DevelopmentInnovationsLeadership
April 20, 2017

Attracting Talent To the Public Sector by Embracing Technology

The CGE event showed that the public sector need not be a loser in the race to attract techno-friendly talent. What is key is to ensure that the work environment is a welcoming place for them and for their aptitudes.

The way organizations recruit, shape and manage their workforce to find the right people for the right jobs at the right time with the right cost is being rapidly transformed by technology.

Public sector organizations are in a fight for talent with the private sector. For businesses, it is vital to recruit appropriately so as to maintain a competitive edge, be profitable, innovative and provide a service that will retain customers. This mission has created a critical shortage of talent in specific areas, and has pushed the issue to a top concern for decision-makers.

In both government and industry, technological ability is critical. The talent pool that will be determining success is shallow.  A 2016 report from the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) showed that the U.S. is forecasted to create about 1.4 million IT jobs by 2020, but only a third of those jobs will be filled by local graduates. A similar shortage is also predicted for the E.U. which will be short by 825,000 IT workers by the end of this decade.

Canada is no exception. Its economy is expected to create over 200,000 tech jobs between now and 2020, but faces a shortage of talent. What can governments do? One way is to encourage more students to take up IT-related studies, but the more immediate solution is to transform the workforce of today. To examine the challenge, Canadian Government Executive hosted an event in Toronto on the theme of talent mobilisation.  Over 45 executives, consultants and HR personnel from government participated in the session.

Digital Professional Branding

Ms. Jodi LeBlanc, Regional Manager for the National Managers’ Community in Atlantic Canada argued that talent could be attracted and retained if employees are assured that their employer will not stifle their creativity. In her presentation on “Virtual Networking & Professional Branding: How to Boost Your Work in a Digital Age” she made the point that government employees could become social media leaders. But, she cautioned, it is critical that users know what they are sharing so as to not lose their credibility and value to their government employers. The “magic formula” on what to share on social media is to break one’s shares into thirds: content, the content of others, and personal interaction.

She pointed to the guidelines set by the Government of Canada on the three types of use of social media: official, professional and personal uses. The use of an organisation’s official social media account is strictly for providing a service, a personal social media account can be used to stay up to date with your profession and then keep shares with friends and family separate which has nothing to do with work.

Government employees could build their own digital brand, but LeBlanc pointed out that they need to conduct themselves by four principles: be professional, transparent, accountable and respectful. These qualities along with “showing more of your human side and not being a robot” will help to grow your digital brand.

Public Innovation

Another change is to embrace innovation. “As our society is going through a transformation towards a knowledge society, many of our public and social systems are no longer functioning the way they need to,” Mr. Joeri van den Steenhoven, Director of the MaRS Solutions Lab said during his presentation on “Talent for the Public Good: Leading and organising for change.” “We need to rethink and redesign them,” he said.

Steenhoven proposed adopting a lab strategy where people learn by doing, have an open space to work together, and a safe place to experiment. This strategy creates a different culture that helps to manage the innovation process. A lack of innovation, on the other hand, “typically manifests itself as a loss of public value which is often less visible on the short term, but more devastating in the long term.” For this change to take place adaptive leadership in observing, interpreting and intervening must be employed to achieve the innovation mindset.

To get to the point of producing “talent for the public good” in attracting and retaining talent, Steenhoven explained that organisations need to invest in three areas: people, structure and leadership. The first area is to set a plan in place to train staff to be designers, innovators and let them learn by doing. Next, have a structure in place by providing a space to experiment and create opportunites to collaborate. Lastly, practice adaptive leadership and help staff use their discretionary space and exercise leadership.

Talent for the Digital Age

Another area that needs to change was highlighted by Ms. Lauren Hunter, Head of the IN·spire Innovation Hub at Natural Resources during her presentation on Unlocking Government Talent for the Digital Age. “Our hiring models are designed for hiring managers that don’t allow them to have creativity,” she said. That causes us to be “caught between before and after.” She went on to add that the current system is about worker equals to work description, that doesn’t show what people can do.

We need to change our thinking to embrace a digital future. One that includes the rise of AI and machine learning and how that would cause a disruption to knowledge and service jobs. The way this can happen is to create a new model of human/AI interface. She added that it is inevitable that jobs will be lost to AI but we don’t have to lose the humans to AI.

A “Talent Cloud Future” is a way to keep humans in the workforce that can supplement organisations with a higher level of agility. The way this could work is by having “verified digital micro-credentials that capture skills, attributes, and the experience of workers that allow for mapping, tracking, searching and matching people with opportunities.”  This will provide the ability for organisations “to pull cross-sector talent from a cloud to fill emerging needs for the digital age.”

Workplace of the future

“Since many of the drivers of change in the public sector workforce are tied to technology,” said Ms. Suzanne Kiani Knight, a senior manager at professional auditing and consulting firm Deloitte Canada during her presentation on Workplace of the future, “government organizations can no longer afford to be followers when it comes to technology adoption.”

The workplace of the future will be one of the cloud which will enable employees to share ideas and collaborate easier, exchange expertise and eventually develop shared services for their organisation as well as their customers.

She foresees the traditional top-down, monolithic public sector structure evolving into a more dispersed networked workforce which does not necessarily operate within the confines of given headquarters but rather operating in the cloud.

She pointed out that organisations can get to this point by taking three steps:

Step 1: Build collaborative spaces

  • Make inter-office collaboration easier
  • Create physical spaces where employees can spend time sharing information across departments
  • Provide employees with several hours a week to devote to collaborative efforts

Step 2: Rotate people

  •  Create a rotational program which allows people to work across departments
  • Establish secondment opportunities between non-profit, the public and private sector
  • Use expertise from other departments such as accounting, IT and finance to take the first step towards shared services

Step 3: Start a volunteer cloud

  •  Plant the seed for the cloud by allowing workers to seek out tasks beyond their responsibilities
  • Provide a platform for managers to post issues
  • Allow employees to help with projects that interest them

Organisations, leaders, managers and the rest of the workforce need to embrace change  through technology. “Don’t fear, this will pay dividends through an expanded network, acquiring new skills, and enhanced engagement due to the ability workers get to pursue their passions,” she said.

The CGE event showed that the public sector need not be a loser in the race to attract techno-friendly talent. What is key is to ensure that the work environment is a welcoming place for them and for their aptitudes.

 

 

About this author

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Marcello Sukhdeo

Marcello is responsible for content strategy for Canadian Government Executive, IT in Canada Online and WRLWND and also is the host of WRLWND Radio. An avid technology enthusiast, he has worked on content leadership strategies for a number of industries including the public sector, life science, technology and defence.

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