Executive summary

Public Employment and Management is a new annual publication compiling studies and articles on people management in governments of OECD countries. The chapters in this first edition contribute to a vision of what could be possible and desirable for the future of the public service to inform people management policies as countries emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. They present a vision for a public service that is able to attract, retain and develop talent that can direct new technology and innovation to areas of pressing public need, and respond quickly to fast-changing global circumstances. Although this work began before COVID, the crisis has reinforced the importance of these themes that rings true in new circumstances, and if anything has become even more pressing and relevant.

The first chapter sets out a vision of the future public service that is forward-looking, flexible and fulfilling to a diverse range of public employees. A forward-looking public service understands how the work of public servants is changing, and knows how to equip its workforce to get the work done. It is a public service that can anticipate the skills it will need and has the tools to plan ahead so that skilled workers are ready to be deployed when they are required. The COVID-19 crisis has thrown a spotlight on the need to plan for uncertainty and support public service resilience. In addition to emerging technical skills, cognitive, social and emotional skills such as the ability to learn, adapt and manage through ambiguous situations will likely increase in importance across all public service professions.

A flexible public service can move people with the skills it needs to the places it needs them in reaction to fast-changing circumstances, regardless of organisational or programmatic silos. It can stop doing things that are no longer required and shift talent to focus on emerging priorities. It is able to upskill and reskill the existing workforce to make use of new technologies, and it promotes a culture that encourages experiential learning, reflection and improvement. A flexible public service can also access skills from the labour market quickly and effectively. Finally, it is able to adapt work arrangements to the individual needs of employees – including time and place of work, and terms and conditions of employment. A flexible public service recognises that ‘one size fits all’ solutions and policies are obsolete.

A fulfilling public service will attract, retain and make the best use of the skills it needs by appealing to the motivations of an increasingly diverse public workforce – not only demographically diverse, but also diverse in skill sets, professional backgrounds, experience, and ways of thinking and solving complex problems. A fulfilling public service is one that understands employee experience by tracking data and employee behaviour. It uses this understanding to improve management and leadership to generate fulfilling work experiences in inclusive environments; to improve job design to increase autonomy and a sense of achievement; and to design employment policies that enable appropriately adapted support.

The second chapter presents an independent expert assessment of the future of work in the public service, by Professor Peter Cappelli. He discusses two different types of predictions about the future: the first relates to predictions based on historical data, while the second type of prediction, expert judgement, is used when the past is not a good predictor of the future. He considers current trends in human resource management in areas such as outsourcing, agile project management, and data science, and considers how these are likely to shape the future of the public service. He also provides a sober reflection on some of the more disruptive claims regarding the potential impacts of artificial intelligence on the workforce, particularly as this may apply to the public service.

The third and fourth chapters each present a selection of comparative indicators on the management of senior level public servants, and on attraction and recruitment practices in OECD countries. The third chapter shows that, while most OECD countries use competency frameworks to focus on leadership skills, many are still challenged to develop these skills, assess them, and hold managers accountable for effective people management. Furthermore, the chapter identifies gaps in digital and innovation skills for leaders – while these are often prioritised by countries, they are rarely highlighted in competency frameworks.

The fourth chapter, on recruitment, shows that skills gaps are common in the public services of OECD countries. Most governments across the OECD find it hard to recruit candidates with specific skills, usually in IT or science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields (STEM). Some countries are beginning to use more proactive recruitment practices involving marketing, sourcing, networking, evaluation and adjustment to fill the gap. The chapter also identifies scope to improve data to measure the attractiveness of the public service and the effectiveness of recruitment strategies.

Taken together, these chapters recommend that governments of OECD countries take active steps to design the future of their public services. Governments will choose which tasks to automate, where to invest in needed skills and how to develop a workforce that is forward-looking, flexible and fulfilling. For this reason, the future of the public sector will be different than in the private sector, and will advance at its own pace, ideally learning from successes and failures in other organisations and sectors, and leading by example, to embed and reinforce public service values. This future will not come about naturally. Governments will have to take an active role in setting a vision for this transformation and making the necessary investments to achieve that vision, not only in technology but also in the workforce and its leadership.


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