Public Workers and the Changing Nature of Work

Governments and workers will need to plan for a more sophisticated workplace.

by / August 14, 2014

Will government employees one day make a living as “air traffic controllers” for autonomous vehicles? Will others spend their days training intelligent systems that ultimately will take their jobs?

These are a couple potential jobs of the future identified by experts in this issue. I have no idea, frankly, if these or any of the others actually will come to pass (although the latter scenario sounds particularly demoralizing).

It’s clear, however, that both the makeup of government workforces and the nature of public-sector work is shifting significantly. That’s why we’ve dedicated this issue to exploring the challenges of attracting and retaining talent now, and preparing for the future.

Matthew Behrens, chief technology officer of Iowa, explained some of the forces at work in remarks to industry representatives a few months ago at an e.Republic (Public CIO’s parent company) event in Des Moines.

“Our workforce is retiring, and that factors into how we think of IT in the future. There’s also increasing complexity in managing the IT infrastructure. We have more servers and systems, but the team isn’t any bigger,” he said. “We increasingly will look for vendor partnerships to deliver capabilities that we can’t deliver ourselves. We see state IT as an IT brokerage, creating a menu of services that agencies can use.”

State and local agencies across the nation face similar pressures, and many view cloud-based services as one tool for coping with the eventual exodus of baby boomers from government payrolls. That’s part of the answer, and so is attracting new workers. But it’ll also be crucial to become more effective in training and managing existing employees, especially as governments adopt new services and platforms.

“If we don’t help people understand how to use the new services, they won’t use them. They’ll keep doing the same thing they’ve always done,” Behrens said. “We need to understand how to deploy on MS Azure or Amazon Web Services. How do we get folks ready to use these things?”

Growing pressure to both attract new workers and nurture existing staff is forcing agencies to become more sophisticated in how they manage their workforces. So perhaps it’s no surprise that cities like Henderson, Nev., are implementing talent-management solutions that help speed up the hiring cycle, improve performance reviews and strengthen succession planning. Others are creating new job titles and pay ranges that reflect the need to hold onto skilled employees.

Ultimately the retooling of IT workforces may be one of the biggest challenges facing public CIOs. We hope the following pages provide practical solutions to immediate problems, along with some insight into future demands. Welcome to The Talent Issue.

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

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