As governments around the world look to navigate their paths out of the pandemic, the time has come to put together strategies that balance short-term relief with long-term measures to maximise economic recovery. Research we’ve conducted in partnership with Oxford Economics shows that governments that “get things right” could be on the threshold of a golden period of growth.
But what does this mean for social services agencies? After all, they’ve been at the heart of keeping economies going through the crisis and safeguarding jobs and wellbeing. Having played a key role to date, they’re now well positioned to remain major engines of economic and social sustainability and resilience through the post-COVID-19 recovery and beyond.
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Four key areas
How can they continue to do this from now on? I believe there are four key areas that, in combination, should enable social services agencies to spearhead the recovery and lay the foundations for sustained economic growth in the years and decades to come.
- Focus on digital
First, keep on investing in digital channels and capabilities, further improving services to become more proactive, tailored and insight-driven while making it easier and more convenient for citizens to access high-quality services and claim the benefits they need.
We’re working with agencies to put these kinds of services in place, including the virtual support agent programme we set up to support family assistance requests for the State of Tennessee.
In digitally mature countries, the challenges are often around sharing data between different digital services, making greater use of cloud and capitalising on advanced technologies like AI and automation. Some of these challenges can be alleviated by infusing digital rules and parameters to accommodate complex regulatory and compliance issues around the handling and transfer of personal data (i.e. GDPR, Schrems II, CCPA etc).
- Labour market & skills
Governments have a prime opportunity to define the skills they need to maximise future growth and take steps to build these up proactively. At the same time, they need to think through how to attract and retain the talent they’ll need – both getting the right people into the country and providing them with support that makes them want to stay.
This involves three distinct groups of workers:
- People who are already employed and require investment in their skills to keep pace with developments in technology and the type of jobs available.
- Hidden workers, the swathe of talent that’s been slipping beneath the radar up to now. These people often have in-demand skills and are keen to find employment or increase the hours they work. But often recruitment systems screen these candidates out, instead of including them in any potential new intake.
- When in-demand talent needs to come from abroad, make the country an attractive place to live and work. This can include everything from visa and entry requirements to access to housing and education, as well as lowering language barriers.
Some countries are already doing all this. Singapore, for example, has identified five key industries that will power its future growth, and has pinpointed which skills it will develop in-country and which will be handled by new arrivals from abroad. Meanwhile Germany has become more attractive to workers from countries such as India after increasing the use of English in the workplace.
- Rethink social security
At the end of the day, people are seeking security wherever they live and work. And they’re unlikely to move to a country that doesn’t offer them and their families the comfort that they’ll be cared for if difficulties arise. Actions to make people feel safe may include pension reforms to make people feel safe about their long-term future, as well as support for young mothers who can be a powerful source of labour/skills.
- Data-sharing and collaborations between agencies
There’s a good reason why social services agencies were in the forefront of government responses to the pandemic. The sheer volume and scope of their interactions with citizens makes them one of the major repositories of citizen data.
Recognising citizen concerns around data privacy and regulatory nuances, agencies may have opportunities to share data insights with other government agencies and private sector organisations so they can provide better, more responsive and more personalised services – while reducing cost through economies of scale and removal of duplication. These cost-savings can be reinvested in further actions to foster wider growth in the economy such as developing or improving skills.
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Social services as an orchestrator
We’re hopefully into the tail of the COVID-19 wave. As we emerge, I think we could begin to see social services agencies increasingly act as orchestrators in a broader ecosystem of partners and government services, and even as shared-services providers.
They hold an extraordinary amount of data so collaboration could bring huge benefits to agencies and their constituents. For an example of this in practice, look at the Swedish social services agency which provides a wide range of services to the rest of the public sector.
Thanks in large part to the central role played by social services agencies during the pandemic, they have a great opportunity to take a lead in driving forward future collaboration. But the momentum won’t be there forever. The time to get started is now. If you’d like to discuss anything I’ve said, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.