Audit & Risk

Public sector warned of emerging technologies skills gap

Public sector organisations must adopt emerging technologies to meet citizens’ needs, but most lack staff with the skills to achieve this so must retrain existing employees and compete worldwide to attract them, according to a new report by Accenture.

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Public sector agencies must adopt emerging technologies – including machine learning, artificial intelligence and biometrics – to attract and retain more technically adept employees. This approach is critical to address a widening skills gap and strong competition from a better financed private sector, according to a new report by Accenture.
 
“Emerging Technologies in Public Service” examines the adoption of emerging technologies across agencies with the most direct interaction with citizens or the greatest responsibility for citizen-facing services: health and social services, policing/justice, revenue, border services, administration and pensions/social security.
Accenture surveyed nearly 800 public service technology professionals in Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Singapore, the UK and the US. to identify emerging technologies being implemented or piloted. 
 
According to the report, the need to attract technically proficient employees is becoming more urgent as current employees get older. If agencies do not take action now they face an irrevocable loss of institutional knowledge, it warns. Hiring and developing people with the necessary skills, including expertise in emerging technology, is one of the top three challenges across all industries and in all countries today.
 
“The concept of work is being redefined as different generations enter and exit the workforce in a rapidly changing technological landscape,” said Terry Hemken, who leads Accenture’s health and public service analytics insights for gGovernment business. “Government leaders must make every effort to reskill their people to be relevant in the future and ready to adapt to change.”
 
Survey respondents said that emerging technologies will augment existing roles rather than replace them. Automating tasks, whether through artificial intelligence, machine learning or other technologies, frees employees to focus on activities that are more critical and more closely aligned with citizen needs, according to the research. Eight in ten respondents said that implementing emerging technologies will improve job satisfaction and can aid staff retention, partly by automating repetitive tasks and aligning others more closely with citizens’ direct needs.
 
Adopting emerging technologies can offer new skills and opportunities for existing employees and help to retain the best talent. Nearly 60 per cent of respondents agreed that these technologies will increase the range of relevant skills in organisations.
 
 
Chasing skills
Nearly 60 per cent of respondents also said that being able to implement projects using emerging technologies requires significant investment in reskilling existing staff. Currently, the report shows, research and development staff are most likely to deliver value from these projects, but public service agencies need to hire data scientists, software engineers and digital developers and designers in one of the most competitive job pools.
 
Employees who combine technical skills with the understanding of the challenges facing agencies and citizens’ needs are not easy to find, or retain, according to the report. Half of all respondents (51 per cent) said they look predominantly to the private sector to hire talent when developing projects using emerging technologies.
 
Intelligent process automation is cited most frequently (60 per cent) as the skill most likely to address technological and data skills shortages. When it comes to addressing hiring and people-development challenges, Finland identified biometrics/identity analytics professionals as its greatest need, a priority shared with Australia. Norway seeks natural language processing and generation specialists as its highest priority (40 per cent). Respondents in Singapore, a nation ahead of the digital curve, identified hiring needs almost equally among Internet of Things (21 per cent), video analytics (29 per cent) and biometrics/ identity analytics (21 per cent).
 
“Responsive and responsible leaders must ensure that their people are relevant and adaptable to keep pace with technology,” Hemken said. “Creating the future workforce now is the responsibility of the highest levels of an organisation. Providing opportunities to learn new technologies has the dual benefit of attracting a more digitally fluent staff while creating opportunities to retain existing workforce talent.”
 

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