Posted: 18 Nov. 2020 1.5 min. read

People managing the Public Sector careers of the future

Just as our understanding of work has changed, at the same time, the definition of ‘career’ is also changing. As the average job tenure grows shorter what this will mean for future public sector careers. 

To have a career means something very different for a young university graduate entering the workplace today than it did for their parents or grandparents.

In fact, most of today’s jobs will not be here tomorrow as The World Economic Forum predicts that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new jobs that don’t exist today.

People are changing jobs more often, whether by choice, due to the new demands of employers or changing economic circumstances. But while the average job tenure is growing shorter, people are living and working longer, increasing the overall length of careers.

At the same time, skills have shorter shelf lives, due mainly to ongoing advances in technology and inevitably this means workers must update their knowledge throughout their careers.

So where once people looked forward to a 30-year career in the same job, millennials and ‘Generation Z’ employees want a more varied career path obtaining new skills, networks and experiences along the way.

Alternative talent and staffing models

Perhaps nowhere is the gap between the public sector and the private sector greater than in workforce management.

Most public sector organisations, particularly so in Northern Ireland (NI), are still locked into decades-old workforce policies including lockstep pay and age old recruitment mechanisms including internal promotion boards.

With the changing nature of work, public sector organisations will need to find new ways to coordinate teams and talent. The notion of one worker, assigned to one area, to carry out a particular set of responsibilities for years on end is outmoded. 

To make the most of automation investments, organisations should consider redesigning their talent strategies so a job is viewed not as an individual production function, but rather as a collaborative problem-solving effort, where a human defines the problems, machines help find the solutions, and the human verifies the acceptability of those solutions.

Transform recruitment and retention practices

Another deep rooted problem facing the NI public sector, is its aging workforce.

Bridging the talent gap, by recruiting and retaining more ‘digital natives’ who grew up with the internet, mobile devices, and all things digital, is important. However, the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) will need to be more commercial in its approach to recruitment and retention if it wants to attract younger recruits.

NICS recruitment cycles are currently too slow, and an injection of pace and quality is needed. The seven year moratorium on recruitment, and the UK’s exit from the European Union has created volumes of new roles within the NICS, some of which are very specialist in nature. In order to fill these roles, the NICS need to openly recruit rather than focus only on internal promotion. The view of the NICS needs to change to make it more appealing to millennials, and increase its programme of outreach, targeting under-represented groups.

Invest in capabilities and not just skills

While attracting younger recruits, the NICS must also harness the experience of its older workforce. Many older workers have strong problem-solving, decision-making, and crisis management skills and are also good negotiators.

While older workers often have less advanced digital skillsets, their universal problem solving, commercial and decision making capabilities make them adaptable. Cultivating such underlying human capabilities can give the NICS the sustainable source of talent it requires. While new technologies will make certain skills obsolete, the capabilities to understand the context, and respond to specific needs and conditions with novel approaches endure beyond any new technological advance or marketplace shift.

We need fresh thinking to address the issue of how the public sector delivers value. In doing so the public sector need to embrace the power of technology to amplify human capabilities. New innovative approaches to recruitment and retention are required to modernise the NICS workforce and make public service a more attractive choice to digital natives. This should however not be done at the expense of older, more experienced staff whose well-developed capabilities are the most highly reconfigurable of assets. 


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Key contact

Marie Doyle

Marie Doyle


Marie is a Partner based in the Northern Ireland Public Sector Practice and is an Economist by background. Marie specialises in large scale technology enabled public sector transformation. Marie has led the development and implementation of transformed operating models for public sector organisations in policing, health, education and social security. Marie is also an expert in the development of Green Book business cases for public sector clients. Marie is a member of the CBI Northern Ireland Regional Council and Chairs the CBI NI Economics Forum representing the views of business across Northern Ireland. She is also on the Board of Directors of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.