Technology advances and growing pressure to anticipate citizens’ and employees’ changing needs will bring a paradigm shift in job roles and require a very different approach to workforce planning.”
Global Government and Infrastructure Lead Analyst, EY
Singapore’s Workforce Plan
Establish a long-term vision by determining employee needs and visualizing the future you want to create for citizens. This human-centered strategy becomes the engine for workforce reinvention.
The three coauthors behind EY’s “Digital State Workforce” report propose a “future-back” approach: Define the value you want to bring to citizens—perhaps it looks like individualized services for low-income seniors, accessible healthcare in rural communities, shorter waits and paper-free processes. From there, work backward to pinpoint the workforce capacity, composition and aptitude needed to make it a reality, advises EY. Additionally, ensure the plan is nimble enough to respond dynamically to whatever the future holds, whether that’s tech disruption or a global health crisis.
“This transformation starts with understanding the needs, wants
and the moments that matter in people’s lives,” says coauthor Julie McQueen, EY’s Global Government and Infrastructure (G&I) Lead Analyst. “It’s working back from that to ask, ‘What does that mean for the digital plan, and how can I align my workforce planning
Train civil servants so they’re able to participate in the transformation. You also have to recruit people, but they’re expensive and not easy to attract and retain.”
Global Government and Infrastructure Consulting Leader, EY
A public agency in Singapore used the “future-back” approach to map out a planning strategy for its 3,000-employee workforce. Building a long-term vision started with essential questions about Singaporean citizens: What are their needs today? What about next year or in a decade? How can our organization equip employees to improve citizens’ lives?
The agency focused on job creation and training, using “citizen centricity” as its compass for change. Agency officials forecasted how emerging tech would boost service delivery in various government roles and designed competency frameworks defining essential digital skills for staff and future hires.
It’s a solid foundation for systems-level change, suggests McQueen. “By focusing on how best to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of citizens, the government is working back to develop the necessary job roles and skills, [emphasizing] areas such as user experience and design to improve the future citizen experience.”
Next, gauge current workforce strengths and shortcomings. “Do a demand-supply assessment,” says coauthor Shalinder Bakshi, EY’s Global G&I People Advisory Services Leader. “How many skill sets do I have now, and how many do I need to buy from outside?”
Upskill by facilitating learning for existing staff and investing in their education, adds coauthor Arnauld Bertrand, EY’s Global G&I Consulting Leader. This could mean leaning on external tech partners to train teams at scale, implementing self-guided learning modules or offering digital academies targeting the skills you hope to foster, whether that’s data and technical know-how or softer competencies like communication and leadership.
It’s also time to hire fresh talent—a tall order when many government employers struggle to compete with private sector pay. Here, EY calls for a public sector rebrand, trading bureaucracy and complexity for innovation, inclusion and social good. Adopt diversity initiatives so you’re hiring from underrepresented communities, embrace social media during candidate searches, swap traditional job sites for AI-driven recruiting platforms and, most importantly, emphasize the sense of purpose that public sector jobs can offer—which we’ll cover next.
When a government agency in India sought to re-skill and transform the country’s civil service (one of the world’s largest), leaders faced the challenge of training at scale: How do you democratize learning for roughly 18 million public officials?
To make training relevant, accessible and scalable for civil servants, the agency considered solutions to upgrade outdated capacity-building infrastructure, focusing more on competency-based learning and robust, multi-tiered training needs assessments.
The ambition: a countrywide training policy to ensure consistency in skills and competency development enabled through an integrated online learning platform. With access to individualized “anytime and anywhere” learning, civil servants can hone core competencies that map directly to their roles and pursue specializations to improve service delivery for citizens.
India’s Mission To Build Capacity & Skills
of government leaders say talent retention is one of the top three barriers to deepening digital aptitude across their organization.
Source: EY 2022 Tech Horizon Survey
A state-funded nonprofit in Sweden focused on fostering sustainable work-life balance for the country’s 270,000 public sector employees (that’s 5% of the nation’s entire workforce). With government employees retiring later in life, the organization wanted to make public sector work as fulfilling as possible.
The organization designed a five-year program by first defining what “sustainable work-life balance” looks like—accounting for civil servants’ needs as human beings to build more tailored, flexible and engaging employee experiences.
Improving work-life balance in government careers could even set the tone for other industries, perhaps leading to more satisfied citizens and stronger communities overall. “The program underpins the creation of healthy and engaged workplaces, with a positive impact not just on government employees but also on Swedish society as a whole,” says McQueen.
You can’t address the skills gap by focusing solely on training and recruiting—you have to design “tailored and purposeful” career experiences that compete with the allure of the private sector and lead to fulfilled, engaged employees.
Explore hybrid work policies, support employee well-being (EY research shows that almost a third of government employers cite staff burnout as a top concern), prioritize meaningful contribution over hours spent at a desk and identify opportunities for individual growth and career mobility.
According to EY, younger talent says “making a difference” is more important than making money, so employers should emphasize the underappreciated value proposition of public sector work: sense of purpose. With this as a north star, you can inspire current staff and ensure that government roles look more attractive to the top-notch talent needed for digital change.
“Creating these unique experiences for the employees will ensure retention,” says Bakshi. “It'll ensure that there’s motivation in the workforce to continue on this transformation journey.”
Sweden’s Work-Life Balance
of government leaders say their culture needs to change to deliver on digital transformation.
Source: EY 2022 Tech Horizon Survey
To reduce bureaucracy, optimize social services and improve citizen touch points, Israel launched a national initiative focused on developing creative, tech-savvy employees with a knack for citizen-centered “service thinking.”
Senior and midlevel civil servants in national and local roles can enroll in the educational curriculum to sharpen digital proficiencies, explore tech trends and learn how to contribute to systems-level change. They can also collaborate on small-group projects and network at a premier business school in the U.S. before graduating.
Participants return to their home ministries and serve as digital change advocates, combining technical chops with knowledge of local community needs to improve citizens’ lives, whether that means building more efficient public transportation infrastructure in remote areas, launching cutting-edge telehealth tools or creating affordable housing.
The long-term vision? To ignite a universal mindset shift across the change-resistant public sector and foster a shared appetite for reinvention among the government workforce.
Whether they work for a federal law enforcement agency or a small school district, employees across all levels and forms of government work need leaders who embrace change and set a clear vision for transformation, says Bertrand.
“Digitalization requires that various agency leaders are citizen-oriented and change the way they manage, train, recruit and retain their people,” he says. This includes de-siloing the organization, challenging the status quo at every turn, elevating diverse voices and incentivizing experimentation so each employee is empowered to codesign solutions and champion cultural reinvention.
To equip employees at every level to also become digital leaders, consider change management programs, survey employees on how tech can streamline their work and encourage team leads and managers to take risks. “Often, organizations forget that employees [drive transformation], or they think it’s only about technology. ... Actually, it’s about humans,” says Bakshi.
Israel’s Change-Ready Leaders
Governments can unleash innovation across the public sector and improve citizen experiences by reinventing their workforces.
Learn more about workforce transformation in EY’s full report