to apply that to such a broad scope of work, whether that's more the health and welfare area or expenditure areas, as well as being able to relate that back to policy,” Moira adds.
“For me, the most attractive part about working with data is the scope and the opportunities it opens, as well as being able to branch out into unexpected, new and interesting areas of data.”