The public sector has been going through rapid change in both responding to the pandemic and adapting to new citizen demands. This pace of change is only likely to increase in the years to come. It will mean fundamentally new ways of working driven by new technology as well as completely new roles that respond to emerging demands from citizens. Developing the skills to respond to these changes cannot rest solely on employees. Now is the time for departments to re-examine their approach to skills development and ensure they are supporting their employees to thrive in the digital economy.

Unfortunately, recent research from Accenture suggests that current efforts may not be meeting these expectations. Only 28% of those surveyed in the UK as part of the Public Service as a Career of Choice research felt strongly that their employer provides the training they need to prepare for the future.

Adapting to disruption

Fortunately, awareness is already growing around the need to develop the right skills for the future. As part of initiatives like the National Data Strategy1 and the GovTech Catalyst2 programme, the UK government is looking to accelerate the use of digital within the public sector to improve public services and drive employee engagement. Equally, the recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy3 has highlighted the importance of UK investment in areas like cybersecurity and digital skills.

There is a clear realisation that organisational success will rest on the ability to attract and develop the right skills to respond to new and emerging technologies, citizen expectations and working practices. This is a unique opportunity to rethink future skills not only in the context of an organisation’s needs but also, critically, in relation to its responsibilities to indvidual employees.

A responsible skilling approach must put the workers impacted by changes at the heart of its strategy. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is increasingly expected. The same Accenture research cited previously found that future focused training was a major reason for recommending employers. Successful organisations will, therefore, need to create training programmes that align organisational and personal objectives.  

Getting started with responsible skilling

How can public sector organisations achieve this balance? There are three immediate steps that can help start the process:

  1. Use data-driven workforce analytics to create skill-building programmes that align with organisational purpose and vision. Public sector employers need to develop a clear understanding of the skills that are going to be essential in the future and a strategy for answering that demand. Importantly, this should recognise the areas where mundane work can be automated and what new skills will be needed to redeploy people to more productive tasks. This process can be assisted by analytics tools like SkyHive. Leveraging real-time labour market intelligence, Accenture works with SkyHive to help organisations identify emerging and future skills, which in turn helps them align their learning and development with their skills requirements.
  2. Put people in control of their learning. As part of your assessment, it’s likely that you will identify a core set of skills or knowledge that will be required for all workers. However, learning journeys cannot be completely generalised. It is unlikely that every employee will require exactly the same support. Responding to this is about more than simply rolling out training that’s appropriate to specific roles. It’s about giving people ownership of their professional development, enabling them to tailor it around their aspirations and preferences. The Accenture Academy is a great example of this type of approach, with courses available across a wide range of topics, on demand and in a variety of formats to suit different learning styles.
  3. Embrace a ‘just in time’ digital learning approach. Technological and social advances mean people will need to be constantly learning. Cost and capacity will make it almost impossible to ensure that every employee is prepared for any eventuality. Instead leaders should embrace a ‘just in time’ training culture, where workers are provided with just the right level of training at the exact moment it will be of most use. This should be in a ‘snackable’ format that’s easy to fit around work, as was the case with Cognician and Accenture’s work with the West Midlands Police. Here a programme of 30, ten-minute digital training sessions gamified the process of learning new systems and got officers up and running on new technology in just one month.

    By combining these approaches, public sector agencies can identify the future skill needs of their teams, develop training approaches that empower workers and ensure that they can adapt to new roles and technology as they emerge.

    The world, and indeed the public sector, is going through a period of profound change. Workers will need support, both in reskilling and around their broader needs. Meeting these needs is important – and not only because it is the best thing to do for workers. When people are supported in the right way their full potential is unlocked, and that means higher levels of productivity and a better service for citizens.

    Accenture’s ‘Public service as a career of choice’ explores how to help create this environment. By combining survey data with the Net Better Off framework, it highlights five key priorities for governments as they support their employees to adapt, develop and succeed. Connect with Cheryl and Mark to discuss how these insights and the approach could be applied to support your teams.  

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    1 UK Policy Paper: National data strategy

    2 How the GovTech Catalyst is helping to grow the GovTech sector

    3Global Britain: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

    Mark Jennings

    Managing Director – Health & Public Service, UK and Ireland


    Cheryl Ashton

    Senior Manager – Consulting, Health & Public Service, United Kingdom

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