A strong public sector relies on digital talent

5 Jun 23

In an ever-more digitalised world it is only becoming more important for public sector organisations to ensure their staff have digital skills, writes María Balbás.


Research published by Globaldata in January this year showed that UK public sector spending on IT has been steadily increasing since 2017. Unfortunately, the cybersecurity risks have grown in tandem.

Just last month, Capita, one of the government’s largest suppliers, providing services to public sector organisations including local authorities, the NHS and military, admitted hackers had accessed its systems, potentially compromising data relating to customers, staff and suppliers.

With sensitive data to public infrastructure at stake, it is important that those working in the public sector have the digital literacy and tech skills to use new technologies effectively and safely.

These skills are no longer the sole responsibility of IT departments. With technology’s deep integration into society, talent at all levels and across all teams must be well versed in core digital competencies – and where possible, specialisms.

However, amid a global digital skills shortage (this is by no means a UK-specific challenge) that has hit both the private and public sectors, how can organisations ensure they have the requisite digital skills in their talent pipelines?

The pressures on the tech talent market are not going anywhere any time soon. In fact, the Financial Times recently reported the EU alone is looking for 20 million technology specialists. In 2021, it had just 9 million. 

Internal digital skilling programmes that upskill and train staff in key tech skills can provide an attractive answer to the public sector’s tech resourcing needs.

Overlooking the importance of these skills risks disjointed teams who are unable to effectively communicate and unlock the opportunities digitisation offers

Doing the groundwork

The first port of call for all organisations undertaking a digital transformation – public or private sector – should be mapping their talent pool’s existing skillset against the organisation’s targets and ambitions.

This assessment should be a deep dive into existing skillsets amongst staff, and should also gauge potential. Identifying staff growth capacity and foundational skillsets might enable them to pivot from their current role to a tech position, or to integrate technology more effectively into their ongoing responsibilities.

For example, AI is currently penetrating all sectors at a remarkable speed. Programming languages are the foundation of AI (and other digital tools). By conducting a thorough skills audit, organisations may find talent with important programming skills that can be further developed to ready teams to adopt AI tools.

They can also identify people with the key foundational skills, such as a background in statistics and data analysis, that indicate a potential aptitude for programming, which can be trained by a subsequent skilling programme. 

Charting a course forward

These existing skills assessments can be achieved through a combination of both on-the-ground insights from team managers and talent management tools. As a digital transformation gets underway, talent management tools also provide the added benefit of creating a live database of digital competencies that serve as a vital reference point for employees’ progress and the overall readiness of the organisation to deploy new digital tools. 

The significant word here is ‘live’. Digital skilling is not one and done; it requires an ongoing commitment to a culture of education, with ever-evolving organisational benefits to match.

As new tech opportunities emerge, and as different teams strengthen their digital dexterity with deeper and wider knowledge, talent management tools can help managers stay abreast of these developments and know which tech-dependent opportunities they can run with.

To maximise the impact of digital development programmes, organisations may find it valuable to pair technical training with development in power skills. Communication, empathy and collaboration each play instrumental roles in how effective an individual can be in their workplace and how they will leverage their digital skills for the benefit of wider operations.

Overlooking the importance of these skills risks disjointed teams who are unable to effectively communicate and unlock the opportunities digitisation offers them and their colleagues.

A public sector for a digital world

In an interconnected, digital world, it is essential that public sector talent knows what poses a risk and how to take action – and also how to capitalise on the opportunities that tech offers.

A safe and effective digital world must be talent led, with those working in the public sector knowing what to escalate, when to escalate and how to protect data; where there is scope to streamline operations and to innovate services. 

For example, elev8 has partnered with Microsoft and Qatar’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to launch a Digital Centre of Excellence. The Centre is currently on target to upskill 6,000 learners as part of the National Skilling Program that aims to skill 50,000 workers with key digital skills like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. For the public sector not to be left behind by the digital world, this level of investment is a must. 

  • María Balbás

    President of elev8, which runs digital skilling and education programmes for the public and private sectors.

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