November 18, 2016
Emerging technologies will lead to better jobs in the public sector – Not fewer
By: Chris Gray

An important goal of the UK Government is to improve the delivery of public services to meet the rising expectations of its citizens. What’s interesting is that the Government is looking at the broadest range of technologies to help achieve this goal. Increasingly this includes the experimentation, adoption and exploitation of intelligent technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, video analytics and biometrics. The rise of intelligent technology heralds a revolution in public service delivery which will enable unprecedented efficiencies, while vastly improving the standard of service delivered to citizens.

The jobs question

However, whenever we come to discuss intelligent technologies (particularly with AI, which is the end game of technologies such as machine learning and big data analytics) a rather large elephant walks in the room. Yes, the technologies promise much, but will they not also bring an end to a large number of public sector jobs as these functions are taken over by machines? It’s an understandable concern, but one which may well prove to be unfounded.

We recently surveyed public service technology  leaders from around the world, and took up this issue with them directly. Interestingly, the feedback we received indicated that few believe intelligent technologies will, in the foreseeable future at least, replace public sector jobs. In fact, public sector professionals believe that such technologies are more likely to augment their existing jobs.

Enriching public sector roles

This is important for two reasons.

First, it will make the jobs of current employees much more interesting and rewarding. In fact, 80 percent of respondents to our survey agree that implementing intelligent technologies will improve the job satisfaction of current employees. This is because less interesting, repetitive work can be left to the machines, freeing human workers to focus on the more critical – and rewarding – activities that are more closely aligned with citizens’ needs.

Second, intelligent technologies will help public sector agencies attract and retain talent by improving their reputation and image among younger, more technically adept employees. This will provide a much welcome injection of talent as the public sector looks to compete in what is a increasingly competitive jobs market.

Karen Marie Schnell, a public sector worker in Norway, sums up the situation well: “It’s much more motivating and interesting for our employees to work in new and efficient ways instead of doing everything paper-based. On the whole, our employees embrace these new ideas and concepts. They see that the outside world is changing, supplying more and better digital services, and expect that we also move in that direction. Our employees are dedicated to their work, but that doesn’t mean they want to do the same things over and over again for 20 years. They need and want to develop.”

Enabling change

Intelligent technologies will not, therefore, lead to an immediate loss of jobs in the public sector, but will instead improve the working lives of public sector employees, while creating better services for citizens. But change isn’t a given: public sector organisations must ensure that barriers to successful change are overcome.

Find out more about the use of emerging technologies in public services here.

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