Global populations are aging and economies are feeling the impact as private- and public-sector organizations struggle to manage talent shortages that are undermining their workforces and productivity – while also chasing the critical new skills needed for the digital age.
Research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that, among jurisdictions with available data on their central public-administration workforces, about 24 percent of employees are 55 or older, while just 18 percent are under 34. Italy’s government has the highest proportion of employees 55 or older at 45 percent.1 & 2
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The race is on to recruit the next generation of civil servants. And it’s no secret that today’s young and emerging professionals are raising the bar in their pursuit of meaningful, purpose-led, socially conscious roles and careers that ideally will allow them to have an impact in driving positive social change.
As the Geneva-based International Labour Office’s report titled Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020: Technology and the Future of Jobs3 notes: “Technological change has indeed increased the demand for highly skilled workers.”
Fortunately, governments can typically meet this emerging workforce’s preference for meaningful and purpose-led work that it highly values. In the view of this report’s author and contributors, this important value proposition has been underplayed by governments and should be highlighted in future recruitment efforts, proclaiming civil service as a prime environment for young people who truly want to ‘make a difference’ by enabling social change.
Implementing modern technology will play a crucial role. Governments are challenged by the fact that younger talent with modern technical skills can be deterred by government’s lack of innovation. Research by KPMG in the US shows that nearly 60 percent of government executives admitted that, compared to the private sector, their agencies struggle today to attract and retain skilled talent for the digital future.4
Critical new skills for a challenging new age
Beyond heightening their brand as ‘employers of choice’ in the competition for talent, governments will also need to explore opportunities to engage private-sector professionals with new skill sets such as data scientists and customer-experience specialists.
Reskilling (learning new skills to perform a different job) and upskilling (learning new skills to expand capabilities) existing employees will also be crucial to overcome talent shortages and enhance public services. According to KPMG’s 2020 HR Pulse Survey report5, for example, building talent through upskilling and reskilling was cited by 72 percent of human resources executives as a key factor in shaping the workforce of the future. Government organizations were among sectors reporting the greatest reskilling needs.
Reskilling of current teams for the digital era has become crucial amid new technology and changing organizational priorities. Upskilling current employees, meanwhile, will be a valuable way for governments to retain employees possessing an understanding of how government functions. Enhancing their skills will enable them to focus on more-valuable roles.
Governments will also need to show new levels of flexibility in how their workforces and the diverse roles within them are organized and dispatched, for example managing the shift to remote and hybrid working arrangements that for many employees may become permanent.
Governments realize that the workforce journey still has considerable ground to cover. Research conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG shows that 30 percent of respondents cited a lack of qualified staff as a barrier to customer-centric strategies.6 At the same time, only about half (56 percent) will be prioritizing near-term investment in creating an aligned and empowered workforce, while a third say such investment will remain a low priority for the next two to three years.7
Governments should be proactive in attracting and retaining the next generation of civil servants, introducing critical new skills and ultimately reshaping their workforces to align with the demands of a digital society.
Reskilling and upskilling today’s civil services will play a crucial role in retaining valued talent and knowledge, overcoming talent shortages and enhancing public services.
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1 OCED. (2017). Government at a glance 2017: Ageing central government workforce.
2 OCED. (2017). Government at a glance 2017: Highlights (PDF 3.1 MB).
3 International Labour Organization. (2020, March 9). Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020: Technology and the future of jobs.
4 Stark, L., Walker, B. (2021). Modern government: Connected. Powered. Trusted. KPMG LLP.
5 Greenshields, A. (2020 September 9). COVID-19 thrusts HR to the forefront of business productivity, workforce models, and culture mobilization. Media release.
6 A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG, February 2020
7 A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG, February 2020.