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Skills

The skills and competencies required of public servants are evolving alongside changes in society and technology. The skills required to deal with these changes are increasingly hard to identify and to develop.

Substantive knowledge in specific policy fields will continue to be the building blocks of public service capability. Yet, traditional skills and competencies such as policy analysis and service design, are complemented and transformed by emerging technical skills related to digital, data and innovation.

In addition, transversal behavioural and analytical competences will play an important role in how public service workforces are equipped to deal with policy challenges. Cognitive, social and emotional skills such as the ability to learn, adapt and manage ambiguity will continue to increase in importance across all public service professions.

Governments need to develop the right combination of deep technical expertise and skills to learn quickly and adapt to new circumstances as missions and context evolve.

Read on below to find out more about how the OECD and its members are working to identify and build skilled public sector workforces.

Key Issues

The OECD works with governments to identify and develop emerging public service skills in the following ways:



  • Embedding Digital Skills: All civil servants in a digital government understand the potential for digital, data and technology to better meet the needs of the public.  In addition to these baseline skillsets, a public service will also require investments in digital specialisations, which include a range of IT, design and management professions that work in multidisciplinary teams with policy and service delivery experts to redesign digital services. 
  • Reinforcing cognitive, social and emotional skills and leadership: Cognitive skills underlie and enable learning, creative and critical thinking and problem-solving. Social and emotional skills include peoples’ abilities to develop empathy, cultivate relationships, effectively manage group dynamics, and accept accountability.  These are especially important for developing leaders in an increasingly diverse and multi-disciplinary public service workforce.
  • Developing Global Competence: Most public sector challenges have transboundary and global aspects that require public servants to have some awareness of international activities, practices and processes. Relevant skills might include anticipation and risk management, to prepare for, and address the domestic impacts of global challenges. This also requires skills to influence on the international stage. 

Principle 5 of the Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability calls on governments to continuously identify skills and competencies needed to transform political vision into services that deliver value to society, in particular through:

  • Ensuring an appropriate mix of competencies, managerial skills, and specialised expertise, to reflect the changing nature of work in the public service;
  • Reviewing and updating required skills and competencies periodically, based on input from public servants and citizens, to keep pace with the changing technologies and needs of the society which they serve; and
  • Aligning people management processes with identified skills and competencies.

The following additional principles of the Recommendation are also relevant and may be used as a guide by those wishing to develop capability in the public service:          

Principle 6: Attract and retain employees with the skills and competencies required from the labour market.

Principle 7: Recruit, select and promote candidates through transparent, open and merit-based processes, to guarantee fair and equal treatment.

Principle 8: Develop the necessary skills and competencies by creating a learning culture and environment in the public service.

Principle 9: Assess, reward and recognise performance, talent and initiative.

Frameworks

 

The OECD has developed a skills framework to show how public value can be created through four main channels: policy development in the political sphere, service delivery directly to and with citizens, commissioned delivery through contracted suppliers, and delivery through collaborative partnerships and networks. Each of these may suggest different, although complementary and overlapping, bundles of skills. Each of these skill bundles has three facets – first there is the ‘professional’ side, where substantive knowledge, e.g. of legislation, comes into play. Second is the strategic aspect, which is about applying a skill by taking into account a more long-term and holistic perspective. Finally there is the innovation aspect, which suggests that skills are not static – rather they evolve over time and can help create new ways of doing things to drive public value.

 

The OECD has developed a skills framework to how public value can be created through four main channels: policy development in the political sphere, service delivery directly to and with citizens, commissioned delivery through contracted suppliers, and delivery through collaborative partnerships and networks. Each of these may suggest different, although complementary and overlapping, bundles of skills. Each of these skill bundles has three facets – first there is the ‘professional’ side, where substantive knowledge, e.g. of legislation, comes into play. Second is the strategic aspect, which is about applying a skill by taking into account a more long-term and holistic perspective. Finally there is the innovation aspect, which suggests that skills are not static – rather they evolve over time and can help create new ways of doing things to drive public value.

Data

Governments around the world face difficulties attracting candidates with specific skill sets. These are mostly in technical fields such as data and IT, where public adminsitrations are actively addressing skills gaps through a range of measures.

Good practices

 

Chile: OECD work with the Chilean public administration investigated the different types of skills and abilities that innovators and their managers use to innovate and manage innovation in the public sector.  

Estonia: In 2016, Estonia updated their leadership competency framework to set expectations for the kinds of leaders they wish to attract, select and develop.

New Zealand New Zealand: The Policy Skills Framework (PSF) is a common description of the knowledge, skills and behaviours required of the modern policy professional. Rather than focusing on competencies, the framework outlines the mix of skills policy that practitioners need. 

Spain Spain: The Spanish Institute for Public Sector Innovation introduced a Department of Public Sector Innovation in 2018 to support the institute’s mission to transform the Spanish public administration and better address the needs of citizens through skills development.

Switzerland Switzerland: The competency model of the Swiss federal administration is made of up of 10 competencies grouped under management, personal and social competencies. 

United Kingdom United Kingdom: The United Kingdom has been testing a model that illustrates how generic competency frameworks can be incorporated into more specific SCS positions. 

Case studies

Estonia: Leadership prepared for the challenges of today and the future

This case study uses the experience of Estonia and the Top Civil Service Excellence Centre to explore questions about the future of leadership development in a public sector system. What is the role of continuous development? Who is responsible? How do we measure the results and make it sustainable? How does this link to the overall leadership system and lifecycle (recruitment, development, retention)?

France: Building Capacity to Lead the Digital Transformation: a new mind-set in the French civil service

This case study discusses how France is preparing its senior civil servants to support and steer digital technologies to create public value, namely in the context of France’s strategy for the future of public service, Administration Publique 2022. As the fast pace of digital transformation is placing new expectations on SCS, various French public organisations are piloting initiatives to strengthen SCS capacity to lead the digital transformation. This case study presents some of these initiatives.

Ireland: Building Leadership Capabilities for Innovation in a Digital Government - The case of senior leadership in the Irish Public Service

Ireland intends to boost the innovation culture in its public service organisations and strengthen leadership for empowering innovation. To this end, the Irish Government piloted a learning-oriented workshop developed by the OECD among a group of its senior public service leaders in order to better understand and develop sustainable innovative organisations. This case study is the output of this workshop which brings together existing OECD work on digital transformation, senior public leadership, and core skills for public sector innovation to explore how Ireland’s senior leaders support innovation within their organisations and what interventions could build their capabilities – and the capabilities of their workforce – to drive more innovation.

  Greece: Developing an organisational learning and development plan to build skills in the Managing Authority of the Transport Infrastructure, Environment and Sustainable Development Operational Programme in Greece

The Learning and Development plan was developed by the OECD in collaboration with the Managing Authority of the Transport Infrastructure, Environment and Sustainable Development Operational Programme in Greece (MA). Supported by the European Commission (DG Regio), the OECD worked with the MA in 2018 and 2019 to diagnose administrative bottlenecks to greater absorption of European Structural and Investment Funding (ESIF). This learning and development plan summarises the process and can be used by other administrations wishing to improve competency levels.

 

 

Self-assessment

Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment

This questionnaire was used during an OECD study on Brazil which aimed to help develop and support leadership capabilities for innovation (see also further reading).

Click here to access the tool.

Further reading

A selection of recent reports is available through the OECD iLibrary, many of which provide more context and detail on Skills in the public sector:

 

Reports

 

Working papers

 

Public Governance Reviews