By John Lawrance, AusTTA member

Preparing Government Employees for the 21stCentury

There is a viewpoint that the work you will be doing in 5-10 years from now doesn’t exist today. A corollary to this is that the role you are doing now may not exist in 5-10 years!

Rapid changes in the work environment, driven by advances in technology and social changes, is making it harder to predict and prepare for the future of work. For example, the first quantum computer has already been built and blockchain is being deployed in various industries and countries. At the same time, the ‘Gig’ economy is growing and workers in developed countries are seeking more flexibility.

What does this increased uncertainty mean for employees and for the future of work? One implication is that school is not the end of our learning, instead it is part of a lifelong process of acquiring new skills and knowledge. The challenge now is which skills and expertise will be required in the not too distant future.

While individuals are expected to manage their own careers and personal growth, government industry and academia all have a role to play helping identify what is needed. When it comes to understanding the future of work, these organisations have access to resources and information not available to individuals. Furthermore, these organisation are better able to shape and influence outcomes through both incentives and regulations.

So what role do these organisations play in helping employees to adapt and stay relevant in the 21st century? How much can they know and what happens if these organisations get it wrong?

While the ‘whitewater’ of change makes it challenging to predict skills that will be in demand, there is a lot that can be done to make good decisions, both at an individual and organisational level. What can be done is to look for trends, while being alert to potential disruptions. Examples of trends include[1]:

  • Demographic Changes– developed nations including Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom are experiencing a marked aging as the “baby boom” generation approach retirement.
  • Income Uncertainty– lower economic and wages growth, combined with reduced job security, is resulting in a widening of the gap between the haves and have nots. In particular, “42 people hold same wealth as 3.7bn poorest”[2].
  • Growing Desire for Better Work-Life Balance– organisations are responding to demands for greater work-life balance with more flexible working arrangements including telecommuting using the internet etc and more flexible work hours.
  • The Age of Big Data– the rapid growth in data, with more data being produced in the previous 2-3 years than the entire history of humanity, combined with ubiquitous sensors and telecommunications means the need for storage and analytical capabilities is increasing.

So what skills will be in demand during the mid to late 2020’s? For government the trend is towards policy, with an increasing demand for people management, international literacy, co-production and design skills as well as ‘softer’ skills[3]. Technical skills including enterprise wide Transformation, Project / Program Management, design, digital literacy, cyber-security and data skills will be in greater demand. An example of where the latter is being addressed is in Singapore, where the government is training 10,000 civil servants in data literacy[4]. Courses in data literacy, risk management and cyber-security are all “no regrets” opportunities that enable government employees to deliver public policy in a rapidly changing environment[5].

While we are on the “brink of transformative change”, the Federal and State Governments have launched a number of exciting initiatives to equip Australians for the 21stCentury[6]. These include the recently announced Services Australia and the successes of the NSW Government with Digital NSW[7]. The trend towards health, technology and construction related industries is expected to continue[8], with Government to deliver services via digital relationships to more empowered end-users. While it is impossible to predict the jobs required in the future, government, industry and academia all have a role to play in helping to shape and take advantage of future opportunities.

[1]Source: The Future of Work: Jobs and skills in 2030, UK Commission for Employment and Skills (2013).
[2]Source: The Guardian (
[3]Helen Dickinson and Helen Sullivan, 2015. Future of the Public Service Workforce, Institute of Public Administration.
[5]Independent Review of the APS: Priorities for Change, 19 march 2019 (p13).
[6]Helen Dickinson and Helen Sullivan, 2015. Future of the Public Service Workforce, Institute of Public Administration.
[8]McKinsey Global Institute, December 2017. Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation.