The 21st public service: are we ready for the change needed?

A report from the Melbourne School of Government investigates the future of the public service workforce. In the first summary for The Mandarin, a warning the sector isn’t ready for change.


It has been widely argued that we are at the frontier of significant changes to the shape and nature of public services. Alongside this we are also witnessing major changes in the organisation of work. Taken together these developments could transform the activities the public service workforce undertakes and the way in which it operates.

As we have previously argued in The Mandarin, whilst the diagnosis of the challenges that public services face is generally shared, there is little detail about what the future public service workforce might look like. For some time it has been suggested that in the future the public service workforce will be smaller and focused primarily on policy development. This is a significant shift from the current context where most public servants are in service delivery related roles.

This presents difficulties to workforce planners in terms of identifying and securing the right skill sets. A further challenge that results from this shift is how public service workers will demonstrate their distinctiveness in the future and what their claims to legitimacy will be. With a change in function, public servants will find themselves needing to distinguish their work from that of others in different sorts of ways.

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