Bridging the digital skills gap in Government

Expectations of Government services are rising. Citizens want and expect digital services that are responsive to their needs. As a result civil servants need to be aware of the opportunities available through this digital world. This means fundamentally rethinking policy making and delivery, becoming more networked, transparent and focussed on user needs. Delivering this rethink needs new skills that can blend the digital world with traditional Civil Service policy making and implementation.

2015 Digital Trends Survey – some key findings

Earlier this year we asked Dods Research to capture the views of civil servants around their ability to effectively deliver digital transformation. The survey results testify to some progress in skills development, highlighting the commitment of civil servants to increasing their knowledge, but also flags that a lack of digital capability is a major barrier to successful digital transformation.

37% of respondents believe they lack adequate skills training for their roles

Over two-thirds of those surveyed thought that the skills support they received was not adequate, a slightly higher proportion than those who said they had received appropriate training.

digital skills table1
Figure 1 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)

Figure 1: We asked civil servants to rate their agreement with the statement that they received adequate digital skills training to do their job.  Civil servants were split on whether they had received adequate training with over 1 in 10 strongly disagreeing

The challenge for government is to build flexible skills and capabilities across the civil service. At a basic level this means every civil servant understanding how digital tools can improve the way they work through, for example, the use of social media to engage with users. It extends to the use of data for policy modelling, evaluation, data analytics and data mining to target improvements and monitor impact. And because services will continue to be commissioned from outside government, the civil service also needs staff with good commissioning / contracting skills and project management capabilities within the digital delivery space.

The most common methods of skill acquisition were informal, including best practice sharing, self-directed study and learning on the job

digital skills table2
Figure 2 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)

Figure 2: Digital skills tend to be acquired through learning that occurs outside the formal learning system

This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, as civil servants are entitled to at least five days a year investment in learning and development. This is met through a wide range of forms of learning, from e-learning, traditional training and other development activities. And the Government Digital Service (GDS) is offering more detailed and practical learning and development programmes for civil servants in specialist digital roles and in other roles that are expected to work closely with digital teams.

44% of respondents said that a lack of digital training for staff was impeding the move towards digital public services (only just behind a lack of resources)

digital skills table3
Figure 3 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)|

Figure 3: Lack of digital skills is the second biggest obstacle to digital public services, only just behind a lack of resources, and twenty per cent ahead of any other factor

Departments have drawn on resources from the GDS and their ‘digital bench’ of digital specialists and specialist digital recruitment services. While many departments – such as HMRC, Home Office and Ministry of Justice – have established internal teams, others will continue to depend on GDS or face persistent challenges in recruiting enough skilled permanent staff.

The more pressing risk is that a skills deficit will affect implementation, with government missing opportunities to integrate systems and operations and wasting resources. The civil service must attract, develop and retain people who contribute with their skill sets to the achievement of strategic digital government objectives. It will also need to work with the private sector to supply teams of people focussed on addressing specific needs and outcomes (and not just bodyshopping!). And both the civil service and private sector will need to regularly evaluate the impact of emerging technologies, trends and projects on staff, to assess skill gaps and ensure the development of new types of organisational learning.

Why not share your view in the comments below about your experience with digital skills in Government?

More about the Digital Trends Survey

We’ll repeat the digital trends survey at regular intervals to track the progress of the civil service as it seeks to meet the ambitious commitments made in the Civil Service Reform Plan. And in future posts I will be highlighting other issues raised in the survey including understanding of users (including digital exclusion) and the setting of robust and relevant measures of success. So watch this space!

Read the full survey report ‘2015 Digital Trends Survey‘.

Published by

Philip Craig

I am the Government Sector Strategy Director at Sopra Steria. My background is in the public (central and local government) and private (consultancy) sectors. I have an interest in public policy, technology and public service reform.