Digital skills: The key to public sector success

remote work
© Kittichai Boonpong

Graham Hunter, VP of Skills at CompTIA, explains why it is crucial that governments encourage and enable flexible learning and certifications in order to thrive in the new world of remote work

As restrictions ease and many firms start returning to offices, it’s likely that we’ve now reached the end of a five-day week as the status quo and will instead see a blend of home and office working. As companies continue trying to determine the best working policies for them, this transition period gives us the opportunity to step back and assess whether the critical measures they have taken to “keep business running” are sustainable and whether staff are confident enough to maintain and operate “hybrid” environments for the foreseeable future. There is no embarrassment in admitting that processes or technologies may not have followed typical roll-out plans given the circumstances.

The changing IT remit

While we build for the future it is also a great time to build IT teams’ capabilities, equipping staff with the ‘hybrid skills’ needed for the ‘hybrid workplace’.

This shift to remote working happened so quickly that the increased support needed from IT teams has largely been taken for granted, despite its essential nature. However, a failure to appreciate and act on the need for critical IT skills within technical teams runs the risk of allowing cybercriminals to exploit public sector departments’ infrastructure. Given that virtual environments are significantly more vulnerable to cyber-attack, IT staff must ensure they have skill sets that enable them to service, set up and secure both office and remote working environments.

This is something we’ve seen many times before (and without proper precautions being taken, may see again), most notably in the NHS WannaCry ransomware attack, in which ransomware targeted computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system by encrypting data and then demanding a ransom. The attack had devastating effects; some NHS services had to turn away non-critical emergencies, and some ambulances were even diverted. Not only that but financial losses from the attack were said to have totalled nearly £3 billion.

The rise in remote working brings with it a larger number of potential security risks for IT teams to contend with, which can in turn be hugely costly for organisations of all sizes. Now more than ever, leaders and decision makers in the public sector should work to implement extra training to protect against and mitigate growing cyber threats.

Upskilling and reskilling through learning pathways

To address any skills gaps, organisations need to first understand and build foundational skills within their IT teams. These are essential and without them specialist advancements such as virtualisation and cybersecurity would not be possible. For example, it might be the case that skills already exist within the team, meaning with minimal additional training there is no need to recruit externally for new roles.

Sadly, budget allowance for training and certification is often pushed to the back of the queue. Instead, the need to upgrade or replace hardware and implement new software, which promises to be more secure and increase efficiency, takes priority. However, this new technology cannot truly show its worth if staff lack confidence in using it because of a lack of training. This is something we hear a lot from teams with newly-instated cloud platforms.

Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to upskill and reskill existing employees as well as nurture young talent. Too many people still believe these qualifications are only for young people fresh out of school. However, apprenticeships are accessible to anyone and allow companies to upskill existing staff wanting to level up or transition their skillsets. Apprenticeships that are mapped to industry certifications also rubber-stamp more specific technical skills. To support the nurturing of talent the UK government now offers businesses grants of up to £3,000 for doing so.

Learning pathways are an incredibly popular way to initiate training for teams with varying skill levels, filtering training and certifications by experience and existing skillsets. Training plans aren’t linear and can be designed to address the skills of individuals at any point in their careers. If hiring managers embrace and understand the range and value of IT skills that certifications and apprenticeships can bring, public sector organisations can better understand candidates’ skills, making the recruitment process more efficient and effective.

For example, seeing that a candidate has a vendor-neutral certification such as the CompTIA A+ or Cloud+ certification ensures they have a broad spectrum of skills, regardless of the technology brand in use. What’s more, because it is regularly refreshed by people managing those in this job it aligns with how the role has and is evolving as new technologies are introduced and supported.

The benefits of taking this time to reassess IT teams’ digital skillsets will play a pivotal role in helping businesses move forward in the new world of work, confident they are fully equipped to adapt to whatever that ‘new normal’ might be.


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