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Embracing a hybrid workforce in local government

Embracing a hybrid workforce in local government

Digital disruption, changing demographics, competition for skills and regulatory compliance, mean organisations and councils need to critically assess their current workforce, the workforce they truly need, and how they can transform it to be ready for the future.

Toni Jones

Partner in Charge Industries, Enterprise and Local Government Sector Leader

KPMG Australia


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Changing workplace, changing trends

Organisations and councils are facing a dynamic future workforce, where roles are rapidly changing, demographics are shifting, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is improving, and competition is fierce. Where and how people work is increasingly mobile.

In addition, customer needs are changing, as digitally savvy rate payers increasingly demand the high levels of service they have come to expect from the organisations they interact with regularly.

Local councils have to prepare for the impact on their people and sustainability. They must rethink how to be productive through change, how to develop human and machine workforces, and instil the right leadership approaches to help their teams work successfully into the future.

Successful transformation in the digital age requires businesses to have a clear destination, and an intelligently designed roadmap to get there. This encompasses determining the skills needed to support the organisational strategy, and a talent acquisition strategy that stretches beyond a typical approach to hiring.

While there are some unique challenges, local government has many similarities to any other business. Conversations and planning are crucial to ensure that the organisation is equipped to attract, retain and develop the right skills, and to equip them for what the future demands. This is even more important now, with the competition for future skills increasing, and councils needing to be able to position themselves to provide a compelling offering to potential employees.

Now is the time for council leaders to conduct conversations for a ‘higher purpose’. They need to identify the dilemmas, challenges and key considerations that will shape their future workforce, and deliver on business objectives. They must consider:

  • Transition strategies: Organisations need to develop transition strategies to manage the disruption to the workforce. Leaders need to be aware of their role and develop the skills required to ensure success.
  • Agile workforces: Traditional supply and demand forecasting must be replaced with agile workforce shaping. Organisations need a structured yet agile approach to determine the appropriate shape and size of the workforce, incorporating all elements, including employed vs. contingent workers, human vs. digital workers, and career ladder vs. career lattice.
  • AI: Early movers are already learning lessons about the best way to deploy AI. One is the importance of preparing the workforce and enabling them to re-skill for new roles.

Just like snowflakes, every employee is different. Job descriptions, rules, regulations, compliance and routines can limit opportunities for staff. By re-strategising talent management, councils that foster an adaptable workforce, optimise their people, increase employee engagement and reinvent reward, have the best chance of success.

The hybrid workforce

This is especially true today as the use of AI is increasingly harnessed, with chatbots, for example, used more to handle customers’ frequently asked questions online, and presenting an interesting proposition for the ’24 hour Mayor/council’.

This hybrid workforce will become the norm. But the rise of robotics, along with the disruption of sectors and jobs, can spark a fear of job losses or obliteration of certain skill requirements. There are many vocal doom-sayers, but the fact remains that the unemployment rate in Australia today is 5.7 percent, which is still less than it was in the year 2000.

If councils can employ technology to perform mundane, repetitive tasks, or what KPMG calls ‘rule based activity’, staff will be able to concentrate on more creative work that will challenge them and provide greater job satisfaction. At the same time, the disruptive market means job descriptions become increasingly fluid – in other words, employees should recognise that the job they are doing now may not be the one they are doing in 12 months’ time.

Talent needs to be thought of as ‘serving a strategy’, not simply as part of a transaction. Organisations need to question why someone was doing a certain role in the first place, and whether that still works for where the organisation wants to go, or if their role needs to evolve. By freeing up time from routine tasks to focus on innovation, they may be creating the jobs of the future.

This brings challenge for councils in how to attract and develop these ‘new’ skills, and how to cater for changing and agile roles within existing workplace requirements and structures. For example, in most councils, the role of ‘Data Scientist’ has never existed or been provided for within the existing levels, pay structures and role descriptions. These creative and specialist technical skills are in high demand and are often priced outside the existing levels within the organisation. That means a need for some out-of-the-box thinking and flexible approaches for working out how things can be approached differently, how the structure might be flexed to support new and different roles, and what recruitment mechanisms might be explored to attract different skills and backgrounds.

This adaptability mentality can also be fostered by an agile work environment. An office layout which promotes open discussion, breaks down hierarchies and encourages interaction and collaboration between staff members can also create a culture of positive change. The ability to make changes to the workplace, even without expensive office redevelopment, can bring many benefits for councils in breaking down the silos between divisions, and encouraging cross-communication. This enables staff to work together on end-to-end processes (as the customers see them), rather than according to their own roles. Everyone can benefit, inside and outside the organisation.

Hybridity is not confined to AI. The adaptable workforce also involves re-interpreting the nature of talent itself. Not every skill needs to be met in-house. As challenges arise, specialised skill sets may be needed to implement solutions. There’s a growing marketplace of freelancers, contractors, consultants and teams for hire, and with the aid of technology, it is now easier than ever to top up teams with additional skills, support or creativity. Again, within the existing protocols and requirements of local government, this presents both an opportunity and a challenge for how procurement and HR strategies can support the needs of the business in these areas.

Diversification makes a difference

It is also vital to have diversity of thinking and approaches in the workforce, so that fresh ideas evolve and the organisation is competitive. Reverse mentoring (learning from people in different, sometimes junior, positions) can increase decision-makers’ understanding of their enterprise.

As employees meet these new norms, it’s important that their reward aligns with the changes they face. This isn’t simply about money, but about offering a higher purpose to the nature of work done. Councils must consider their existing People and Workplace strategies and how these need to evolve to ensure that they are developing the right skills in the right areas. Equally important is addressing the performance management environment and exploring ways to measure and reward performance to keep people focused and engaged. People succeed better with clarity around their roles and accountability for tasks.

The concept of ‘vision and values’ may sound like over-used corporate jargon, but it is well recognised that staff who feel connected to a common purpose are more empowered, understand the importance of their roles, and consequently deliver more impact. This is especially pertinent for councils, being the closest level of government to the community. If staff are engaged in their roles and committed to the purpose of local government, customers and the community will benefit, with improved service delivery and positive outcomes.


A version of this article was first published in Issue 2, 2018 of Australian GovLink.

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