Competition for tech talent in the public sector


The public sector faces specific challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining digital talent, writes Gabriela Vogel.

Gabriela Vogel

Public and private sector organizations face a myriad of talent challenges, ranging from changing employee preferences and an aging workforce to hierarchical management models. Overall, there is a shortage of digital and technology skills.

The federal budget announcement last week attempts to address this issue, with the government announcing an additional $1.1 billion boost to its digital economy strategy launched last year. Nearly $4 million of that has been allocated to help mid-career women transition into a digital workforce. In addition, small businesses received a $1.6 billion Digital and Skills Tax increase, aimed at supporting future growth, spurring productivity gains, and attracting and retaining staff.

While this is a welcome improvement for Australia’s digital economy, one of the issues plaguing the job market is staff retention. A Gartner global labor market survey found that in the last three months of 2021, 39% of IT workers in Australia were actively looking for a new job, which is higher than the world average of 32%. Only 23.6% of Australian IT professionals had a strong intention to stay in their current job. The key message here is to keep the good people you have!

The public sector faces specific challenges when competing with private employers. Private sector companies have more flexibility. Their compensation policies, rewards and benefits such as variable compensation and performance-based bonuses, shorter time-to-hire and a personalized and fast onboarding process, make it harder to compete for talent.

Legacy systems and an aging workforce

There are growing skill shortages in legacy support areas, which are not attractive to the new generation of the workforce. Those who work with these legacy systems too often spend too much time struggling with technology, struggling with paperwork, and working on repetitive manual tasks.

An increasingly aging workforce is creating an imbalance in the workforce. The lack of a talent pipeline and succession planning, which would usually be the solution, is now catching up with many government agencies as the workforce ages. Research by KPMG found that around 30% of government employees worldwide are aged 55 and over, although this figure is much lower in Australia at 17%.

Transfers of talent from the public sector to the private sector also increase the skills gap. Talented employees might consider the private sector as a better option for personalized learning and development. This, in turn, forces major government organizations to increase their spending and reliance on third-party vendors to design and implement transformation initiatives.

Talented employees might consider the private sector as a better option for personalized learning and development.

However, public sector organizations can still do a lot to compete with tech talent. Consider the following strategies:

1. Accelerate training and development through academy programs

Government organizations are scrambling to upskill and re-skill their officials. It’s not just about embracing new digital tools, but about supporting, maintaining, and using them productively. This means creating academy programs for civil servants from both digital and non-digital backgrounds.

This is where most government organizations invest time, energy and budget – internship and apprenticeship programs, succession programs, knowledge transfer programs, digital academy, among others.

2. Test different models of mobility and flexible working

A range of different mobility and flexible working models are tested, such as the type of work and where the work is performed. It’s hard to pinpoint a single flexible model among government organizations, but even the smallest and most conservative agencies are testing flexible models, usually starting with IT given their work dynamics.

The regional hubs set up by the Government of Victoria illustrate this flexibility. Public sector workers moving from Melbourne now have regional offices known as GovHubs. The Ballarat GovHub is a great example, helping to revitalize much of Ballarat’s CBD and generate long-term job growth. This initiative was planned before the pandemic, but has since gained new meaning, importance and levels of adoption.

3. Invest in diversity, equity and inclusion

With growing competition for digital and tech talent and societal pressure for more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments, government organizations are stepping up efforts to attract and retain untapped talent.

Revisions are being made to the government recruitment and hiring process to eliminate potential biases, tailored programs to hire diverse talent, specific mentoring and sponsorship programs, diversity hiring targets and Tailored Employment Value Propositions (EVPs) to focus on creating a more inclusive environment. environment.

4. Review EVP for Technology

Government organizations work in a multi-generational workforce and expectations are changing. In response, several entities are rethinking their EVP, reinforcing the sense of serving and contributing to a better society. Gartner sees this more in individual agencies and institutions, with very little at the national level.

The Australian Federal Government has designed the APS Workforce Strategy 2025 in response to the growing desire for more flexible working and diversity. An important part of the strategy is to attract, develop and retain skills and talent until the end of 2025.

5. Invest in partnerships and ecosystems

Most government institutions are exploring partnerships with private and public entities – educational institutions, ministries, departments, agencies, LGAs and NGOs – to take learning and development to another level. Many are using these partnerships and building supportive ecosystems to promote collaboration and the sharing of digital knowledge and experiences.

6. Reform HCM systems and L&D technology

One of the main competitive advantages of the private sector over the public sector is hiring time and career development. Knowing this, several government organizations are using technology to modernize and help facilitate learning

7. Change job classifications and salaries

Some government agencies raise salaries to compete with the private sector. It’s not an easy task, but those who have been able to work at this level have done so for specialized and rare talent in digital and technology.

8. Join forces and take a whole business approach

Government organizations realize that “together they are more”. So instead of competing for talent individually, they create company-wide workforce strategies and initiatives to recruit and retain digital/tech professionals.

The APS workforce strategy is a prime example. It has been designed throughout the public servant journey and is focused on embracing flexible/responsive data, technology and workforce models, building integrity and purposeful leadership, as well as as the attraction, development and retention of skills, expertise and talents.

The Australian Public Service Commission will work with agencies to coordinate the delivery of critical results across the service. It will not replace the strategic and operational planning process at the agency level, but it will support agencies in the process.

*Gabriela Vogel is senior research director on the Executive Leadership team at Gartner. She advises senior executives on how to lead in times of change.

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