Mind the skills gap…. how can the public sector attract and retain top tech talent?


The digital skills gap is not just a private sector issue, argues Andrew Lawson, UKI MD, Salesforce; all organisations must appeal to today’s emerging workforce – on multiple levels.

mind-the-gap-1484157In a recent Tech Nation Report, it was revealed that 43 percent of tech companies say skills shortages are limiting growth. That’s not stopping innovation currently; our ‘2016 State of IT Report’ highlights that almost 70 percent of CIOs are ramping up spend on mobile app development and cloud migration in the next two years. But while that investment in innovative new services is on the rise, who’s going to deliver the product in the future?

It’s my feeling that one of the most critical issues facing tech companies today is the growing gap between the supply and demand for top tech talent in the UK.

This isn’t just a private sector issue. A quick glance at public sector job boards show us how the industry is struggling to recruit for tech positions. Generally, the tech sector has become a more attractive career destination; rising private sector salaries and the opportunity to work on innovative projects are alluring. Some may argue that this puts the public sector on the back foot. How can it attract the ‘best and brightest’ from Britain?

Actually, I think it’s quite the opposite. The public sector has a lot to offer to young talent with technology skills, often in ways that many deep-pocketed private sector players cannot.

There’s one characteristic that sets the new generation of talent apart: they’re motivated by more than just salaries and pay rises. Doing well at work is one thing, but feeling like you have positively contributed to your community is something else. These workers are looking for satisfaction beyond the everyday nine-to-five workday. They don’t just want to punch in and out – this year’s Deloitte Millennial Study noted that ‘a sense of meaning from my work’ and ‘the impact it has on society’ were among the top six factors millennial candidates ranked as factors to consider when accepting a job offer.

What does this mean for millennials in the public sector? Well, public sector work really fits the bill. Improving patient care and cutting costs as a way of modernising the healthcare system is a good example. Transforming existing infrastructure into a connected transport system to support a modern work/life balance is another. And both examples give workers the chance to address society’s biggest challenges face-on.

I’m constantly impressed at how digitisation can improve the lives of our most vulnerable, and provide them with access to services and support  that they’ve never had before. Simple online forms can help cut down red tape, and let citizens access essential systems at a much faster speed. For example, Peterborough City Council has developed and deployed apps for social workers which helps them provide better support in the field for their clients.

Another thing that surveys have confirmed: our millennial workforce are also more receptive and open to employers that are committed to change. And when it comes to searching for the best young tech talent for the public sector, employers need to highlight this change as a key advantage. Innovation and change go hand-in-hand, and we see this played out as more public sector IT departments shift to the cloud. Agencies in the public sector need to make this link, and demonstrate it as a sign of willingness to embrace new ways of working.

I know what you’re thinking – there’s a double challenge because many public sector organisations still use legacy systems – which often creates a dichotomy of old IT systems fighting modern, open-source sensibilities. And reconciling one with the other is no simple feat. Finding a way to break down these silos and modernise traditional IT structures across established organisations requires persistence and determination.

But for those who do, there’s a big pay-off for digitising public sector services: these projects can tangibly improve the lives of millions, help cut budgets and save the taxpayer millions along the way.

In essence, it’s the impact these projects can have on today’s emerging workforce that will make a lasting difference. For today’s young talent it’s these combined factors of innovation, impact and greater meaning that will have them saying ‘yes’ to to the job – and the career.

Image credit - Freeimages.com/Stuart Skelton