Before the baby boomers retire and take their institutional knowledge with them, agencies should invest in cloud-based systems that will improve efficiency and attract a younger workforce.
There is an under-appreciated natural disaster headed for the public sector: a silver tsunami.
Named for the upcoming period when the baby boomers retire en masse, the silver tsunami will hit the public sector hard. A 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that 20% of the justice, public order and safety activities workforce is 55 or over. That means at least one out of five of these workers can retire in the next 10 years.
These aren’t entry-level workers. They’re the organizational memory for many government offices—veterans in a workplace that relies on their skills and experience to avoid emergencies and help those affected by them.
Further, workers want to be part of the federal or local government labor force. Many millennials have even chosen to avoid those jobs entirely, leaving the public sector with labor shortages it can’t fill. Agency offices and institutions will find themselves short-staffed and may even curtail services.
But with new technology, government can cover the gaps, be more efficient than ever and maybe even help draw new innovation-driven workers to public service. Let’s explore what new technology can do to help overcome the silver tsunami.
New tech overcomes inefficiencies of legacy systems
In my experience, public safety tech changes every two to three decades. This means most offices—from government accounting offices to police stations—are probably running software from the early 2000s or even the ‘90s. Many of these systems are failing, and vendors are unable to support old installations.
These fragmented, legacy systems often contain inefficiencies and bugs that can’t easily be fixed when resolving one issue will create three others. When systems fail—and they do fail—they can take days to come back online. One of the worst-case scenarios government can face is a system crash in the midst of a crisis, like a natural disaster.
Interconnected, cloud-based systems give the public sector much-needed superpowers: efficiency and intelligence. With new technologies, one employee can achieve the productivity gains of 1.4 workers. When the silver tsunami hits full force, government will need all the help it can get.
Tech helps attract younger workers
Here’s another downside of older tech: Younger employees don’t want to use outdated systems that are woefully slow and exasperatingly complex.
Millennials and Gen Z workers that do commit to public service aren’t interested in sitting at desks and pushing paper in a slow-moving bureaucracy. Every second waiting for a page to load is a moment that could be spent helping someone and making an impact. Times have changed and the old IT systems—built to replace pens, paper and filing cabinets—need the same refresh agencies got when cell phones replaced landlines.
An added bonus: Running systems in the cloud makes it far easier to iterate and improve on software and methodologies, increasing staff and citizen satisfaction. Employees will not be inconvenienced by constant glitching and buffering, and citizens who won’t have to wait weeks to get assistance. New technology builds a more attractive workplace for future talent.
Tech helps overcome the learning curve
When the public sector loses its senior workers, there is another huge cost: the mass exodus of institutional knowledge. People with decades of wisdom around government processes and systems take that knowledge with them when they leave. With much less experience and training, younger workers scramble to fill the gaps, crippling efficiency and creating new issues.
But with new technology and training modules, less experienced employees can level up their knowledge and learn the needed skills in much less time. This way, staff and front-line professionals can spend more time serving their communities with the necessary skills and knowledge they need. It means the learning curve can’t—and won’t—affect employee efficiency.
The silver tsunami is coming. But with a little investment, we can turn a huge potential problem into an opportunity for growth. With new technology, baby boomers and millennials can work together to springboard the public sector into the 21st century before the silver tsunami hits.
Mike Mattson is chief growth officer at SOMA Global.