The Future of Government Jobs: No two fields will be the same

This article is the third in a three-part series on the future of the state and local government workforce. You can find the second article in the series here.

Can anyone predict with certainty the exact nature of the public sector workforce in the years to come? No. This would require predicting many unpredictable variables, including the future capacity of technology, demographic shifts in the population as a whole, and emerging services that governments will need to provide.

The only sure thing is this: no field will be the same in ten years as it is today. “I can’t think of one that won’t change,” says Jennifer Fairweather, director of human resources in Jefferson County, Colorado and president of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources.

But even though the crystal balls are cloudy or cracked, some shapes from the future are beginning to emerge and we have been able to identify a few of them.

New roles in finance, technology and administration

With advances in automation, entry-level and higher-level jobs in finance are already less focused on data entry and transactional processing and more focused on analytics and compliance.

At the top echelon of finance stores, roles also change. Local governments are increasingly looking to fund civil servants as organizational leaders, not as civil servants whose working lives are filled with numbers.

Recently, the Government Finance Officers Association surveyed its community of finance officers about the most important leadership skills for people in these positions. The answer: Work collaboratively, build teams and communicate skillfully. “It was less about technical knowledge of accounting, budgeting or cash flow,” says Mike Mucha, GFOA’s deputy executive director.

He notes that the GFOA has recently focused on combining leadership training with basic financial skills and has developed a collaborative leadership framework. The resources are designed to help provide strategies to improve communication skills, use tools to bridge polarized environments, and apply behavioral science concepts to help with budget decision-making.

The same themes arise in IT services. “There’s been a shift toward the CIO as a business leader,” says Doug Robinson, longtime executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, which publishes an annual survey of state CIOs. his members.

In October 2022, when NASCIO released its latest annual membership survey, the top three attributes CIOs identified as critical to their success were strategist, communicator, and relationship manager, while “technologist” ranked ninth.

In other administrative areas, such as HR, insurance, regulators, and licensing, states and localities are also experiencing expanded roles, reduced silos, a focus on customer service, and relationship building, and a shift away from routine jobs. “Technology is doing it for you now,” says Casey Osterkamp, ​​Missouri personnel division manager. “Instead of being transactional, team members need to problem solve, think, implement and work to be business partners.”

In the first line

Some observers have argued that the jobs least likely to change are those that cannot be done in an office, including many police and fire departments.

But that’s too simplistic. The changing role of people working for police services is well documented. For example, according to a August report by The Marshall Project“At the local level, many departments are experimenting with new approaches like alternative response programs that send unarmed counselors or social workers to certain calls.”

Similarly, significant changes are taking place in the fire services. The types of people who are inclined to become firefighters will inevitably change as the nature of the jobs they do evolve. “While the estimated number of fires has been reduced by nearly half, there were almost five times more medical aid or rescue interventions in 2020 than in 1980,” according to the 2020 US Fire Department Profilewhich was published by the National Fire Protection Association in September.

Additionally, many “firefighter jobs have become more administrative, with a deepening of technical and engineering expertise,” says Anita McGahan, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. This means that people who might have entered the fire service to save heroic lives may be disappointed with the reality of the jobs. “Firefighters’ intrinsic motivation to save lives can wear themselves out,” says McGahan.

Broaden the base

The shortage of a diverse pool of skilled and interested workers had become a headache in a wide variety of public sector fields at least five years before the pandemic. This has led to many jobs shifting from full-time government employees to contractors, part-time workers and private sector partnerships.

Equally important is the transformation of many specialist jobs, which operate like cogs in a giant service delivery machine, into people who can move between functions, providing more flexibility for their supervisors. and potentially a more efficient workforce.

In Johnson County, Kansas, Real Estate Appraisal Office, for example, Chief Real Estate Appraiser Beau Boisvert recently reorganized his office to replace specialized real estate appraisal roles with generalists, who have access to training and the ability to grow within the organization in a defined career. scale as they now learn to manage different types of assets.

This hitherto uncommon approach, which Boisvert saw working well in Maricopa County, Arizona, where he worked, reverses the trend, beginning in the late 20th century, toward more specialized roles in the field of property valuation. A high level of specialization is no longer practical, says Boisvert.

How did its staff react to the change? A few specialists who liked to deal exclusively with commercial real estate or offices left because they did not want to be generalists. But the majority have adapted to the reorganisation, which also includes a regional approach. Now the Johnson County Probation Service has explored a similar system because they believe it could work for them as well.

Pros: Boisvert can more easily move employees to deal with sick leave or turnover and employees no longer have to wait for a promotion until a position becomes available, but can move to a position and higher salary after being trained and qualifying to move from an Evaluator 1 to an Evaluator 2 or, subsequently, to an Evaluator 3 – a major selling point given employees’ desire for career advancement and the public sector’s difficulty in competing on salaries.

Customer service in a distant world

Using automation to deliver services is still in its infancy, but progress is coming fast and signs of change are hard to miss.

“When we had to work remotely, that really spurred the Department of Motor Vehicles to come up with apps and ways to automate DMV functions,” says Madilyn Zike, Oregon’s human resources manager. “You can log in now and renew your registration. You can renew all kinds of things that you would have had to go to the DMV office for before.

She does not expect these changes to reduce jobs, but to improve service to customers. When automation allows public employees to focus more on communication and service delivery, “I just think people are able to get things (done) more efficiently and certainly faster than they have done in the past,” she said.

Melody DeBussey, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Social Services Family Independence Office had a similar reaction. “We hope that if we do some of the manual and data entry elements of our jobs, the case management and human service component will increase,” she says.

Consider, for example, a pilot study involving the Federal Food and Nutrition Service in which Georgia and several other states introduced “robotic process automation” to their human service departments.

Georgia’s pilot began in October 2020, with the department now using multiple “bots” that run continuously to sift through forms, find conflicting information, and reduce caseworker data entry regarding eligibility issues . These bots collect information much faster than employees can, focusing workers on complex issues that require more exploration and complex explanations.

There could have been a danger in entrusting the design of this technology to people who understand software and hardware, but not people. But Georgia’s robotic process automation blueprint, which is now also used for Medicaid and other human services programs, was designed by a team of social workers who then worked with the technology department to code it. and deploy it.

“The team that runs this technology is all social workers,” DeBussey says. “It’s not the technology team that tells social workers how to run their business. It is the social workers who tell the technology team how to serve the social workers to help them serve the public. »

About Jefferey G. Cannon

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