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Upskilling the public sector workforce to fill the tech talent gap

March 29, 2023

In the midst of constantly evolving tech trends and cyber threats, agencies need to take proactive measures to defend their critical infrastructure and fill the talent gap. One way they can achieve both? Upskilling the public sector workforce.

Let’s take a look at why upskilling is so important for the public sector, what tech skills their technologists need most, and how to get started.

What is upskilling?

In the public sector industry, upskilling refers to helping employees develop the skills they need to keep up with changing technologies, government policies, and cybersecurity initiatives. Upskilling enables agencies to accelerate digital transformation, maintain compliance, and improve retention.

This makes upskilling worth the investment, despite the challenges associated with it in the public sector. In fact, our 2023 State of Upskilling report found that 81% of tech managers continue to prioritize tech skill development for their teams, even in times of economic uncertainty.

Upskilling versus reskilling

While upskilling focuses on helping employees develop skills for their current role, reskilling focuses on helping employees gain skills needed for a new role, whether that’s a promotion or lateral transition.

What are the benefits of upskilling the public sector workforce?

Upskilling the public sector workforce can help solve some of the industry’s most pressing challenges. These benefits make tech skill development an essential part of any agency’s strategy.

Attract new talent

It’s often difficult for the public sector to compete with private organizations’ salaries, benefits, and flexible working arrangements. According to a MissionSquare Research Institute survey, 52% of public sector employees are considering changing jobs because they want a higher salary or a better benefits package.

Tech skill development is one way to gain an edge in a competitive labor market. 44% of technologists say they upskill to grow their skill set for personal development. Employees want to work where they can develop their skills.

Fill critical skills gaps

Our 2022 State of Cloud report found that only 8% of technologists have extensive experience working with cloud-related tools. As agencies shift to cloud services, the public sector workforce needs the right skills to navigate this transition and take full advantage of the new technology. 

If you’re unable to hire technologists with the skills you need to facilitate and maintain cloud adoption, you can use upskilling and reskilling to develop the talent you need to fill cloud (or other) skills gaps.

In higher education and looking to move to the cloud? You can use cloud computing to manage operations and student needs more effectively.

Boost retention

74% of technologists plan to leave their current organization within one year, and 47% consider leaving to grow their responsibilities and skill sets. If you provide upskilling opportunities, you’ll boost employee satisfaction and help your top talent stick around. Just be sure to create a psychologically safe environment where technologists feel supported to learn and grow.

Improve public sector cybersecurity

According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, 82% of breaches involved the human element. In other words, the majority of cybersecurity breaches result from human error, like clicking on a phishing email. Upskilling can help you reduce this risk. When all employees (technical and non-technical) gain tech fluency, they’ll be better equipped to spot threats and understand basic cybersecurity measures. And when you upskill your cybersecurity teams, they can proactively defend against ever-changing threats.

How to start upskilling the public sector workforce

According to the 2022 Deloitte-NASCIO Cybersecurity Study, 50% of CISOs say inadequate availability of cybersecurity professionals is a barrier to addressing their state’s cybersecurity challenges. But it can be difficult to solve this talent shortage, especially when you’re navigating government policies, economic uncertainty, and a shifting threat landscape. 

We’ve uncovered the areas where the public sector workforce needs upskilling the most and what steps you can take to get started.

Identify your tech skills gaps

Did you know that only 17% of technologists feel completely confident in their cybersecurity skills? And only 21% feel completely confident in their cloud computing skills? The numbers are even lower for network infrastructure (16%) and DevOps (13%). These are essential skills your technologists need to comply with Zero Trust and other government requirements.

In the public sector industry, some skills gaps are closer to chasms. In fact, 62% of CISOs report that their cybersecurity professionals have a gap in the competencies required to handle existing and foreseeable cybersecurity requirements. But they see a path forward: 97% plan to provide tech skill development programs to fill these gaps.

As you plan your upskilling program, identify your tech team’s core competencies and current skills gaps. What major initiatives do you plan to implement? What laws or executive orders do you need to comply with? This information will help you choose the skills and topics to focus on. When possible, forecast anticipated role and skills gaps for the next three or five years to start upskilling your technologists for future needs.

Establish a budget

In response to an uncertain economy, 65% of tech team executives have been asked to look for cost efficiencies. 72% still plan to increase their investment in tech skill development in 2023.

If possible, allocate funds for upskilling your tech teams in the mission-critical areas you identified. Even if you don’t have complete control over your agency’s budget, setting aside dedicated resources for learning and development will ensure it’s a line item—and a priority.

Invest in immersive learning resources

Technologists say hands-on labs and sandboxes are the most effective option for preparing them to apply new learning. Video content is a great starting point, but it doesn’t allow them to gain practical experience in a risk-free environment. As a result, they may not retain their knowledge or feel confident flexing their new skills on the job.

When you’re selecting learning resources, look beyond on-demand video to immersive experiences, like hands-on labs and virtual or in-person instructor-led training, to ensure you set up your technologists for success.

Consider outsourcing in the interim

Less than half of technologists say they’re available to spend time outside regular work hours to learn new tech skills. Because of this, they need paid learning opportunities during the work week. But upskilling takes time. When public sector employees are learning new skills, their productivity will dip. Outsourcing is one way to ensure you continue to deliver on key objectives in the short-term while your employees develop the critical skills needed for long-term success. 

In fact, 63% of states plan to outsource certain functions to close the skill gap. Just keep in mind that this is a temporary solution—to close the skills gap for good, you need to develop better tech skills in current employees.

Partner with other agencies

When you’re competing for limited talent, your impulse may be to shy away from collaboration with other agencies. But partnering with the competition and comparing approaches to tech skill development will help you find an effective solution faster.

Managing upskilling in the public sector workforce

As agencies continue to work remotely, migrate to the cloud, and handle cybersecurity challenges, upskilling is essential to filling skills gaps, solving the talent shortage, and achieving mission-critical objectives.

Build the public sector teams you need from the talent you have.