With a widening skills gap, ever-shrinking budgets and the Great Resignation in full swing, there are many challenges for the public sector to overcome in the coming months, Multi-skilling could be the solution
As we approach the end of winter, public sector departments are considering what the future holds in terms of staffing and resourcing plans. Out of all these obstacles, for many in the public sector, the greatest of these to conquer is the limited access to necessary digital tools. This, combined with the growing skills shortage, leads to an incredibly challenging work environment. There is simply not enough staff with the right skills, or tools to operate efficiently. But what can organisations realistically do to address this shortfall?
Looking to multi-skilling as a solution
Multi-skilling – the practice of training employees to do a number of different tasks – is a concept that has been around for some time now and is certainly one that has been brought up in relation to resourcing gaps faced by local businesses and governments. The idea has numerous benefits including allowing institutions to streamline their processes, refocus training budgets, and creating employees capable of multiple roles in the event of sickness.
However, to date thought leadership discussions surrounding multi-skilling have focused too much on the organisational impact and not enough on the individual employee. This has created an unnecessary stigma around the topic, when in reality the benefits of this practice are far more widespread than just an employer’s bottom line.
There is a huge opportunity in 2022 to redefine what multi-skilling means and what it can truly offer. Organisations that take a fresh look at this area will be better prepared with the right tools to overcome potential digital skills shortages.
Current and future problems facing local governments
Constantly having to operate despite underfunding and staffing issues, one of the sectors that can gain the most from a multi-skilled workforce is local government.
With government budgets staying so tight, one of the biggest issues this causes is a lack of access to suitable technology for their employees. Without well-ingrained communication tools and platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts, coordinating an efficient workforce in our digital age can become a near-impossible task. Additionally, it’s rare that UK public sector employees have the use of up to date software and hardware, such as tablets and complementary software.
However, even with these issues, local government bodies are still facing a growing demand for their services. The need to maximise existing capacity had never been greater. Thus, it is becoming increasingly more important to provide workers with the necessary skills and tools to carry out their tasks.
It is here that multi-skilling can be incredibly beneficial and can get right to the heart of this matter. Up-skilling staff allows institutions to keep budgets down, while increasing services and end-user satisfaction, all without the costly need of hiring new staff. Instead, existing employees are trained up to flag – or possibly even resolve – other problems themselves. By breaking down the barriers between jobs, communication throughout the entire organisation can become more efficient and streamlined.
In turn, this creates a better overall experience for the general public. With more staff able to handle or advise on multiple issues beyond their core remit, the likelihood of a swift resolution increases. For example, if waste collectors are trained to keep an eye out and flag issues with road maintenance (e.g. potholes), a council can send a repair team notably faster.
Keeping up to date with the digital age
When looking to implement multi-skilling in any workforce, like almost all new work patterns or innovations, the key is utilising the correct, up to date technology. Providing and training staff on individual company mobile devices and solutions is essential to keeping connected on the job and informed about developments. For example, government workers who can use their phones to report incidents, or update job reports, help foster a more streamlined work process.
Benefits of multi-skilling
Traditionally, multi-skilling has been seen as a controversial topic because it is usually positioned in a way that makes employees feel they will be overworked and required to learn multiple skills in addition to their current skill set. But, as we’ve shown it doesn’t have to be that way. And with the right approach, multi-skilling can benefit numerous groups of people:
General Public: Being on the receiving end of local government services, it’s very important that any new initiatives positively impact the general public. Multi-skilling allows governments to streamline services and improve communication across all subsectors, improving the overall customer experience. It also creates more available government representatives with the correct knowledge and skills to help in any given situation.
Employees: One of the greatest benefits of improving the digital skills of a workforce is that it allows employees to access and log information with greater ease, allowing them to focus on their jobs and move away from the red tape. Additionally, by adding to their skillsets, employees are not only provided with a streamlined way of working, helping improve job performance, but the increased training can help with future employment opportunities as their careers progress.
Employers: Lastly, and most commonly recognised, employers can benefit immensely from creating a multi-skilled workforce. For local governments, it allows them to combat a multitude of challenges facing the sector, including lack of funds, understaffed teams, and problems with efficiency. Crucially, it can also help to bolster the reputation of local governments. Being represented by staff with multiple capabilities helps to promote a positive reputation for being smart, responsive and effective.
There is no question that multi-skilling has numerous benefits and many of these are well known, particularly when it comes to the bottom line. However, as we continue to navigate our way through 2022, one focus should, perhaps, be redefining what the practice can really mean for all involved – not just the community, but also the employee.
Managing Director of Public Sector