Civil Service jobs API: five years in the making

Five years ago – to the very minute, as it happens! – I was working on a proposal to put to someone at the Cabinet Office. I was still working at ONS, and was trying to think of a clever way to handle our job adverts. We were obliged to post details of all vacancies into the (very recently departed) Civil Service Recruitment Gateway website. So I thought, what if that site could feed our vacancies back to us?
I approached the Cabinet Office with a proposal to not only help them spec up the work, but to pay for it. I’ve still got the PowerPoint slides I produced for the ‘pitch’.
Click to view slide-by-slide
Five years ago, this was truly visionary stuff – in effect, an open API on all government jobs, way beyond anything that had been done before. And even though I’d documented the whole thing, even though I was putting up the money myself for them to do it, to build a function for everyone to use freely… it never happened. An all too familiar story. So it’s especially amusing to see Steph’s news, exactly five years on, of Civil Service jobs, your way.

Given the enduring popularity of job search online, this is an exciting development for a major government data set. It should provide something which third party developers can use to derive valuable commercial services to their customers, as well as helping to ensure Government broadens the reach of its recruitment at lower cost, facilitating the creation of innovative new services based on public data. With luck, it’s the business case for APIs to government data that we’ve been looking for.

Now admittedly, my proposal was a modest affair based on a straight-down-the-line RSS feed. There were few specific references to XML, never mind API, and certainly not RDFa. But reading Steph’s piece, and the ensuing comments, I can see a direct line between my 2004 proposal – which, let’s be honest, is ancient history in online terms – and today’s unveiling. If you ever wanted a precise metric for how slowly government moves, there it is.
Regardless of the history, it’s an excellent piece of work by the Cabinet Office team; and – I hope – having done the donkey work to set it up, someone is ready to take it to market, and make people aware of what the service can do for them. Some relatively straightforward PHP or ASP would be enough to put an automated list of all current vacancies on each department’s own homepage; perhaps the Cabinet Office team could go a step further, and deliver it via a Javascript-to-PHP call (as the LibDems do for their ‘campaign buttons‘), making it child’s-play for the recipient site. The requirement to obtain an API key doesn’t help their cause, though.

Guido-Tom Watson consensus on gov jobs?

One senses there’s not a lot of love between Guido Fawkes and Tom Watson. So it’s all the more remarkable that, within a few days, they’ve effectively reached an identical conclusion on the need for a better approach to public sector job advertising.
A week ago, Tom wrote a blog post noting the lack of a consistent approach on publishing job vacancies. I was one of several people to respond by noting that (in theory at least) there is actually a central website for all job vacancies already. Mind you, if only us insiders know, then it may as well not exist. Questions like this don’t get asked without a reason, so hopefully it’s the start of something significant.
Now this morning, Guido Fawkes has published details of his plan to bankrupt the Guardian, part of which is this:

One of the first thing the Tories should do in power is set up All available public sector positions would be listed there free of charge, this would save hundreds of millions in advertising costs for the taxpayer and deprive the Guardian of a critical revenue stream.

Aw, isn’t it sweet? Next thing you know, they’ll be playing football between the trenches. 🙂
The central website has been around since 2003 (at least), and in 2004 I was talking to them about the idea of ‘saved searches’ as RSS feeds. Departments could enter their results into the central database, then power a ‘current vacancies’ list on their own corporate website using the RSS feed. At the time, I only knew of one website offering such a service (Wired): it would have been cutting-edge. Now it’s a feature of many websites – TheyWorkForYou, BBC – and the RSS-processing part is almost embarrassingly easy. That’s before we get on to things like plotting vacancies on Google Maps…
Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has finally come. With the existing site basically unchanged in 5 years, it’s easy to justify a refresh. There are plenty of recruitment sites out there, from which to draw inspiration. There will be benefits in terms of customer service, staff efficiency, and defining best practice. We need concrete examples to show Whitehall that yes, it can be done.