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22 English questions out of 22
7 June 2018
Interesting work unique to the organisation Ability to make a difference Flexible working Lovely location - Ideal for London, Kent and the M25 Opportunities for staff that want to progress New CEO - really hope he manages to deliver his new strategy and strengthen capabilities
Static pay unless you get promoted Relocation and site closure Too many managerial changes undermining capability Inability to retain highly skilled technical staff
I would like to give Dstl more than 3 stars but it isn’t the organisation I joined 25 years ago. Too many skilled staff have left without proper succession planning and knowledge capture. As a result capability areas have weakened. Poorly thought out organisational changes have further compounded this. Fewer ‘boys clubs’ and jobs for favoured staff would be appreciated too.
Relocation and site closure
7 June 2018
11 July 2019
Flexible working Benefits (except pay) Location Some colleagues Dstl can be a good place to work but you need to be after very specific things for that to be the case, and be lucky enough to drop into a work area that can facilitate those things. For scientists working in the chembio area I’m sure it’s probably one of the more exciting places you could work, and the organisation provides a critical national capability in this area. The site is quite pleasant and the benefits of being out of a city can’t be understated, as long as you can get there. At dstl I’ve genuinely worked with some of the most talented and dedicated people I’ve come across in my career. There are, albeit in my view not enough, some incredibly passionate, skilled and experienced people working for dstl and if you are lucky enough to work with them then it can be truly rewarding. Some people really are making a difference to this country, although the organisation is poor at talking about it in public and maintaining its image (there is seemingly a constant fight in national press coverage between mentioning Dstl or just saying MoD scientists). Benefits are typical of the civil service (the pension is excellent, but you’ve got the unknown political influence that means it isn’t as set in stone as you’d like) and the commitment to flexible working (hours and from home) is excellent and generally well managed (I.e crack on as long as you are getting the job done). Pay is poor. Not unique for the civil service but it is uniquely so here. For whatever reason the pay system is unified across admin and S&T staff unlike other organisations - this means that and PA can be paid the same as a graduate engineer, despite the latter being much more valuable in terms of skills and delivery of organisational purpose. Within S&T they have also been unable to bring in specialist skill pay despite partners elsewhere in government being able to make this case for similar roles. Overall, you might get lucky and end up working with some great people on interesting work. But the problems start when that doesn’t happen - which is more likely. It’s tough to recommend somewhere where your satisfaction depends purely on luck.
Some colleagues Pay Your enjoyment will vary As a counterpoint to above, I’ve sadly also worked with some of the worst people here. It’s really difficult to say what the balance is but there is a lot of chaff in the organisation and you are likely to have to endure it regardless of otherwise how good some people can be. Some of it is purely down to a lack of appropriate capability at the right level and the organisation struggles to deal with this. There is a lot of people cruising just enough to stay off of anyone’s radar but that ends up with there being a lot of, relatively misplaced, dependency on quite a few supposed experts who aren’t that interested, talented or just have out of date knowledge. Also people related, but because of the lack of a single mission focus there can be quite a vitriolic atmosphere between different divisions and is something that particularly manifests itself on the internal social network. Everyone is pulling in different directions and trying to tie that all together into a cohesive whole has something that the organisation has long struggled with. The major major gripe, that will entirely depending on your skills and job, is technology infrastructure. There has been woeful investment in IT for a number of years which is now causing major issues with delivery of technology heavy projects. This has been exacerbated by a number of poor decisions on infrastructure that were not correct at the time they were made, but have been persisted with due to sunk costs. There is a lot of blame to go around but it falls mostly with the organisation rather than its strategic supplier. Very few of the staff involved in corporate technology have the requisite knowledge and/or experience to be running the function - either this is lack of commercial IT experience/expertise and/or understanding of the S&T business. Corporate policy’s force you down the managed route but the IT function has little motivation nor desire to treat the S&T business like a real customer and service it’s demands. Even if they wanted to, which I genuinely don’t believe, there isn’t enough money anyway. Words like internal cloud will be bounced around at interview but set expectations to minimum, it’s a poorly delivered virtual desktop environment that is so constrained to be near useless. And despite hawking that it’s met the rules at the time, those have changed (dramatically) but the solution hasn’t. Public cloud is a distant dream (even though it’s government policy). Modern, state of the art it isn’t. Vast amount of staff time is spent fighting this system (people, process and technology) rather than doing real work - it’s a shame because a more forward leaning and less risk adverse management could make significant changes here but the costs would be astronomical and it’s difficult to see a route out of the quagmire it’s in. A lot of the seniors within corporate IT would challenge this assessment, but it’s completely true, and they are the problem - without fundamental change in people and policy then the technology estate will remain stuck in the dark ages. To add insults to injury - you’ll probably be involved in contracting out interesting work to commercial suppliers who don’t have the same restrictions and are free to use lots of modern technologies - talk about kicking you while you’re down! Progression is good to a point, but beyond that technical career progression becomes hard and is an element of luck, dead mans shoes and ability to get involved in high profile work. After 0900 it’s impossible to get a desk with screens, keyboard and mouse so are relegated to sitting at a breakout desk all day staring down at a laptop screen (quite how this doesn’t breach H&S law I’m not sure). And good luck parking.
A radical overhaul of the technology leadership and organisation is required. Tinkering around the edge isn’t enough. Need to look at people processes and trim poor performing individuals from the organisation. They have a unique ability to drag down teams and it affects the overall performance of the organisation. Work on opening up more technical career paths to more people. Continue to support this things that make dstl a good place to work like flexi time, holiday, flexible working etc
Benefits are typical of the civil service (the pension is excellent, but you’ve got the unknown political influence that means it isn’t as set in stone as you’d like) and the commitment to flexible working (hours and from home) is excellent and generally well managed (I.e crack on as long as you are getting the job done).
11 July 2019
22 September 2020
Very supportive of staff and career development is well supported Work is novel and genuinely unique
Civil Service salary approach means pay rises are hard to come by once in role
Very supportive of staff and career development is well supported
22 September 2020
4 October 2020
Lots of very interesting work. Employees can constantly go in and out of different specialities. Very very flexible. Promotions are based purely on employee's competency rather than waiting for a 'post' to open up.
Pay ! Even among the Civil Service, pay is a few thousand lower than other equivalent CS departments.
Promotions are based purely on employee's competency rather than waiting for a 'post' to open up.
4 October 2020
5 June 2019
Good budget for training staff with online courses etc and no obligation to pay back any costs incurred if you leave. Unbeatable job security - No matter how incompetent you are, you cannot get fired for it. There's an internal social media site you can spend all day on, regardless if it's actually for work or not.
The civil service competency framework rules all - progression is virtually non existent for technical staff, so anyone trying to get out of the mid-career trench must milk the framework as hard as possible; they often end up creating whole cliques (or 'lab's) among themselves around buzzwords and shamelessly call 20-30 meetings per week rather than actually *doing* anything, as this is the only sure way to progress. Ultimately, approximately 50 to 80 percent of managements time is spent preparing, presenting or attending masturbatory PowerPoint presentations, conferences and meetings as these are infinitely more rewarding towards career progression than actually delivering any innovation. Salary is very noncompetitive, even for the civil service - it starts off OK for grads, halting at approximately 28k. From there, you'll be *very* lucky to make 35k within 3 years, and even luckier if you make 40k within 10 years. Notably, the rest of the civil service essentially pays more, offering up to 5-10k higher per career point and private sector often offering double for what is essentially the same work. Note that the austerity measures means a 1% cap and thus £400-1000 pay cut every year for every member of staff - I've met long term staff who are looking for jobs elsewhere because they're concerned about their ability to feed their family in 5 years time. Painfully, it's easy to get put into an under performing team - even if you manage to carry the entire project, the team member who shouts the loudest will likely get all the credit. Severely under performing staff are not managed out the organisation, meaning if you are put into one of these teams, you can write off the next 2-3 years of your career. The sites themselves are an epitome of frustration - the open plan offices mean you'll overhear every conversation and impromptu meeting, regardless of how relevant it is to you - I once heard someone discuss their interest in classic Gaelic literature for 2 hours straight. The offices themselves are overly cold and arid - expect to stack some thermal layers and receive some static shocks 5-10 times a day. The IT is easily one of the most fixable part of DSTL - yet some of the most outdated. The hardware used in the 'cloud' systems and business laptops are 5-10 years old at least; it will take at least half an hour to load up your laptop and check your emails in the morning. The services offered by IT are comically poor with most intermittently failing - its alien to load up a page in anything but internet explorer, and connectivity is awful with the entirety of the sites bandwidth only slightly exceeding a household internet line. Complaining about the IT literally achieves nothing, and if you're trying to do any technical work you'll spend at least 50% of your time dealing with the systems rather than actually doing work. IT inhibiting your ability to work is crushing because as a technical member of you'll progress even slowly without anything to show for yourself. Ultimately, the competent staff who rely on functioning IT either leave for better systems or turn managerial; selling their soul for cool clubs, PowerPoints, meetings and conferences. The organisation has a serious diversity issue, with middle aged heterosexual caucasian males totally dominating most engineering, analytical and scientific areas. For the majority of cases, discrimination is rare however bullying of female staff by male staff is alarmingly common and rarely dealt with adequately.
Change the way career progression and pay works - reward genuine contributions towards Defence and National Security, rather than reward those who can create the coolest club, call the most meetings or suck up the most. If you can't do this - resign and find someone who will.
Unbeatable job security - No matter how incompetent you are, you cannot get fired for it.
5 June 2019
22 English questions out of 22