Rethinking civil service skills in a digital world

The pervasiveness of digital technologies in daily life is fundamentally changing the way civil servants work and deliver public services. Three quarters of the civil servants that responded to our 2nd Government Digital Trends Survey told us that digital was having an impact on their work.

Increasing use of digital in government is raising the demand for new skills in three ways. First, civil servants across an increasing range of professions need to acquire generic ICT skills to be able to access information or use software. Second, the production of digital services – increasingly developed in-house or in mixed teams with private sector partners – requires more specialist skills. Third, the use of digital technologies is changing the way work is carried out. Civil servants need the capability to process complex information and plan in advance and adjust quickly.

For the past two years we have asked civil servants to tell us what is being done to ensure they have the digital skills needed for their work. We found that civil servants are taking a proactive approach to skills acquisition. 32% were using self-directed study, in their own time, to develop their digital skills (an increase of 8% since 2015).

But the most startling finding of this year’s survey is the increase in the number of civil servants telling us that a lack of training is a barrier to digital transformation.

This is an increase from 43% to 53% in just one year, making it the single biggest obstacle to digital transformation in government – even more significant than a lack of resources. And 25% of civil servants told us that they had not been given any formal training for the digital skills needed for their role. Plus the number of civil servants saying skills and training are a barrier to transformation is only likely to increase as digital extends from exemplar projects to mainstream service delivery.

Our experience is that the increasing demand for digital skills presents two major challenges. First, the skills of the future are difficult to identify with certainty due to fast technological change in the digital economy. The second is how to ensure that, once changes in skills have been identified, skills development systems adjust sufficiently fast to match new demands.

These challenges demand a comprehensive skills strategy.

A skills strategy must help an organization identify strengths and weaknesses and develop policies that recruit, retain and retrain staff. This includes skills assessment and anticipation tools that are used to help prepare or plan for future scenarios.

In the private sector we are facing many of the same challenges as Government when it comes to skills. We had concerns that we lacked the real time business information required to spot outdated skills, promote staff development and recruit new skills.

To address this we asked our digital consultants to develop what became ‘MySkills’. By taking a UX-led approach we were able to create a tool that captured 1,900 skills from over 600 people in the first month. Buoyed by the success of this pilot we rolled the tool out across the wider business.

Please leave a comment below or get in touch by email if you would like to know more about our government digital trends survey or the MySkills tool.

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.

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