SolarWinds: Bridging the public sector skills gap for the smarter State
Traditionally, the public sector experiences strong competition from private businesses in recruitment, owing to better pay and other private benefits. To add to this, finding experienced and highly skilled IT personnel is an even more complex challenge.
Finding those skilled employees for the public sector and filling the knowledge gap we’re increasingly presented with in the digital age is vital if public sector organisations are to sustain themselves for years to come. But how this is solved remains a difficult question.
The current state of play
Magicians can produce rabbits out of hats, but that's not how it works in IT, even if some lawmakers might wish that it was so.
In previous decades, those looking for a change in career could work in new roles when there was demand. But while this works for relatively simple tasks that don't require much training, it's not really an option when we discuss roles in IT or even office jobs that require advanced use of technology.
Modern applications can execute relatively easy tasks with a few mouse clicks, and we're only a generation away from being able to interact with a host of new tools via natural language processing. Basic technology skills are no longer sufficient, and expectations of digital skills are much higher.
Instead, organisations expect their data experts to have creativity, which can only come from a more profound understanding of technology. Exceptions will exist, but we can't count on this approach to fill the gap.
Prioritising digital skills as part of education programmes
The natural way to overcome this skills gap would be to put more focus on teaching digital skills in schools and universities, so graduates are more confident when it comes to learning about technology and can easily upskill based on future needs. In an educational setting, there’s more time to go beyond the basics, meaning skills can be learnt and nurtured over a long period of time.
Tutors have a chance to spark interest and curiosity—two elements that make learning even easier and prepare the next generation to embrace technology. But this is only one part of the overall strategy, as the obvious flaw is that it requires time before a new generation enters the workforce.
The short-term approach
A temporary approach could be to onboard external expertise. Inviting contractors to work on specific problems is nothing new for the public sector, and relationships have existed for decades. But we might need to think on a different scale in order to see success.
For example, a single freelancer won't be able to optimise processes while simultaneously coding custom solutions and training users to deal with them. Fortunately, system integrators and service providers are available, and those service providers can provide manpower and knowledge, and might even be able to ship turnkey projects. Many of them benefit from experience with similar tasks in other places around the globe.
One of the challenges of outsourcing is the cost. Citizens will likely see a big sum of money—tax money—moving to an external organisation, and they'll ask if it really was necessary. In short, yes, it most likely was, but there is another alternative.
The UK remains an interesting location to work and live; hence, the public sector in the UK need not be reliant on recruiting solely from its domestic pool of talent. If we look around the globe, we will find plenty of people who have a good education, gained a lot of expertise with the latest technology, and are eager to prove themselves. In some regions, it's seen as more honourable to work for the government or an organisation of the public sector than for the private sector. Thinking globally presents a genuine opportunity for the UK.
It's a possible win-win situation and more than just a temporary bridging project.
Bridging the public sector skills gap is a challenging, ongoing task that needs to be solved quickly and efficiently if the UK is to set itself up for future success. While there is no definitive solution, a combination of different undertakings could help build a path to a smarter state.
But maybe it's worth looking into upskilling magicians first and producing some rabbits!
From 11 – 15 September techUK is running our annual Building the Smarter State Week in the run-up to the ninth edition of our flagship public services conference, Building the Smarter State, on Wednesday 27 September. Book your tickets here.