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Technology and Public Employment Services (PES) – Freeing staff from routine tasks enables them to focus on more specialized functions, such as working with targeted beneficiaries and undeserved groups

The combined effects of the global pandemic and the general trend of digitalization are pushing public employment services to accelerate their use of innovation to develop and deliver simpler, faster and better services for clients.

This report provides a global overview on how public employment services are approaching technology to improve service delivery, prior to the pandemic and when the COVID-19 crisis was in full swing. From better use of data to more effective service design and accessibility, the report explores the advantages offered by the utilization of long-tested as well as newly introduced technologies. It also analyses the barriers to the effective use of technology in service delivery.

The findings of the report are based on an ILO global survey that was conducted with the support of the World Association of Public Employment Services between May and October 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. In total, 69 public employment services officers in 64 countries from all ILO regions responded to the self-administered questionnaire, voicing the position of their respective national employment service system. To date, this survey is the only global instrument that explores the technological transformation status of the public employment services systems.

What comes through clearly in the global survey findings is that freeing staff from routine tasks enables them to focus on more specialized functions, such as working with targeted beneficiaries and undeserved groups. It is among the top benefits of technology adoption for service delivery cited by respondents. When appropriate strategies for outreach are in place and in-person support is maintained, new technology has the potential to enhance delivery of employment services to populations disadvantaged in their access to digital technology.


Public employment services worldwide responded to the COVID-19 crisis by deploying immediate support to workers, jobseekers and enterprises affected in terms of business shutdowns and job losses. But they also mobilized resources to sustain infrastructure and deliver services remotely and to develop innovative technology-based solutions for employment searching and hiring. The combined effects of the global pandemic and the general trend of digitalization are pushing public employment services to accelerate their use of innovation to develop and deliver simpler, faster and better services for clients. Even prior to the pandemic, technology had become increasingly important for public employment services to modernize. Public employment services officers were looking at technology as a helpful means for expanding service coverage and for introducing automation and faster processes. To explore the state of practice in the public employment services’ use of technology to facilitate service delivery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) designed a global survey prior to the COVID-19 crisis. It was conducted with the support of the World Association of Public Employment Services between May and October 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. In total, 69 public employment services officers in 64 countries from all ILO regions responded to the self-administered questionnaire, voicing the position of their respective national employment service system.
The global survey was designed to identify trends in the use of technology for service delivery and map the opportunities and challenges that public employment services faced when developing and deploying technology- based solutions that responded to the needs of clients in a period of tight public budget and increasingly complex challenges. The following overview summarizes the main findings.

X All public employment services participating in the global survey had digitalized or automated at least one core service using technology by the time the COVID-19 crisis hit. Such services ranged from those involving routine tasks, like the registration of jobseekers and job vacancies or clients’ access to labour market information, to those requiring more specialized processes and technology, including job matching, self-assessment tools, counselling and case management. Automation and digitalization service levels were, however, quite dissimilar across respondents of the global survey.

X Harnessing technology to improve service delivery, however, is not a linear process nor one that occurs in the same manner across countries. Some public employment services were at an early stage of digitalization when they took part in this survey, while others had long adopted a digital-first approach. The survey found that 28 per cent of the responding public employment services had adopted a predominantly technology-based approach to deliver services prior to the pandemic, while 52 per cent had used technology to facilitate the provision of selected services and 20 per cent had a service delivery model favouring face-to-face interactions without excluding technology-supported services.

X Technology has been critical for public employment services to activate, augment and expand support to jobseekers, workers and employers affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Ensuring service delivery during the pandemic-related lockdowns and stay-at-home measures that were implemented would not have been possible without the support of different technology interfaces and digital tools. While there was a clear trend towards a more intense use of technology, face-to-face services were maintained even in countries adopting digital-first policies in order to safeguard equal access for clients with low digital literacy and accessibility or in need of a regular and intense level of support from a job counsellor.

X The survey findings confirm that more intense use of web-based technology is necessary to deliver services. But not all respondents had migrated their full menu of services to online access. At the time of the survey, all public employment services respondents were using web apps and online job portals to facilitate clients’ registration and access to general information. The level of support available to access information or complete registration differed considerably, ranging from one-way transactions in which clients download and print templates, for example, to end-to-end automated processes not requiring the intervention of public employment services staff. The public employment services in upper- and lower-middle-income countries worked amid the pandemic to improve web-based job matching. Nine in ten of the surveyed public employment services continued handling front-desk processes to deliver services over phone through help desk facilities and toll-free numbers after onset of the pandemic. Eight in ten public employment services took advantage of wide-scale brand accessibility via social media to disseminate information on available job vacancies and on job-search support.

X Adopting web-based technology is not enough to facilitate service delivery. There are multiple factors to consider, including the ability to leverage the systems already in use, accessibility by clients through different service touch points, data governance and investment. In all cases, the survey found that technology had been instrumental in boosting performance and expanding service coverage. Public employment services in the high-income economies indicated that improving clients’ experience was a top priority. Instilling transparency via the use of technology was more important for public employment services in upper- and lower-middle-income countries, particularly to build a relationship of trust with their clients. Benefits, however, only materialized when technology and digital tools were part of a service delivery strategy instilling coherence and giving direction to investments in technology. Those public employment services that had balanced technology adoption with internal process improvements and new ways of working were able to adapt quickly during the pandemic. As the recovery period gains traction, they now have a considerable margin for making adjustments.

X Technology and digital tools in particular offer great potential for improved targeting, evidence- based decision-making and faster response times. However, there are core capabilities that public employment services need to secure. Availability and quality of data remain the biggest challenges for the public employment services in emerging economies and in upper- and lower-middle-income countries to scale up their use of digital technology. Transparent data practices, adherence to privacy policies and sound cybersecurity frameworks need prioritizing when developing and implementing technology-based services. Limited infrastructure to support data transmission, insufficient digital-skilled staff and clients’ accessibility to internet connection are inhibiting many of the public employment services in developing countries from going digital.

X Trained and qualified staff are essential for technology to permeate the daily functioning of employment offices. Public employment services need to be staffed with the right set of skills and mindset to drive a client-oriented culture and to balance technology-adoption strategies with internal process improvements. The global survey found that for most public employment services the need to train staff across the delivery chain more frequently remains a critical challenge. Other common challenges in public employment services moving into digital services include overlapping or redundant solutions, processes and siloed teams and communications. An additional critical area for most public employment services is finding the right balance between the optimal level of personal interaction with clients and the degree of automation that would fit clients’ needs and their ability to use or access such services. What comes through clearly in the survey findings is that freeing staff from doing routine tasks so they can focus on more specialized functions, such as working with targeted beneficiaries and undeserved groups, is among the top benefits of technology adoption for service delivery.

X The survey findings also reveal another major transformation taking shape, one based on the use of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies. Artificial intelligence capabilities are still limited for delivering employment services. Only one third of the public employment services responding to the global survey offered this type of solution at the time of the survey, and they were overwhelmingly based in high-income countries. Because of that capacity, clients in those public employment services are now more likely to access individualized support and have a more accurate offer of services based on algorithm-profiling systems and job matching supported by machine-learning technologies. It is expected that these advanced technologies will be widespread in the next decade, pushing public employment services into the next wave of government services digitalization, mainly driven by data analytics. Investments in digital infrastructure, skills and connectivity will become core capacities for a smooth digital transformation of public employment services.

X Overall, public employment services’ modernization goes beyond technology adoption. The survey findings confirm that technology is a vehicle to streamline, automate and improve operations. While technology can be the primary driver of change, good process design adapted to clients’ needs and behaviour are as important. Transforming public employment services using technology, however, implies a renewed organizational culture – from front to back offices – that places clients at the centre of service-delivery strategies.

X Technology offers public employment services, especially in developing countries and emerging economies, the opportunity to leap forward. To make this technological leap sustainable in time, investments in the critical enablers of digitalization are necessary, including skills, data and reliable internet connectivity. The findings from this global survey confirm that progress towards effective public employment services’ digitalization remains fragmented, with an increasing risk to greater digital exclusion for groups already facing vulnerability in the labour market.

X The digital divide makes disparities persist for groups facing disadvantage in the labour market. Public employment services need to ensure that technology-facilitated services are accessible, secure and easy to use for all. Small and medium-sized enterprises with limited internet connectivity and jobseekers with low digital skills or who lack the devices to go online need to be able to use and benefit from digital services, including women, senior workers, at-risk youth, long-term unemployed persons, people living in rural areas and migrant workers. While the COVID-19 crisis is far from over, an increased reliance on digital services is expected for the future. Public employment services migrating to digital technology need to uphold the principles of equal treatment, fairness and social inclusion.

X Digital technology continues to be critical for supporting the economic reactivation, albeit at differing paces. The trend towards digitalization will remain the new normal in the delivery of services to the extent that the COVID-19 crisis and its many transformations remain. It will probably permanently transform the way public employment services operate. The success of the public employment services’ digital transformation, however, is not entirely dependent on state-of-the-art technology. It also is reliant upon making technology work for people. This is one aspect of technological transformation of public services that the ILO strongly promotes.

X Advanced technology still needs a human touch to be responsive and inclusive. The survey findings lead to the conclusion that to remain inclusive, public employment services must consider digitalization strategies that are driven by a human-centred approach. When making decisions on technological investment, public employment services need to reflect on what is important to automate, what artificial intelligence will bring in terms of progress and which delivery channels should be kept in order to best serve clients with low digital skills and limited connectivity.

X For this to be a human-centred transformation, public employment services will need to rely more on increased social dialogue to keep up with the promise of leaving no one behind. Taking social partners and key stakeholders on board is essential to initiatives of technological transformation. The technology infrastructure supporting service delivery is rarely solely developed by public employment services in-house. Public employment services work with software developers and specialized providers in the information and communication technology industry. But there are other partners who make it possible to ensure investment and adopt technological solutions – they include the private sector, non-profit organizations and national and local players. The social partners are necessary actors, and involving them from the beginning and throughout the effort of incorporating technology in service delivery pays off. The social partners, for example, can contribute to removing barriers to digital inclusion and leapfrogging.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @  Global report: Technology adoption in public employment services: Catching up with the future

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