Tackling the public sector skills gap

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Written by Robert Pickles, Head of Corporate & Government Affairs, Canon UK & Ireland

The UK has enjoyed a position of strength in the digital arena, to ensure this continues we must address the skills gap across key areas such as AI and cyber security.

The UK is enjoying a position of strength in the digital arena with many digital firms experiencing surges in international trade by more than 20 per cent. The UK, is also renowned as a digital leader, it’s the birthplace of cutting edge companies such as DeepMind, Deliveroo and Darktrace.

However, a much-publicised threat to the UK’s digital position is the growing skills gap – particularly across emerging technologies and cyber security. To safeguard its position as a digital leader, UK businesses should look to address this concern among the existing workforce and create a plan to ensure both current and future workers are digitally literate.

The state of the UK skills gap

Recruitment in the tech sector is experiencing a significant downturn with many organisations struggling to fill roles across a multitude of different sectors. In the UK, STEM orientated businesses are one of the hardest hit with 73 per cent finding it difficult to hire staff in the last 12 months; and more than 173,000 vacancies that require STEM skills. According to Accenture, this mounting pressure, and a growing digital skills gap could cost the UK £141 billion in GDP growth.

In the public sector, the pain of the skills gap can also be keenly felt. Crucial services such as the NHS, which currently lacks the training and resources to safeguard against the next major attack, are also raising cause for concern. As the public sector piles huge levels of investment into digital transformation, it is important to ensure it has people with the skills, training and resources needed to execute on its ambitions. With budgets under constant pressure, the sector cannot afford to let digital projects slip because of a lack of sufficient talent and skills resource.

Fortunately, such gloomy predictions will not have to become a reality. Recent figures from Deloitte have shown some progress via evidence that the skills gap is narrowing. Currently 18 per cent of large private companies and UK public sector organisations believe that school leavers and graduates have the right skills and experience to enter the workforce. This is clear improvement compared to a lacking 12 per cent of organisations in 2017. This positive trend must continue for the UK to be able to deliver on its digital ambitions.

Engaging and investing in staff

To continue and support this upward trend, the public sector will focus on upskilling the existing workforce, whilst encouraging new staff to join. To educate existing staff, a cultural change and a more holistic approach is beneficial. Employees also need to buy-into upskilling and the benefits it will bring to them and their role within the organisation. A motivated workforce is a very powerful tool and employee engagement is key to making digital transformation a success.

The public sector is already realising the value of training and investing in its employees and the future of the sector. Learning shouldn’t end with graduation, on-the-job training and learning-on-demand is particularly beneficial as it allows staff to embrace a culture of learning, and a practice of continuous upskilling. It also increases the chances of a long-lasting and stable workforce to help the public sector focus on continuing to deliver great services, to the best of its capability.

A better trained workforce is also more efficient and productive, which will help to deliver projects more effectively. It is also worth noting, a workforce that is learning, will be more open to innovation. The next great idea to take the organisation forward could be sparked into life by an inspiring training course? As technology is expected  to evolve at a rapid pace, hiring and retaining staff who are engaged and interested in continuous learning is important. The public sector should expect to have an adaptable workforce ready to receive the next digital challenge.

Focusing on soft skills

Following a renewed focus on STEM skills, it is important that the public sector doesn’t undervalue soft skills, such as communication, people and leadership skills. These soft skills, often based in emotional intelligence, continues to be important and are crucial to ensuring the successful delivery of digital projects.

According to a McKinsey report on the future of work, soft skills and the roles associated with them are under the least amount of threat from AI and automation. A robot might be able to produce products more quickly than a human on a production line, but machines struggle to balance people and make emotional decisions. Hiring managers are already seeing the increasing importance of soft skills, with 92 per cent agreeing that candidates with strong soft skills are increasingly important.

A proficient digital leader is someone who doesn’t just focus on the technical element and the end result. It is someone who has an eye on the process and the emotion of their team. A motivated workforce that feels listened to, is more engaged and more effective. People management through clear effective communication allied to effective leadership is needed to deliver this.

Delivering on digital

By combining soft skills and technical skills, the public sector can make sure it has a balanced workforce. In doing so, the sector will be better placed to deliver digital projects and more effective services for its citizens. By combining improved education with lifelong learning, the sector can address the skills gap, reducing costly recruitment headaches whilst keeping the UK at the forefront of digital innovation.

Originally posted here.

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