Future of government jobs

Technology advances, changing demographics, and the growing influence of consumers and talent markets are reshaping the future of work, creating opportunities as well as threats. What does it all mean for public sector jobs?

Navigating a shifting talent landscape

Technology and new talent models are transforming the way the world works. Here’s how government leaders can navigate the transformation of work in the public sector.

“PEOPLE are our greatest asset.” This is a truism in today’s economy. But it wasn’t always the case.

One hundred years ago, employees were largely viewed as interchangeable cogs in a machine. One assembly line worker was about as productive as the next. The difference between an outstanding toll collector and a mediocre one wasn’t terribly consequential. But in the digital age, creative and collaborative talents are integral to delivering value. An employee motivated to learn and grow can be much more valuable than a less interested coworker.

Many future-focused organizations today truly recognize the value of their people and devote considerable resources to creating an environment that unleashes their unique talents. These organizations aim to understand their employees and enhance their skills so they can be successful, both as individuals and as part of a team. They are reimagining the workforce to include people and machines, enterprise employees, and ecosystem talent, expanding the view of where and how work gets done.

Many of the most successful private sector firms are part of this trend, moving toward enlightened talent management. In the past, talent management was primarily about the logistics of personnel administration—tracking hours, pay, benefits, and the like. But the modern paradigm sees worker engagement as a critical strategic differentiator. From pay to leave policies, training to remote work, to the increasingly sophisticated efforts to measure individual and team engagement, many companies are reimagining the employee-employer connection, and are creating a more productive and rewarding relationship.

Then there is the public sector.

Perhaps nowhere is the gap between the public sector and the private sector greater than in workforce management. While much of the private sector has transformed over the past two decades, the public sector, for the most part, has not. Most public sector organizations are still locked into decades-old workforce policies, such as rigid job classifications, lockstep pay, and reliance on seniority as a substitute for capability.

The reality is, government agencies are increasingly called upon to address society’s most complex challenges using workforce approaches rooted in the distant past. This not only makes it harder to recruit talented people but also makes it more difficult for public sector managers to provide their employees with great work experiences.

Public sector leaders know better than anyone that major changes are needed.

The good news: Change is possible—and beginning to happen.

A brief history of government workforce systems

We need to remember that the outdated personnel systems now causing such frustration were once positive innovations. Civil service in the United States was introduced after President Garfield was assassinated by a campaign worker disappointed he hadn’t been offered a government job and represented a giant leap forward from the “spoils system” (to the victor go the spoils) that dominated prior. The job classifications of the early 20th century reflected the scientific management principles of the time. Bureaucratic structures were introduced to help professionalize government workforces.

Once highly effective, these systems have increasingly become problematic in our current technology-driven world. With their vertical information flows and strict division of labor, most governments are organized more like mid-20th-century corporations than today’s more nimble, digitally driven organizations. The rigid, hierarchical structures of the past aren’t well-suited for the tech-based, information-driven, and rapidly shifting modern economy.

If history is any guide, government will follow the private sector into the new world of work that is transforming organizations around the world. As we humans start working in tandem with machine intelligence, government agencies have the opportunity to do more, do better, and do things differently.

The future of government work is unfolding along three dimensions:

  • Work. Developments such as advanced automation and cognitive technology will change the way public sector work gets done. These emerging technologies will help employees create more value for constituents and enhance their professional satisfaction.
  • Workforce. Enabled by technology, government will increasingly make use of more varied work arrangements, accessing more diverse pools of skills and capabilities, both inside and outside the organization.
  • Workplace. Technology, and new models for employing talent, will redefine the workplace and its organizational supports. These changes will impact physical workspaces (including remote work) along with policies that promote employee well-being and productivity.


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