As the drumbeat of citizen expectations grows in volume and urgency, so is the talent shortage facing government agencies around the globe. The citizen experience that people expect requires strength in digital—including a workforce with the right skills to design and deliver customer experiences that get the job done simply. Those are the same skills very much in demand throughout the private sector.

Add it up, and I would argue that recruiters have one of the most challenging jobs in government. While these recruiters are at the front lines of workforce challenges, they won’t be alone in solving them. This top-of-government talent challenge requires leaders to address three tough questions.

1. How will you shape a compelling value proposition to employees?

In a competitive labor market, the public sector needs to offer a compelling value proposition to attract and retain digital talent. Skilled workers are looking for great compensation and flexibility, including opportunities to work from home.

Private-sector employers can typically outmatch government on both.

In the past, the public sector could win the talent battle based on the combination of mission and reliable long-term benefits like pension programs. In the United States, at least, retirement benefits have shifted from defined benefit plans (pensions) to defined contribution plans (such as 403(b) and/or 457 plans).

Compounding the challenges: our recent global survey found that 64% of public sector workers prefer remote work some of the time. Twelve percent prefer remote work all the time. Even so, a growing number of public sector organizations are demanding that their workforces come back to the office.

In the absence of competitive compensation, secure retirement and work-style flexibility, how will your local, state or national agency get and keep the workers you need?

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of public sector workers prefer remote work some of the time

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of public sector workers prefer remote work all the time

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of public sector workers feel their work is meaningful

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of public sector workers feel they improve the lives of those who use government services

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2. Where could a talent shortage jeopardize the mission?

In a growing number of jurisdictions, the talent shortage—exacerbated by retirements—could have impacts beyond falling short of sophisticated citizen expectations. In some cases, a lack of workers could jeopardize an agency’s core mission—whether that’s processing tax returns, keeping kids safe, issuing licenses or providing vital social support services.

Yet, there’s opportunity here, too. Most of the public sector workers we surveyed (95%) told us they feel their work is meaningful. Nearly as many (91%) said they are able to improve the lives of people who use government services.

Assess where a talent shortage could leave you vulnerable to falling short of the mission—while seeking opportunities to use your mission as a powerful recruiting and retention tool.

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3. What innovative models might help close digital talent gaps?

Citizen expectations have changed. Technological capabilities have changed and will continue to evolve on an ongoing basis. The talent to address both is out of reach for most government organizations.

The key to solving these talent challenges: partnership.

Governments are recognizing the value in deeper, more innovative public-private collaborations. These can take a variety of forms. For example, apprenticeship programs are one powerful way to grow existing talent, often in collaboration with third-party partners.

In addition, in the United States, there are opportunities for states to entrust HR and Finance back-office functions to a third party. In Europe, we’re seeing a rise in mandates that public systems be designed and operated—and data stored—within a country’s borders. These mandates cut options for tapping into globalization as a source for digital talent. But they leave the door open both for apprenticeship programs and other partnerships within national borders.

Around the globe, there can be significant value in leveraging the most in-demand skills—for example, people with specialized knowledge and experience in information security or machine learning. Their knowledge and experience are rare and virtually impossible for government to afford. But by joining forces through a partner, the public sector can gain access to the talent they need.

Your thoughts?

These are some of the ways I’ve been thinking about government’s growing talent shortage. I’m curious about how different jurisdictions around the globe are thinking about it, too. Do you agree that these are critical questions? Have you arrived at different conclusions than I have? Please get in touch; I would love to discuss it further.  

Read more from Ryan

This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors. This document refers to marks owned by third parties.  All such third-party marks are the property of their respective owners.  No sponsorship, endorsement or approval of this content by the owners of such marks is intended, expressed or implied.

Ryan Oakes

Global H&PS Industry Practices Chair

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