Most people associate employment and job growth with the private sector. However, the public or government sector employs over 23 million people in the United States, which accounts for approximately 15 percent of the workforce. Public sector jobs are divided into federal, state, and local government jobs, with local government jobs accounting for more than six out of every ten public sector employment opportunities.
Over the past few decades, the jobs associated with the public sector have remained relatively consistent and unchanging. According to one recent study, public employees are concentrated in education (52 percent); health, housing and welfare (14 percent); and public safety (12 percent). Despite the fact that the “types” of public sector jobs has stayed consistent over the years, the impact of technology is causing modifications. The digital and technological transformation for our economy is drastically changing the way we live. As with all sectors of the economy, public sector jobs will be affected technological advancements and innovations.
The Irrational Fear of Automation
According to the 2017 Global Future of Work Survey, business leaders from around the world expect that 17 percent of work will be automated by 2020. In an increasingly competitive world economy, businesses are obviously looking for ways to cut costs and increase profitability. Automating certain jobs and tasks can help companies save money. This is partly why the Robotics Processing Automation (RPA) software industry is expected to be worth $3.1 billion by 2019 and $4.9 billion by 2020. From the vantage point of the public sector, automating certain jobs and services can cut back on local government budgets and subsequently allow for better fiscal investment which can allow for more transparent government spending.
While some jobs in the public sector will certainly be affected by automation, the digitalization of services can also free up money for other public sector employment. The example of toll booths offers an interesting example.
Just two decades ago, thousands of people across the country were employed as toll booth collectors. These jobs were relatively low paying and offered a monotonous, low skill job environment. Today, however, the vast majority of local, state, and federal government agencies responsible for roads, collect tolls through electronic toll collection (ETC). These automated toll collection services eliminate traffic delays on toll roads, cut back on productivity losses due to time lost in traffic, and improve urban air quality by cutting back on gasoline emissions. On the other hand, electronic toll collection services did lead to a loss of thousands of public sector jobs.
Electronic tolls have been shown to be the cheapest way to raise funds to support public highways. By reducing employment of human toll collectors, local, state, and federal governments have been able to increase revenue for continually improving road networks. This has freed up funds that can be invested in construction jobs, which pay much better.
The automation of thousands of public sector jobs should not be seen as a threat to employment, but rather as an opportunity for different levels of government to increase transparency and sound fiscal management. This in turn will lead to the development of different public sector jobs that have the opportunity to offer better salaries while improving the efficiency of public services.
The Growth of High Tech Jobs
Governments have a responsibility to transparently invest public funds while also keeping the public secure, and technological innovations can allow them to do that better. Recent tech developments such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are progressively being used by governments to improve the efficiency of the services they offer. For example, blockchain technologies can allow government to keep important and vital records protected and confidential within a secure ledger. For example, Alibaba, the Chinese multinational conglomerate holding company specializing in e-commerce, retail, Internet, and technology, has recently partnered with the Chinese city of Changzhou to secure healthcare data over a blockchain.
Similarly, the Las Vegas Health Department recently utilized artificial intelligence (AI) technology to improve their restaurant testing. Through the use of Big Data and machine learning, the Department was able to search through hundreds of thousands of social media mentions of restaurants in their jurisdiction. This subsequently allowed them to “fine-tune” the selection of restaurants to inspect. Instead of random tests of different restaurants, the information provided by consumers via social media allowed the Department to detect potential problems in the restaurant industry. According to one analysis, the result of this use of artificial intelligence was “an increase in citations, 9,000 fewer cases of food poisoning, and over 500 less food poisoning related hospital admissions over that period.”
Reliance on progressive technologies such as advanced robotics, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will only continue to advance in the government sector. This will lead to a sustained growth in high tech jobs within the public sector. While technology can replace manual labor and tasks, it also creates demand for more high tech employment. Furthermore, due to justified citizen privacy and confidentiality concerns, we will also most likely see an increase in public sector jobs associated with ensuring and preserving the confidentiality of private information.
Fundamental Transformation in Public Sector Jobs
While the private sector is continually trying to transform itself to stay competitive in a changing economy, the public sector often gets bogged down in bureaucratic policies related to workforce management. Unfortunately, many publicly funded agencies and organizations continue to rely on decades-old employment policies and human resource management tactics. Visit your local post office and you will probably see employees still using the same time punch card that has been used since the 1980s.
Government agencies, however, are engaged in work that is related to society´s most pressing challenges. Attempting to engage in that work while managing employees with tactics and approaches from the past millennium is contradictory to say the least. The modernization of public sector jobs will allow the government to recruit more talented employees while reducing delays associated with bureaucratic policies. For example, government agencies can rely on advanced employee time and attendance software to automate manual workforce management processes, minimize compliance risk and ensure payroll accuracy across multiple departments and locations.
Innovative technologies will certainly continue to transform the world we live in. Jobs in the government and public sector, like all elements of our society, will be affected, though new technologies can offer benefits both to public employees and the general public.