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8 Increased digital competence in the public sector

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Digital competence will become a critical factor for the digital transformation capability of government agencies and their ability to realise benefits from digitalisation.

It is difficult to predict what competence will be needed in future. There has been a shift away from the heavy focus on technology in the 1980s and 1990s via digitalisation in the 2000s, which focused on improving the existing processes by means of digital technology and data. Today the focus is on digital transformation, where digitalisation has a greater impact on the core activities of an agency. Future competence needs are essentially based on having knowledge of how the opportunities that lie in technology can be exploited in the agencies.

Where are we?

Surveys show that managers and employees in both private and public enterprises lack the necessary competence to see and utilise the opportunities provided by technology. Government agencies struggle in taking the next step in the development of more advanced digital services. 16

Statistics Norway’s survey on the use of ICT in the public sector shows that three out of four central government agencies that have attempted to recruit IT specialists in the past year experienced problems. The corresponding figure among the municipalities is 36 per cent (see the figure below). However, there are wide variations in the public sector in terms of how many agencies experience difficulties in recruitment processes. Municipalities with large populations, and central government agencies with many employees, often try to recruit people with a high level of IT competence. An increasing number of central government agencies are also reporting that lack of competence is a large or quite large obstacle to developing digital solutions. In 2019, 36 per cent of the central government agencies reported the lack of competence as a problem. For municipalities, the corresponding figure is 43 per cent. 17

Bar graph

Figur 8.1 Have had problems recruiting ICT specialists

Kilde: Use of ICT in the public sector, Statistics Norway

Increased digital competence is not just about recruitment; it is also about developing the competence of employees and managers. Moreover, it is about developing work processes and a culture that supports digitalisation to the benefit of citizens, voluntary organisations and the business sector. Competence requirements for managers, employees and agencies must be changed if we are to complete the digital transformation. New ways of working require competence in restructuring and change, ever increasing digital skills, and in some cases digital expertise. We need increased and new competence to deliver services and tasks in new and better ways to the users; for example, in connection with developing seamless digital services.

Public sector employees must be able to deal with a working life and a society that are more technology intensive, with high demands for restructuring and lifelong learning. When work processes are automated, many employees will risk losing their work tasks. Competence development and retraining are important initiatives in this context.

Where are we going?

The public sector must adopt a strategic approach to competence development and must focus not only on competence requirements when recruiting and in connection with further and continuing education for employees, but also on how to meet the public sector’s future competence needs. Digital competence can cover everything from IT specialists who can programme or who have procurement competence to general competence in digital tools. It is therefore necessary to develop a separate strategy for digital competence in the public sector.

The Government and the social partners are parties to the Norwegian Strategy for Skills Policy. One of the policy initiatives is to «strengthen and develop digital skills across the workforce to utilise new technology and ensure the successful implementation of new division of labour». The work on developing a strategy for digital competence in the public sector must be seen in the context of the Norwegian Strategy for Skills Policy, other skills development initiatives and sectoral strategies, and the work on the white paper on innovation.

The Government will:

Prepare a strategy for digital competence in the public sector. The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities and other relevant actors will be involved in this work

Footnotes

16.

IT in Practice 2018.

17.

«Public sector struggles with the recruitment of ICT specialists», Use of ICT in the public sector, Statistics Norway, published on 29 April 2019.
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