Government agencies are identifying the skills their staff will need to effectively complement emerging technologies that promise to transform service delivery, senior bureaucrats say.
Users of government services expect personalisation and faster resolution of issues, and frontline government staff require automation and data to provide outcomes quicker, the Australian Information Industry Association conference heard yesterday.
Mukul Agrawal, who is four months into his role as chief customer experience officer in the Department of Human Services, said that digital would become the preferred channel for service users and a key focus now was on identifying the “augmented skills” public servants needed.
“That may be knowledge of customer segments, or sharing insights more regularly to work out what worked for the customer,” he told the Canberra audience.
Process automation has been constant and facilitated advancements in service delivery to date, which has been largely embraced by public servants, he said.
Echoing those comments, Martin Hehir, deputy secretary of the Department of Employment, said his department was eyeing the future of work and emerging roles, and he saw a positive future with growth in skilled jobs.
The employment department was reviewing its own people strategy and how it could support staff’s professional development and skill acquisition, he said.
“It’s important to acknowledge they have been adapting and changing as technology arrives. We see the strategy as continuing that process of supporting staff to change, with emphasis on more agility, the virtual workforce, less structure… trying to take the boring work out and finding the interesting work for people to do.”
Gavin Slater, chief executive officer of the Digital Transformation Agency, told the event that as government services became increasingly automated the role for agencies was leading staff through those changes, ensuring they remained productive.
“Do not underestimate the ability of humans to adapt,” he said.
“Technology will augment the human element. Look at banking for example, where a lot of simple tasks have been automated, but the complex deals still require human interaction. In all of these situations, the human element is a huge driver of value.”
Claire Mason, a social scientist with the CSIRO, said there was increasing demand for people with the skills that complemented what emerging technologies could do.
“The fastest growth hasn’t been in traditional STEM but in generic skills like active listening, negotiation, the ability to communicate orally, and make sense of complex problems,” Ms Mason said.
Changes for workforce structures
Elsewhere, Kerryn Vine-Camp, first assistant commissioner at the Australian Public Service Commission, told the event the commission had been looking at the future of work and the impact of technological change on the public service “for some time” though this had “ramped up” recently.
Given the service’s 150,000 workers were based across the country and internationally it was important to have an inclusive conversation about technology’s impact on how people were employed, their work, and on service delivery, she said.
“We need to ensure that when people come into an organisation they can see they have a future across the broader [public] service, in a flexible way,” Ms Vine-Camp said.
Technology would likely lead to flatter workforce structures, more flexible, activity-based roles and the emergence of agile teams working across departments, she said.
Technology industry working with government
The conference comes a week after a new commitment between the AIIA, which is the peak body for the Australian technology sector, and the Digital Transformation Agency, on the Commonwealth’s digital transformation agenda.
“We are coming together with the DTA to seize the future workforce opportunity head on; we are on a mission,” said AIIA chairman John Paitaridis.
The association’s research shows Australians expect government to deliver better digital outcomes and the agreement with the DTA means government and industry will collaborate in the design and development of programs to drive an uplift in skills, encourage innovation,” he said.
Significantly, it would also enable Australian technology companies, especially small to medium enterprises, to more easily do business with government, Mr Paitaridis said.
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