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GSS > Careers > Career Development > Skill shadowing

Skill shadowing

Skills shadowing gives you exposure to a specific skill or set of skills that are outside your normal working environment. It can be really stimulating as well as insightful to see “a day in the life” of another field or position.

Skills shadowing can range from observation, for example following the work of a senior official for a day, to something more hands-on, such as working within a different team to undertake a meaningful task while shadowing. You might find it works best to shadow for specific activities rather than ongoing observation for a whole day or week.

Examples of skills shadowing opportunities for GSS members are with Ministers and Permanent Secretary Private Offices, Press Office, Policy teams, Operational Delivery teams, Digital Communications teams, Parliamentary unit, House of Commons Library, MPs, other analytical professions, other statistical teams, Royal Statistical Society to name a few. All you have to do is take the initiative to ask them!

How do I make it happen?

First think about what type of skills you want to develop: is there a particular area you want to learn more about? Do you have your sights set on a specific team or department? Where are the gaps in your knowledge?

Once you know what you want then look for those who have it! Approach potential hosts, introduce yourself, tell them what you hope to achieve and the type of skills you already possess. It is best to have a pre-shadowing meeting to discuss your expectations, goals, areas of interest, the actual shadowing activities and any other issues such as security or confidentiality. Suggest to your host that they brief their colleagues and contacts about the arrangement.

Once completed, review the experience and consider whether your expected outcome was achieved. Discuss the experience with your host and ask them to provide feedback. Remember to target and align shadowing activities with your overall development needs and record the outcome in your CPD log.

Case study

Fay Graves and Glenn Goodman of the Road Safety Statistics Team at the Department for Transport shadowed the DfT Press Office

The Road Safety Statistics Team have twice volunteered to join the Press Office team on the release day for one of our road safety statistics publications, to get a feel for the type and frequency of queries they receive, and to understand what a press officer wants from us as statisticians when responding to their queries. In neither case was the experience confined to answering queries on road safety and we helped to answer any other queries that came in. In one case, the shadowing / release day coincided with the 2013 Spending Review outcomes, so there were a lot of queries about roads spending.

In both cases, we observed the wide range of queries the Press Office deal with and how they cope with such a varied range of requests, as well as having to respond to often quite complex questions about statistics. It was also good experience of the more “reactive” side of the Department’s work. In particular, it helped us see that when the Press Office approach us for some statistics urgently, they are often in the middle of fielding other queries about a range of totally different topics. Generally the most useful thing we can offer is a concise, clear and direct answer!

We would certainly recommend that any statistician who deals with statistics which often draw media attention spends a day in their press office to better understand the challenges they face and how we can help them best.

Fay Graves & Glenn Goodman