21st public service: shared vision needed for ‘softer’ skills

A report from the Melbourne School of Government investigates the future of the public service workforce. In the second summary for The Mandarin, a vision of what this future might look like.

2014-12-04_10-36-45While it’s broadly agreed that in the future the work that public servants do will differ from that of the present, there is rather less agreement on what this work will actually comprise and the sorts of skills and competencies that will be required within the public service workforce.

In our previous piece in The Mandarin, we made the case that public services are not ready for change because there is at present a lack of voice from the public service concerning what future public services might look like. In our research we detected a lack of an active voice over what the future might look like and many articulated a concern that public services would become what others demand or allow.

From our research findings we construct one possible vision for the future of the public service workforce. We set this out here not to claim a definitive answer about what the future will look like, but as a way of generating debate around this important issue.

In thinking about the sorts of roles that will be important to public services in the future, one of the common debates relates to the balance of technical versus generalist skills in the public service. In our research we heard that there are too many generalists within current public services. Interestingly, within research carried out in the United Kingdom, the opposite was often argued and a focus on more technical and specialist skills have led to a dearth of some of the softer kinds of skills that are crucial when undergoing significant reform processes such as those presently associated with the austerity-driven changes of the UK public sector.

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