Industry body recommends work placements as more than half of civil servants cite low levels of digital knowledge as take-up barrier
A shortage of digital skills and capabilities continues to hamper the civil service’s ability to use technology to improve public service efficiency, a survey of almost 1,000 civil servants has found.
Lack of digital nous was seen as the largest barrier to the adoption of technology in government by 57 per cent of almost 1,000 civil service respondents, says a report published today by industry organisation techUK.
The figure shows an increase on last year's survey findings.
The report, Smarter Services: Delivering the Next Wave of Digital Transformation in the Public Sector, focused on three themes where techUK believes closer ties between industry and the public sector could be of most benefit: removing barriers to sharing, world-class citizen transactions and civil service skills and capabilities.
When asked to rate their department’s expertise in four key areas – digital service design; data; procurement; and change management – 20 per cent more civil servants in digital roles on average agreed that their department had the skills necessary to deliver its business plan.
“This could signify that while Government has had some success in attracting expertise to its digital, data and technology profession, these skills have yet to permeate the wider civil service”, says the report.
Just 32% agreed that their department or organisation has the required skills in digital service design to deliver its business plan and only 6% ‘strongly agreed.’ Procurement was seen as a particular area for concern.
Tackling the deficit
To address the skills gap, the report recommends offering three-year placements in industry for civil servants in technical roles. This would allow “government to broaden its knowledge and expertise by exposing its staff to cutting-edge innovation happening in the private sector, and allow industry to develop a better understanding of the problems faced by the public sector and the opportunities for industry to play a role in solving them,” it says.
TechUK also suggests government provides mandatory digital skills training at the earliest opportunity "to ensure that digital skills are embedded in the civil service at all levels” to future public servants going through the Fast Stream process.
However, while departments’ Digital Academies could help civil servants to address skills gaps, the report warned: “It’s important that government continues to iterate the courses on offer in response to new technologies and user demand.”
Peter Cummings, Chair of techUK’s Public Services Board, said: “It’s clear that civil servants want to deliver world-class digital services to citizens: nearly four in five told us that the public wanted to transact more with government online. A shortage of skills, expertise and capabilities is seen as the largest barrier to delivering tech-enabled public services, a frustration that has been echoed by senior stakeholders in government.
"There is also an awareness among public servants that greater sharing between organisations could deliver huge benefits to the taxpayer. If the government is to succeed in its ambitious transformation vision, it will need the support of the UK’s thriving tech sector, whose expertise in managing the change to the technologies of tomorrow should prove invaluable.”
Departmental culture was also seen as a significant barrier, but the proportion of those in technology roles choosing internal culture as an impediment to greater technology adoption by senior civil servants has fallen, “...perhaps reflecting a greater awareness of some of the complexities of tech adoption in senior roles, and an erosion of practical barriers for digital staff,” the report says.
More broadly, 'Smarter services' recommends:
- Use public sector procurement to help foster innovation in the supplier community.
- Common standards and working practice.
- Develop channels to fund and account for cross-government work.
- Willingness to experiment with new working practices.
The report was based on techUK’s Civil Service Survey Interviews with senior public servants and other stakeholders; and third-party research and reports.
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