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April 26, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 10:46am

Mind the skills gap…. How can the public sector attract and retain top tech talent?

Opinion: The digital skills gap is not just a private sector-only issue, argues Andrew Lawson, UKI MD, Salesforce. Companies must appeal to today's emerging workforce - and it's not just about pay.

By Vinod

One of the key issues facing tech companies today is the ever-growing gap between the demand and supply of tech talent in the UK. In fact, a recent Tech Nation Report indicates that 43 percent of tech companies say skills shortages are limiting growth. Demand for this talent is only set to grow, with our own ‘2016 State of IT Report’ highlighting that almost 70 percent of CIOs are ramping up spending on cloud migration and mobile app development in the next two years.

This certainly isn’t a private sector-only issue either. You only have to look at job boards to see the public sector is struggling with tech recruitment too. Some might argue that with rising private sector salary packages and an image aligned with legacy IT, public sector tech departments are at a disadvantage in terms of attracting the ‘best and brightest.’

Well, I for one disagree. The fact is, public sector organisations can meet the requirements of young talent in ways that many deep-pocketed private sector players cannot.

There’s been a lot of analysis around the emerging workforce, and there’s always one characteristic that sets this generation apart. Millennials (those aged 18 to 34) are generally motivated by more than a hefty pay cheque. They want to feel they are giving back to their communities, and contributing to a greater good. Work, for this generation, isn’t just about earning a crust, and job satisfaction is based on a wide range of factors.

What do I mean? Well consider this: according to research company Achieve, 84 percent of millennials make charitable donations, and 70 percent volunteer. What’s more, according to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Study, among the top factors a candidate weighs up before accepting a job, a ‘sense of meaning from my work’ and ‘the impact it has on society’ both ranked within the top six.

Working in the public sector certainly ticks these boxes. It provides the opportunity to help tackle some of the biggest societal challenges. Think about the need to modernise the healthcare system, digitising to cut costs and improve patient care. Or the importance of a connected transport system in supporting businesses and helping people achieve better work/life balance.

Digitisation can improve the lives of the most vulnerable, improving services and providing access that they never had before. For example, colleagues of mine who work in a local government IT department developed and deployed apps that help social workers in the field provide more impactful support for their clients. They’ve also helped cut down on red tape, creating simple online forms that make it quicker and easier for citizens to access essential services.

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I think it’s important that public sector tech employers clearly highlight these benefits in their quest for top talent. It also strikes me that potential hires, especially millennials are interested in employers that are open to change. With so many public sector IT departments embracing cloud it’s important to demonstrate this – it’s a great sign of your willingness to embrace innovation.

Don’t get me wrong, there are big internal challenges that public sector technology workers face. Grappling with decades-old tech on one hand, and modern, open-source values in the other, is no simple task and not for the faint hearted. Also, breaking down silos and challenging an ingrained culture across an organisation takes tenacity and a strong-will.

But the rewards for those involved in these projects are huge, saving taxpayers millions and improving the lives of citizens in a very tangible way.

The bottom line is that making a difference matters to today’s emerging workforce. And the reality is that tech jobs in the public sector not only represent some of the biggest opportunities in the tech industry to bring about positive change – they are among the most impactful, personally satisfying jobs out there. Full stop. In my opinion, for those looking to woo today’s top young talent, this is not something to be shy about.

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