Could Cloud Platforms Help Attract Digital Talent to the Public Sector?

By Shakira Talbot

Although digital transformation is having a revolutionary effect on service delivery, the vast majority of government and public-sector organisations are still in the early or developmental stages of their digital transformation journey. One of the main reasons that public-sector organisations have been unable to deliver digital transformation at pace is a shortage of digital talent. Put simply, talented digital natives are largely uninterested in a career in the public sector, but agile cloud platforms with automation efficiencies could be the solution.

Why is there a digital skill gap?

Why aren’t talented graduates flocking to the public sector? After all, wouldn’t a career in the public sector be more likely to align with their values and interests than a career spent working for major corporations? It’s down to a couple of factors.

Despite ambitions to make Britain a world-leading digital economy, the UK public sector is falling behind on digital. According to a report by the National Audit Office, there’s a digital talent shortfall across every area of government, with major transformation programmes mainly focused on “front-end” services, rather than fundamental or holistic digital transformation.

In some senses, the public sector is a cottage industry, resistant to change and reliant upon antiquated legacy architecture that makes it difficult to enact digital transformation. The challenges of integrating rapidly growing volumes of data with existing legacy systems are manifest, but there’s another, more immediate problem. The continued reliance on legacy systems make graduates even more unlikely to join public sector organisations. Why would a talented graduate spend years learning a bespoke software platform that doesn’t have any utility outside of the organisation, doing potentially irreparable damage to their career? The public sector’s reliance on legacy systems is – in part – a result of job preservation instincts from current employees. If you’re one of the few individuals with an in-depth understanding of an organisation specific, back-end legacy system, your job security is automatically safeguarded. Unfortunately, deferred digital transformation can have a knock-on effect on recruitment, widening the digital talent gap and causing leading IT talent to desert the public sector in droves.

At the moment, the IT industry is suffering from a lack of skilled workers, with unfilled digital jobs in Europe set to reach 500,000 by 2020, according to research from Empirica. IT professionals have the luxury of choice, which means that they’re on the lookout for organisational cultures that engender innovation and provide plentiful opportunities for career progression. For many digital natives, stepping into a public-sector organisation can feel a little bit like stepping back in time. The public sector is not perceived to be an industry-leader when it comes to digital talent, and talented graduates are often much more attracted to disruptive start-ups or ambitious FinTech companies.

It’s not that there’s any level of antipathy towards digital transformation, there’s just an inability to execute. According to a survey by Deloitte, 96% of government officials characterised the impact of digital technologies on their domain as significant. However, as many as 70% said that their digital capabilities lagged the private sector. It’s a vicious cycle. Public sector organisations are behind on digital transformation, so they struggle to attract digital talent, making them fall even further behind.

How can the public sector bridge the digital talent gap?

Public sector organisations should focus on three main areas to bridge the skill gap: strategy, branding, and modernisation. Digital transformation is the key to growth and innovation, so defining an effective digital strategy – fostering collaboration across teams – is vital. By rebranding the role of digital within the public sector, organisations can create an environment in which joining the public sector is an attractive prospect. In addition, public sector organisations need to portray digital transformation as a key strategic function and delineate clear structures for job progression.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, infrastructure modernisation and automation is crucial. By leading the charge towards public cloud and as-a-service platforms, public sector organisations can make themselves an attractive prospect for talented digital natives. A key part of this transformation involves consolidating legacy tools within a single cloud system. The shift to proven cloud platform vendors, rather than the outdated legacy systems which populate public sector organisations, could help to establish the public sector as the go-to destination for the competitive digital workforce and supercharge their digital transformation efforts. Coupled with the fact that a career in the public sector provides graduates with the opportunity to affect real change and improve lives, it’s easy to see why transferring to a cloud system could attract the best and brightest to the public sector.

There are already efforts to improve the digital talent gap. The Civil Service Workforce Plan is focusing on developing career paths, while the Digital and Technology fast stream is developing consistent pay and allowances for important digital roles. But these are long-term solutions, and in any case, they don’t solve the underlying problem. Ultimately, the adoption of public cloud platforms like ServiceNow will play an important role in the reinvigorating of public sector talent.