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Even five years ago, the job description for public sector finance staff wasn’t that different than it had been for years and years. Generally speaking, finance organizations needed people with strong accounting skills, rules-based thinking and strict attention to detail. These skills still matter, of course. But public sector finance has changed so much in the digital era that talent profiles must naturally change too.
Minding the skills gap
Accenture’s survey of senior government finance professionals reveals how leaders actually see skills readiness today. Many are concerned. For example, 39 percent say their organizations are currently average or weak when it comes to combining finance data with non-finance data to gain insight. What’s more, 37 percent worry that they don’t have the skills to identify which data sets are likely to generate the most significant value for their organizations.
Finance leaders are focusing on reskilling the current workforce to fill skills gaps like these. Seven in 10 say reskilling is critical to access the capabilities they need now. As the head of finance at a federal government agency in Italy explains, “I’m working with 10 or so of the 50 people in my function, focusing on upskilling them with my personal attention. Over time, this group will pass their learning on, and we will change the culture of the organization.”
The future is calling
Public sector finance leaders are also laser focused on the skills needed in the future. Skills that, at times, are quite unconventional in this arena. Fifty-one percent are prioritizing analytical skills as they recruit graduates and junior staff members in the coming years. In addition, 44 percent are looking for people who can innovate.
Recruiting the public sector finance workforce of the future will be difficult. But as difficult as it will be, retention will be even harder. Junior staff may be attracted to the public sector as a training ground to build their skills. However, retaining these people as they advance will be tricky in highly sought-after skill areas.
Innovation opens doors
In this environment, public sector finance organizations will need new “weapons” in the war for tomorrow’s finance talent. The most powerful one? Innovation. Think of it as a willingness to move away from how things have always been done—whether offering attractive internships or supporting flexible work arrangements and gig-based positions.
Public sector finance functions should also look to source future talent in new ways. One strategy might be engaging with the technology ecosystem to access talent. The stability and scale that large public sector organizations offer could be an attractive proposition to start-ups at the beginning of their maturity curve. Another strategy could be to look at the military as a pipeline. A growing number of states have already begun tapping veterans returning from active eduty for cybertalent positions.
When it comes to building finance skills, the key for leaders is to think about how to retain the right talent and skills base at all levels. It’s about building in a range of incentives and structures to ensure the best people do not move across to the private sector. Expect this to be the “new normal” for years to come as key skills will continue to be in high demand.
In my next post, I’ll discuss a fresh take on back office transformation and what it means to the public sector finance organization. I encourage you to read the survey results in details, and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter if you aren’t already.