Workforce development

Workforce development means ensuring that capable and effective public workforces are equipped to face new policy challenges and greater uncertainty.


Recruitment systems, continuous learning, internal mobility and career development are all tools that can be used to develop a workforce with the needed skills.  Together, these tools can be part of proactive talent management strategies, to support public servants throughout their careers. Human Resource professionals and line managers have an increasingly important role to play in developing skilled and agile workforces.


Read more below for information on how the OECD and its Members are working to support workforce development in the public service.

Key Issues

Building capable public services involves coordination across various HR functions to integrate recruitment, learning and development and talent management around a common vision for the future of the public service workforce.  The OECD works with Governments to develop skilled and trusted public workforces in the following ways:

  • Recruitment systems can help bring in new skills, but because the public sector is looking for new skills this may mean looking outside traditional candidate pools and developing innovative ways to attract and assess candidates.
  • Learning and development programmes can help improve and develop key skills, as well as adapt prior professional experience to new contexts. The complexity of policy challenges facing public services means that learning and development programmes need to be able to target the right competences, and enable behavioural change.
  • Performance management and incentives, used well, are also a key part of workforce development – for example, through guiding staff toward opportunities to learn new skills or through linking performance with appropriate rewards to motivate skills development and use. Salary is not the only motivating factor in the public sector, but targeted pay increases can be used to develop long-term workforce capacity alongside opportunities for promotion and internal mobility.
  • Integrated talent management strategies: Doing these activities strategically in a way that helps maximise organisational outcomes suggests a need for greater use of talent management practices to structure and align development initiatives. Use of talent management practices vary across the public sector, and HR professionals themselves may be targets for upskilling in order to transition from reactive administration of human resource practices to proactive workforce development.

The second pillar of the Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability calls on governments to invest in public service capability in order to develop an effective and trusted public service, in particular by:


Principle 5: Continuously identifying skills and competencies needed to transform political vision into services which deliver value to society


Principle 6: Attracting and retaining employees with the skills and competencies required from the labour market.


Principle 7: Recruiting, selecting  and promoting 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.



A good starting point for workforce development is to explore the interaction between individual public servants and the environments in which they work. The OECD has developed a framework to help organisations understand how people are influenced by organisational processes and systems, as well as by planning and framework conditions. Originally conceived to help Managing Authorities of European Cohesion Policy funding boost their administrative capacity, the framework below can be used by public organisations to build workforce development capability.   


Click here to read more about how the framework was used in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Poland and Spain.

Workforce development can proceed through a number of stages. The framework below indicates how countries can integrate workforce development considerations into various stages of people management – from determining skills needs and gaps to building fit-for-purpose systems that can get the best out of public servants.

Click here to read the report on building a high-performing civil service, in particular chapter 2. 


The OECD has developed a new composite indicator on the use of proactive practices to attract candidates with needed skills to public service positions. While the indicator does not measure the attractiveness of administrations compared to each other, it does help employers understand what attracts these candidates, and thus position themselves as an employer of choice through a variety of communication channels.


Learning and development is a core part of building workforce capacity. Data from 2019 show that many OECD countries focussed on support and developing senior leaders. 23 countries indicated that online course development was a priority – and this number may be expected to have increased since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Good practices

Germany: The German Federal Administration has developed a comprehensive workforce development strategy building on a variety of research on demographic challenges. Key actions arising from this project include strategic personnel planning and a greater focus on training opportunities. 

EU flag European Union: Ahead of the 2021-2027 programming period for European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), the OECD worked with a pilot group of five Managing Authorities (MAs) of ESIF to diagnose administrative challenges and support targeted capacity-building actions.

United Kingdom: The UK Policy Profession Support Unit in the Cabinet Office aims to create a career path for civil servants involved in policy advising and to assure a level of skill consistency across departments. 

United States: The US White House Fellows Programme is a high-profile recruitment competition designed to attract highly skilled young women and men to serve a one-year term as Presidential Fellow. 


Case studies

Australia: Strategic workforce planning in the Australian Public Service to prepare for current and future needs

The case study focusses on strategic workforce planning in the Australian Public Service (APS) to support organisations in assessing and preparing for current and future needs. The Australian Workforce Strategy ‘Delivering for tomorrow - APS Workforce Strategy 2025’ coupled with the APS Workforce Planning Centre of Excellence programme build a long-term strategic programme of work to strengthen workforce planning in APS agencies and shift it from an operational to a future-focused skill and capability based strategic activity.

Belgium: Moving recruitment online in the Belgian Federal Public Service of Finance

Following the Belgian government’s decision to make telework the norm in the public sector in 2020, the Federal Public Service of Finance initiated a pilot exercise to conduct recruitment online in 2020-21, first for internal mobility and later expanding to selected external vacancies. The e-recruitment process consisted a holistic process from employer branding to candidate assessment and onboarding. 

Israel: Workforce mapping in the Israeli Civil Service to prepare for the Future of Work

The case study focuses on a pilot project on workforce mapping developed by the Israeli Civil Service Commission. The project developed a methodology to identify roles and functions across the civil service at risk of substantial change to due automation, digitalisation, and changing skills requirements. This enables line Ministries and agencies to understand where and how change may affect their workforce. They can then develop more targeted and evidence informed workforce management strategies. 



Further reading

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




Working papers


Public Governance Reviews


Administrative Capacity Building Self-assessment Instrument

The Administrative Capacity Building (ACB) Self-assessment Instrument is designed for use by national and regional Managing Authorities in European Union (EU) Member States. It intends to help the Managing Authorities (MAs) of EU funds under Cohesion Policy better understand their strengths and weakness in terms of administrative and investment management capacities, assess the extent to which their capacity-set supports the effective implementation of their Programme over time, and develop targeted solutions to address capacity gaps.

Although the tool refers to administrations involved in EU funding, the framework can be adapted or used for inspiration by a variety of government levels.

Click here to access the tool