Public servants need digital skills — here’s how to teach them

Governments services are outdated. The best way to upgrade them is simple: educate employees

In a world where almost anything — groceries; a ride to the airport; even a date — is available at the touch of a button online, it’s understandable that many citizens struggle to deal with government and its often outdated and analogue processes.

The problem isn’t just that government is bureaucratic and unwieldy. It’s that public servants aren’t equipped with the skills they need to solve complex problems in the digital age.

For government to be all the things we want it to be — agile, user-centred, transparent, secure and data-driven — its employees need to be constantly learning digital skills on the job.

Here’s how some governments are helping them do that.

1) Public sector academies

More governments are realising that offering civil servants free, easily accessible courses and training sessions is the most efficient way to teach them new digital skills.

The UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) Academy launched a training school for public servants five years ago. Its goal is to build digital capacity across government by teaching public servants about computer science, user-centred design, data, AI and other in-demand disciplines.

There are introductory sessions for non-specialists who want to learn the fundamentals of new tech and more advanced courses for civil servants who work in digital. As of February 2019, it has trained more than 10,000 employees at all levels of government.

The GDS Academy inspired similar initiatives in Scotland and Canada, which launched its own Digital Academy under Canada’s School of Public Service in January.

In 2015, Argentina set up its own government innovation school, the Design Academy, where public servants earn points for taking classes related to digital skills and innovation techniques.  And Singapore began offering government employees free access to over 2,500 classes, including many on an online platform Udemy, at the country’s Civil Service College in July 2018.

2) Shared learning communities

Australia takes a number of different approaches to digital upskilling, from coaching and mentoring to apprenticeships for public servants who want to learn new capabilities

One of these is digital communities of practice, which bring together people working in specific areas of digital work to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes and help solve one another’s problems. There are groups for service design, cloud computing, user interface design, open data and more.

The US’s DigitalGov team also organises communities of practice in more than 20 digital disciplines, from AI to virtual reality.

3) Bringing the accelerator to government    

City Makers — Dubai’s “tech campus for government” — is set in a Google campus-style industrial warehouse. In the accelerator, civil servants work under hackathon-like circumstances to reimagine public services through innovation and digital techniques.

The idea is to help public servants learn by doing — and collaborating.  In just a year, City Makers saved the government more than $32 million dollars by making two public services more user-centric and efficient. It’s now been scaled, with the goal of improving 62 services by 2020.

4) Private sector partnerships 

The Australian government has partnered with Microsoft to train 5,000 public servants across six cities — Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide — in cloud computing by 2020.

The government is working with Microsoft to support its Secure Cloud Strategy, which aims to transform digital service delivery by making government platforms faster, more reliable and cheaper to operate. At the end of training, public servants will understand how to use data, design and deployment skills in the cloud. —Jennifer Guay

(Picture credit: Unsplash)

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