Public Services > Local Government

Poor digital literacy holds back change projects, local HR leaders say

David Bicknell Published 28 April 2017

40% of HR leaders say the digital knowledge of their front line staff as ‘inadequate’ though the digital literacy of senior managers as improved


Poor digital literacy among front line workers is holding back the progress of change projects and councils must take further steps to address the digital skills deficit among those responsible for delivering services, local government HR leaders say.

The findings of new research conducted among local government HR leaders is included in a new joint report , “Skills for digital change” by Eduserv together with the Public Sector People Manager’s Association (PPMA)

61% of PPMA members surveyed said that their digital skills had improved in the last year. However 66% also admitted they needed to go further in developing a plan to improve digital skills in their organisation.

HR leaders reported digital knowledge had improved among their corporate management team (78%), finance (68%), HR (67%) and IT teams (81%) across the council. However, only a minority reported significant improvements.

Four in ten of the HR leaders said there had been no change in the digital skills of frontline workers and a similar number rated digital literacy of this employee group as “inadequate”, significantly more than any other employee group. 85% of HR leaders said the issue was now holding their organisation back.

51% of councils said they are bridging digital skills gaps by using the support of external specialists while 34% have now created a specific plan to improve digital literacy and 29% are ensuring recruitment and performance reviews explicitly reference digital skills.

Jos Creese, principal analyst for the Eduserv Briefing Programme and author of the report said, “This research shows that although councils are taking significant steps to improve digital skills across their organisations, those responsible for delivering services on the front line are getting left behind on the digital journey in terms of understanding and adoption.

“Digital is about people more than technology so it is vital that councils put their HR teams at the heart of planning, working with IT and digital teams to ensure the right skills and knowledge are in place to ensure digital change projects succeed.”

PPMA president Sue Evans added, “While it is important that HR teams take steps to build digital capability for employees, digital practice in leading councils shows the value of changing expectations of all employees to become digitally competent and to become digitally self-sufficient.

“It is clear that senior leaders in councils need to work closely with HR teams to create a digitally aware culture which will support and sustain their future efforts to deliver a new generation of public services.”

Nadira Hussain, the new head of ICT at the London Borough of Enfield is quoted in the report. She said, "We’re all collective individuals hoping to achieve change, and therefore, it shouldn’t be a ‘them and us’. We have to have a discussion and a clear narrative otherwise change won’t be successful. You’ve got to resource change. You’ve got to share accountability. You’ve got to get it out into the organisation because if you keep it in the centre, nothing will happen – the process of articulation and ownership is essential."

The report's foreword says, "Whilst our research shows clearly that leadership and culture are key ingredients to
a successful digital programme, only 3% of survey respondents rate the digital literacy of council frontline staff as ‘good’.

"All staff must be aware of, involved in and supportive of digital models of service delivery, and this is not universally true. With a growing skills gaps for both digital and technical capability in all organisations and sectors, local government needs to up its game in order to deliver services to citizens in the most effective way. Relying on consultancy and contractors can help, but is not a long-term solution.

Councils must build internal capability if they are to exploit the potential of digital opportunity to transform public services. This is essential, not only to meet the expectations, needs and preferences of citizens, but also to create efficiency, increased productivity, greater service capacity and motived and empowered staff. This is best achieved when HR and IT work as one, as equal partners from the outset."




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