Having the right skills and capacities to hand is pivotal to the effective digital transformation of government. For the past three years, we have asked civil servants to tell us how government is adapting to changing digital skills needs as part of our Government Digital Trends Survey.
The most startling finding from this year’s survey is a rise in the number of civil servants who say that a lack of training is a barrier to digital transformation.
Lack of available skills continues to be a barrier to transformation
In 2017, 62% of civil servants placed lack of training for staff among the top three barriers to digital transformation of government. Despite a significant increase in training over the last twelve months, 43% of respondents told us that they had not received enough digital training to do their job well (an increase of 6% points since 2015). When asked about whether they personally receive adequate digital skills training to do their job, the number agreeing was just 12% (a decrease from 20% since 2016).
Seeking to fill this digital skills gap, we found that civil servants are taking a proactive approach to skills acquisition:
36% are using self-directed study in their own time to develop their digital skills (an increase of 12% points since 2015).
Civil servants are calling out a lack of specialist digital skills
Several types of skills are needed: technical and professional skills, including ICT specialist skills for workers who drive innovation and support digital infrastructures and the functioning of the digital services. This year we asked civil servants, including those working in digital programmes, to identify the top three digital skills gaps in their organisation.
Development and service design were the most popular answers, chosen by 44% of respondents. The next most common answers were agile delivery management (37%), user research and technical architecture (36% each).
To seize the benefits of digital, government needs these in-demand specialists: workers who can code, develop applications, manage networks and analyse data, among other skills. These skills enable innovation to flourish, often in collaboration with the private and not-for-profit sectors, but also support the infrastructure that government and users rely on.
What are the priority skills policies to meet these challenges?
Addressing the challenges of digital will require an overhaul of government’s skills policies. It must ensure that an increasingly digital world yields better quality jobs and that civil servants have the means to take advantage of the new job opportunities that open up.
In my opinion there are five priorities for skill policies to facilitate take-up of these opportunities:
- Part of the task is to ensure that all civil servants have basic ICT skills as well as solid problem-solving skills to use ICT effectively. Many of these skills are also acquired outside education and training institutions – for instance, and as we have found through the survey, in the workplace. Government could support and better recognise skills acquired by civil servants outside formal channels.
- It is not just sufficient for civil servants to have skills – government must fully use these skills to reap their benefits in terms of higher productivity. The use of digital skills, including problem solving in a technologically rich environment, varies substantially across the civil service. A key factor driving this variation is the use of high performance work practices such as teamwork, work autonomy, training, flexible work hours, etc.
- For ICT specialist skills, basic programming is no longer enough. For instance, advanced engineering and experience with machine-learning are increasingly important. In addition, ICT specialists also need domain-specific knowledge, given the potential applications of ICT in the business of government, such as health, education and welfare.
- Government needs to better assess and anticipate changing skills needs in order to adapt programmes and pathways offered and guide civil servants towards choices that lead to better outcomes. By including all stakeholders in skills assessment exercises government can ensure that the information collected is useful and that policies respond to actual needs. This includes working closely with industry to address shortages in areas of strategic importance.
- As skills demands change continuously, training for civil service to keep up with new skills requirements is crucial. This requires offering better incentives for civil servants to re-skill and up-skill. And includes, for example, the government fully supporting and embracing the Digital Academy initiative in the Government Digital Service (GDS).
If you would like more information about our Government Digital Trends Survey, you can read it here
Authored by Philip Craig