The future skills of the public safety workforce

  • What education and training do public safety workers need now and for the future? 

  • What skills are needed for enabling the future of public safety services? 

  • What skills are needed in the future as public safety services are more digitally enabled? 

Before we think about the future of the public safety workforce, it is helpful to consider wider cultural trends. Your workforce still remains broadly human (more on this later) and affected by what is going on in the world around them.  

For example, there are trends in people’s expectations of what work and a job means to them. People still want to work, but they do not want to be defined by their job any more. Driven by a range of factors including growing concern about mental health and wellbeing, and climate change and sustainability, people perceive and define their identity in ever more liquid ways. This impacts their expectations on work and employers, so that employee experience and satisfaction is measured in the same way as customer or citizen satisfaction. 

There is also the changing demographic of workers. 75% of the workforce will be millennials by 2025, Generation Z (those born in 1995 or later) is starting to enter the workforce, and this year it is predicted that people aged over 65 will outnumber children under the age of 5 for the first time in history.  

This is coupled with a continuing explosion in new technologies and how they are applied in the workplace. We see the rise of humans and machines working together, whether to remove mundane repetitive tasks, or to provide additional insight and support decision making. However, this increased efficiency, accuracy and insight comes at the price of broad mistrust in intelligent technologies, such as AI and machine learning.  

These trends will have consequences throughout what it means to be a worker, in a workforce, undertaking work – whatever industry they are in. This is a huge topic that certainly cannot be unpicked in just one blog entry. So, let me focus down specifically on what this wider context means for future public safety capability and skills. 

New Skills and Specialisations 

Some of these skills will be as a direct result of changes to how we manage and use technology. For example, the increase in robotics and AI means that public safety agencies will have to build the capability to assess, run and manage these tools across the organisation. But it does not stop there. As long as public mistrust in predictive and intelligent technology continues, public safety workers will not just need the skills to be capable and able to use these technologies, but also to explain how, why and when they are being used. This will spawn a new set of ethics and legitimacy skills as public safety agencies balance the benefit of using these technologies against the increased cost and effort of managing them. 

We will also see a rebalance of what is considered a specialist skill. Current specialisms will become commoditised as a foundation for all, such as digital forensics. Other skills will emerge as new specialities as the world of public safety changes, for example cyber-enabled and cyber-dependent crime investigation.  

There will be many other skills needed that we just don’t know yet: we can only guess at what the present equivalent of “data science” will be in 2030. However, one thing is for certain, as police forces attract and recruit the talent they need, greater emphasis will need to be placed on inclusion and diversity so as not to exacerbate existing underrepresentation of women and BAME communities in the workforce.  

Foundation Tech Literacy 

Other skills will be required as a result of changing public safety priorities and the culture of policing. For example, as the public safety mission moves to a more preventative model, rather than reactive, workers will need skills in understanding and interpreting data sets and potential threat, risk and harm. All public safety workers should have foundation “digital fluency” skills to help them use, manipulate and create technologies and data. This could be broad skills, such as data visualisation, or the commoditisation of currently specialist skills such as digital forensics and evidence capture.  

Human Centricity  

The rise of technology will mean that other current skills become even more important. New digital technologies are changing how people work together. For example, tools such as interactive portals and social networking are common features of work, and their use is set to increase. Public safety workers will see a rise in the value of skills that allow them to cooperate and collaborate, both with the public and their co-workers. The ability to interact with people, show self-awareness and work collaboratively with others will become heightened, especially as public safety agencies collaborate more. Skills to approach problem solving creatively, using empathy, logic and novel thinking, will be required to get the most out of the data and insight that is presented to them. When we consider how the composition of the workforce will change, and how public safety organisations will draw on talent pools in novel ways, this ability to rapidly form collaborative teams and relationships will become of an even greater value. 

All this change means that there is one fundamental skill for all public safety workers: a growth mindset. Without the skills and abilities to remain relevant, continuously learn and grow, and adapt to change, workers risk being left behind as the world moves ahead. The future of public safety and the opportunity presented by new technology is incredibly exciting. Now is the time to prepare yourself and those around you to be part of this change. 


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