Is the public sector workforce ready for 2030?

Catherine Mangan

The Future of Work report published last week by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills makes for fascinating (if daunting) reading. The scenarios and trends that it uses to describe the future workplace of 2030 resonate with what our 21st century public servant interviewees have been telling us – that public servants of the future will need to be agile, resilient, and self-developers. But is the public sector itself agile and resilient enough to support the workforce of 2030?

The report describes four potential scenarios – the least disruptive of which is ‘forced flexibilty’ (an extension of business as usual). Across these scenarios there are common trends – all of which pose challenges for the way in which the public sector works. The first, not surprisingly, is the continuing trend of technology which will become all pervasive. While this offers positive developments such as home based health diagnostic and monitoring equipment, the pace of technological development will continue to increase, and public service will need to adapt to and make best use of the opportunities. Given how slowly some councils have embraced technology so far, we will need different people with different skills to keep the public sector ahead of the game. Organisations and employees will need to stay agile and open to new technology or they will be left behind.

Work will become more project based, with people moving from one project, and organisation, to another. It spells the end of the career in one organisation, or the concept of a job for life. So public servants will need competencies to work across difference disciplines, build new relationships and acquire new skills, quickly.

Location and time-based working will be eroded – indeed we are already seeing agile working approaches in many councils with home and coffee shop working becoming the norm for many in the public sector. This flexibility will be driven by both the highly skilled workers who will demand better worklife balance, and Generation Y, who see no need to sit in an office from 9-5 when they can just as effectively get the work done at a time and place that suits them. With people needing, or wanting to work longer, we are likely to have four generations working in one organisation. This offers great opportunities to learn from each other, but also challenges as older workers will need to keep up to speed with technological developments to remain relevant and skilled.

These developments have big implications for HR management – how do you manage and support a dispersed workforce who demand more flexible working conditions? How do you incentivise a four generation workforce who will have very different motivations for working? In this new world of work agility, resilience, and the ability to self-develop will be key. What role then for a traditional HR department…?

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