Blog Post

The Future of Work in the Public Sector

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Digital government can potentially bring about massive and positive changes to its citizens. Digitization of processes will create a quicker and more satisfying citizen experience while reducing costs.

According to E&Y’s 2022 Tech Horizon Survey, 79% of government leaders surveyed agreed that their culture needs to change to benefit from this digital transformation.

E&Y believes that there are four major areas that the public sector should be addressing in the future to create a citizen-centric workforce:

  • Dynamic Workforce Planning
  • Digital Capabilities
  • Digital Leadership and Culture
  • Compelling Employee Experiences

While this is a time of exciting new possibilities and advancements for society, it is also a key time in which organizations and governments could fail to adapt to the new technologies and ways of working and functioning, which will have downstream impacts on society, such as security, inequality and even societies possibly fragmenting.

At the time this article was written, other key external forces driving the future of work includes the rapid acceleration and adoption of remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, four generations converging in the workplace at one time, “quiet quitting” coupled with the “Great Resignation,” and in the US inflation, massive wage hikes.

While some agencies have been behind the curve in implementing modern talent management and people practices, others are leading the way and embracing new and creative ways to handle current workforce challenges. One of the major challenges facing the community at large and the public sector is a massive shortage of teachers that skyrocketed with the onset of COVID-19. For example, states like Florida, Virginia, and many others have implemented innovative ways to recruit teachers, given the massive shortage.

Current State

State and local governments are the lynchpins to delivering critical services that we often take for granted as civilians. They operate our core infrastructure – city buses, trains, housing assistance, healthcare, public safety, education, etc.

However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the state and local government workforce has suffered the worst comeback of job losses after the pandemic, with fewer than 390,000 people employed compared with pre-pandemic numbers (comparing Sept 2019 to Sept 2022). State and local governments were already operating below capacity before the pandemic and have been much slower to recover than the private sector.

Series Id: CES9093000001

Seasonally Adjusted

Series Title: All employees, thousands, local government, seasonally adjusted

Super Sector: Government

Industry: Local government

NAICS Code: -


It comes as no surprise that most of this job loss impacted women generally and, even more disproportionately, women of color. According to the Center for American Progress, local and state governments are staffed 60% by women, and over half of those are women of color.

The top five job losses for local government are:

  • Office clerks, general administrative
  • Lawyers, judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers
  • Sheriffs, bailiffs, correctional officers, and jailers
  • Construction equipment operators, except paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators
  • Recreation and fitness workers

While the top five job losses for state government are:

  1. Computer scientists, systems analysts, network systems, web developers
  2. Sheriffs, bailiffs, correctional officers, jailers
  3. Secondary school teachers
  4. Court, municipal, and license clerks
  5. Security guards and gambling surveillance officers

Traditionally, public sector jobs offer a strong recruitment and retention tool by offering better benefits, such as a pension, over the private sector. However, some of the public sector roles lag behind the private sector in pay and benefits. For example, a computer scientist in a public sector role, on average, is being paid $36.78/hr. compared to the private sector at $45.78/hr.

To maintain the public safety and stability of Americans, now is the time for the public sector to invest in creative and progressive strategies to recruit, reskill, and retain workers who have different expectations than they have in the past.

Today and Tomorrow’s Workforce
What does the world of work look like for state and local governments in the future? There are three key areas for you to examine as an HR executive or professional in the public sector.

#1: The “Gig” Workforce

The IRS defines the gig economy as “an activity where people earn income providing on-demand work, services, or goods.”A gig worker is what we know as an independent contractor. The introduction of Uber and the Upwork online gig job platform spearheaded a new generation of workers who prefer to be their own boss and determine when and where they want to work.

It is probable that many of your existing employees, especially those comfortable with technology, are probably already doing gig jobs and leveraging the platform Upwork to supplement their income.

In the past, employers in the private sector have had strict policies about doing “side work” that conflicts with a person’s day job; many employers are rethinking their stance and being more open to this, so long as it doesn’t compete with their own business.

When thinking about your current vacancies, it’s imperative to rethink rather or not these absolutely need to be a W2 employee or if your agency can leverage a “Gig” worker. That doesn’t mean the job has to be part-time or casual.

Would your hiring managers be willing to consider giving more autonomy to the position so that you can compete with the private sector?

As shown by research, the public sector has traditionally been composed of women who, despite social advances, still have primary caregiving responsibilities that compete with their ability to work a traditional on-site 9:00 am - 5:00 pm job.

To get started with this, take inventory of your open positions and meet with each hiring manager to drill down on what skills and qualifications are essential, including higher education, and if the role can be filled through a contractor or Gig worker. Leverage online gig job platforms to search for people in the market who are looking for these types of roles.

Think of Gig Work Like Project Work

Similar to a “gig worker” is internal gig work. What do we mean by this?

A Deloitte article cites, “the notion of one worker, assigned to one agency, to carry out a particular set of responsibilities for years on end, maybe as outdated as the notion of one software application running on a workstation on one person’s desk.”

The future of work includes talent mobility and flexibility. As people grow their skills and capabilities, they can be tapped into for certain tasks, assignments, or projects that are not infinite in length.

This leads us to the next trend, which is why people are choosing to be Gig workers, which is remote work.

#2: Remote & Hybrid Work

We all weren’t sure what would happen after things resumed to some normalcy post-COVID-19. People were waiting to see if employers would require them to come back onsite. After two years since the first vaccine was administered, it is clear that remote and hybrid work is here to stay. Most employers in the private sector did not mandate that employees return to onsite work five days a week.

While it is true that not all positions in the public sector can be done remotely, there are still opportunities to reconsider how a job should be designed around maximum flexibility. Some companies in the private sector are testing out a 4-day work week. Could that be our norm in the future?

It is critical that public sector leaders, if they haven’t already, start redesigning and rethinking positions within their agencies to be either fully remote, hybrid, or shift work (i.e., 4-day work week) to attract talent in the market that is now expecting those work options as being the new norm. A Florida-based Chick-fil-A owner launched a 3-day/40-hour work week in February to attract more FTEs. He co-designed the program with managers, and in the first week of posting the new shifts, he received 429 job applications. He also reports better than average industry retention due to better work/life balance for his employees and managers.

#3: Skill Transformation

An article published by Deloitte in February 2019, entitled “The future of work in government,” highlights the transformation of skills required for future government jobs. “Enabled by technology, the government will increasingly make use of more varied work arrangements, accessing a more diverse pool of skills and capabilities, both inside and outside of the organization.”

Automation will create more efficient, faster, and cheaper service and allow employees to focus on higher value-added activities, but it will require employees to be trained and proficient in using software technologies and interpreting data and reporting to drive such efficiencies.

A transportation manager of the future who oversees a city’s autonomously run transportation system. The manager is looking for anomalies and suggestions to optimize the system.

A teacher can support multiple classrooms in different geographic locations through a virtual reality classroom.

Citizens can log into one state portal and access all records related to them (Birth Certificates, Divorces, Marriage Licenses) through biometric identification.

Cornerstone’s research shows 5 out of 10 of the top skills identified are technology-based and are going unfilled within state governments.

Skill Development

Next Generation Apprenticeships & Bootcamps

Apprenticeships offer a blend of learning and on-the-job training, and real-world work experience. Hard-to-fill technology positions are ripe for apprenticeships, including existing employees that need to be reskilled, where agencies can use a boot camp training style to teach existing employees critical skills of the future.

In 2017, AT&T upskilled its existing workforce by retraining over 100,000 employees to be ready for future jobs. AT&T was preparing to transform from a hardware company to a software and data company. The initiative was branded Workforce 2020.

During a reskilling and apprenticeship, employees may not be highly proficient from day one; but they are skilled enough to be assigned to a project and start immediately building on what they have learned. Internal apprenticeships also offer employees the comfort and security that comes from working alongside of a mentor or trainer. Reducing the anxiety and stress associated with a job change or change in roles and tasks.

Reskilling is much more cost-effective than going to the market to find someone with skills, especially when those skills are already in high demand. Can the same model be leveraged for high school graduates, veterans, and those desiring a career change?

Future of Learning

If skill transformation is the heart of tomorrow’s workforce, then development must be prioritized and scaled at an unprecedented level than we have seen in the past.

The public sector has been stuck in a traditional seniority-based approach to career development and career movement. Yet, the workforce of the future has a different set of expectations and timelines when it comes to advancing their careers.

According to E&Y’s study, “Learning will soon become the new dollar. More important in the value proposition for employees maybe even than their compensation and benefits” – Samir Bedi, EY Asean Workforce Advisory Leader.

Self-Service & Customized Learning

Cornerstone believes that the future of employee development will be like how we, as citizens and consumers, currently consume other types of information and media in our lives – on-demand and customized to our preferences.

Cornerstone’s new Talent Experience Platform is designed to be the “Netflix” of learning for the workforce. Providing self-service capabilities to the workforce while at the same time using AI to customize learning and steer the learner towards content that is best suited to their preference and developmental opportunities.

The public sector is critical to American citizens, the economy, and the social structure. Our nation depends on a well-trained, competent, and ready public workforce to educate our future workforce, provide transportation services, and protect and secure us.

Public sector professionals responsible for talent management should start acting now to address these key three areas of the future of work. Determine which ones are a top priority and how you can start having conversations with leaders in your organization or agency to be proactive about recruiting, developing, and retaining the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Author: Cheryl Paxton-Hughes
Principal, Thought Leadership and Advisory Services

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Remaking Work for a New World: 2024 HR Predictions


Remaking Work for a New World: 2024 HR Predictions

How well is your organization managing today’s rapid, unabated rate of change? According to employees, 41% don’t believe they have what they need to develop their skills, while 59% are on the lookout for more career guidance. So, it has never been more important for HR leaders to stay current with the latest trends and understand what they mean for their people and organization. Yet, more than 60% of organizations aren’t leveraging AI technology to optimize their talent programs.

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