Why I stayed with the Civil Service as a statistical leader

I have been in the Civil Service as a statistician for 20 years, and each time the potential of a job in the private sector has reared its head, I have found a reason to stay. Why?

Impact and public service

During coronavirus (COVID-19), and earlier in my career during the summer riots and at various times in between, you appreciate the power of statistics to inform the public debate and to influence policy – and that decisions that affect us all are being made on what we do. Likewise when your presentation of statistics to a Secretary of State changes the spending plans for £millions – these are moments that stay with you.

Learning and development

I have been strongly invested in as a statistician in government – whether formal courses in leadership, to self-learning coding packages, to secondments and virtual projects, statisticians in government have a wide range of developments and opportunities which can make for a diverse and rewarding career – although oddly for me the most important career moment was a 30 min catch-up coffee with an old boss who gave me some great advice to stop me making a stupid decision (mentoring is great – use it!).

Getting on

I have built my career on a few basics: do the job in front of you well, support the people around you and be a good team player, look for opportunities to improve what you and your team do and link up with others where there are potential synergies, and step outside your comfort zone if there is an opportunity. – I remember early on in my career I really, really disliked presenting to anything over about 10 people (still do to some extent!). But as part of taking on a temporary promotion I had to attend meetings in Europe representing the UK, and for one part of this I needed to give a presentation to over 200 experts.

It took a lot of advice and some self-reflection on how to get past this – but I did it, and the promotion soon followed. I have often felt a fraud in the first few months at a new grade – its normal, we are never ‘ready’ – you learn a lot by doing, and by the mistakes you make and how you respond to them.

Choice

I love that as a statistician in government I get the chance to build and grow in the directions that interest me due to the range of posts or areas that are available – I have worked in the Office for National Statistics on national accounts (linked to my economic degree), then on re-offending and criminal careers in the Ministry of Justice (built a lot of stats method knowledge here).

Then in energy and climate change (learnt a lot about monitoring and evaluation and policy development here), then in education for my first Senior Civil Servant post (learnt a lot about leading a large team, working with minsters, as well as leading multi-disciplinary teams) and most recently Department for Transport (building my knowledge of Digital, Data and Technology Profession issues, being a Head of Profession and accepting when you cannot always find the time for everything you think you should be doing).

Next, who knows, but I am confident there is a wide range of options for me.

Ian Knowles
Louise Foster-Key
Ian has been a statistician for 30 years and is currently Head of Profession for Statistics in the Department for Transport.