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Filling the BA skills gap

How to recruit and train the BAs of the future

With a 50% skills shortage in the business analysis field, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit experienced and highly motivated BAs. Many businesses are now waking up to the fact that training up and developing new talent could be the most rational solution.

It’s worth revisiting an inspiring talk given by Christina Lovelock and Sally Wilford at the BA Conference Europe. Whilst this talk was given some time ago, the challenge they faced at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) – a shortage of good quality experienced candidates to fill a significant BA skills gap – is more relevant than ever.

“It would be quicker to train my own BAs”

HSCIC’s business analysts provide internal consultancy services across the organisation with the focus on supporting NHS data flows and evidence to support decision-making. High demand within projects and programmes for BA support resulted in a shortage of BA resources in their fast-growing team.  

The organisation spent a huge amount of time trying to find experienced BAs of the right calibre. After three failed rounds of recruitment, the practice leader uttered the immortal words: “It would be quicker to train my own BAs”. That throwaway comment became a new way forward as the team made the brave decision to develop new practitioners. 

The options they considered included apprenticeships and the NHS graduate scheme. The decision was made to focus on an entry level role for recent graduates and internal or external candidates with some relevant experience. 

A different approach

This decision marked a departure from the norm and required a detailed business case and something of a leap of faith from those who signed off on the new approach. It’s important to note that the bottom line for the business case was financial, with any new approach having to stack up in terms of productivity and the ability to cross charge internally. The early savings realised through lower salaries and the removal of recruitment fees would only go so far, and new BAs would need to demonstrate their productivity within months rather than years. 

The crucial focus of recruiting entry level BAs was to fall on transferable personal skills and the individuals’ aptitude to take on a career within business analysis. Any relevant sector knowledge and or professional skills would be a bonus. The bulk (if not all) of their professional skills would be achieved through training, coaching and mentoring. 

Following approval, the practice lead wasted no time in going to market and soon had 65 applications to sieve through. They had opened up a very different market which provided a fresh crop of candidate options. The selection process was adjusted to reflect the focus on transferable personal skills and 11 people were selected for interview. 

Three initial roles were filled. One successful candidate came with a study background in healthcare, some early work in project support, and systems analysis experience with a supplier of an electronic patient records system. This candidate would not have met the original specification for a senior BA, yet they had an excellent grounding for a BA career. Importantly, this candidate had done their research, clearly understood the role of the BA and was making a clear choice to pursue a career within the profession – a factor that should not be underestimated. 

Induction and integration

Integrating and bringing the new BAs up to speed was the next and perhaps most important challenge. This phase of the initiative required careful management. The first step was to keep the existence of the new BAs quiet. This would allow control over their development and more selective involvement in project work. 

The induction process was necessarily very different to what had been done before and included coverage of basic tools and techniques. The new hires were given early exposure to project work through tailoring BA work packages they could cut their teeth on. The work package was a clearly defined BA task forming part of a larger piece of

BA delivery, with enough substance for the new BA to hone their skills and achieve early engagement with stakeholders. 

Defining and allocating the work package required the more senior BAs to change their working patterns and make time to construct the package with line manager involvement. Senior BA buy-in was pivotal in creating this staged approach to delivery work. An early case study showing what could be achieved via the work package approach was used to gain wider buy-in. 

Training

In parallel with their work package delivery, the new recruits worked through the International Diploma in Business Analysis. The timing of study on different modules allowed trainees to use skills introduced on their course in the workplace immediately. Accreditation instilled confidence in the new hires and demonstrated the employer commitment to their career development. 

Formal training was complemented by practice events, development workshops, team meetings and bite size sessions from internal SMEs, peer reviews and support, and the availability of standard documents and templates on a SharePoint site. 

Six months into the initiative, the new hires were making a gradual shift from a work package approach to more holistic involvement in projects. Their input was now more visible and their services chargeable. 

Learning points

  • The management role and focus has to adjust to manage Junior BAs and provide work packages with the right level of routine and challenging work. 
  • The wider BA team has to buy-in to the approach and support the development of entry level colleagues. Buy-in from senior BAs to the work package approach is key – they may believe that it’s quicker for them to do it themselves, but that attitude doesn’t help support growth. 
  • Consideration needs to be given to achieving the correct ratio of experienced and entry level recruits. 
  • There needs to be a carefully planned approach to candidate selection with the focus on personal skills and aptitude for the role. All new employees will expect some form of career ladder. 
  • Training needs to be planned carefully to support development and integrate with the exposure that will be gained on projects. 

Benefits

The entry level role created a career opportunity for highly motivated staff who were providing BA services within a year. Candidates were more committed and motivated than the available pool of more experienced BAs in the external market. 

The process of securing new recruits brought the following benefits to HSCIC: 

  • Improved response times to meet demand. 
  • Supported peaks in workload. 
  • Services recharged within six months. 
  • Improved cover for annual leave. 
  • An improved learning culture within the team. 
  • The organisational values of professionalism and innovation were realised in practice. 
  • HSCIC demonstrated its commitment to business analysis by taking responsibility and providing an entry level point into the profession.

Since they decided to nurture their own talent, this employer has gone from strength to strength and now have a large and thriving BA team; a testament to the success of the ‘grow your own’ approach.

Summary/Epilogue 

This article was first published in 2014 and HSCIC is now known as NHS Digital. Whilst organisations change, the approach and lessons learned remain constant. Christina Lovelock went on to lead the employer group who established the Business Analysis Apprenticeship which provides a formal and well-recognised career entry point to the profession. 

According to this BBC article, a think tank has warned that the UK is heading towards a ‘catastrophic’ digital skills shortage, particularly of skills relevant to real life business needs. If you are repeatedly trying to hire experienced candidates without success, then recruiting at an entry level and organising good quality training, or an Apprenticeship, for your new recruits may help break this cycle. As the team at HSCIC were able to show , this approach can pay dividends within six months. 

The Business Analyst Apprenticeship Scheme

The government’s Business Analyst Apprenticeship Scheme is a recognised entry point into the profession, and the perfect way for employers to unlock the potential of new starters and less experienced employees. Find out more here.

For more about AssistKD’s Business Analyst Level 4 Apprenticeship Programme, which runs all year round, click here. Our fully audited programme has a low mentor-to-apprentice ratio and a 94% success rate. 

 

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