Council Post: AI And The Future Of Government Work

Council Post: AI And The Future Of Government Work

The government workscape is changing rapidly. This major shift is multifaceted with jobs switching to remote, an overall struggle to fill roles, budget cuts and the automation of many tasks. However, one thing is clear: Government agencies are being forced to do more with less.

People are fleeing the public sector for private-sector jobs. In fact, the number of private-sector jobs has now surpassed its pre-pandemic level. While there are 664,000 fewer people employed in the public sector, about 54% of previous jobs, according to the government jobs report.

Transportation agencies, in particular, have been hit hard by this transition. For example, the Texas Department of Transportation has almost 200 open engineering jobs listed on their website throughout the state, at the time of writing. Caltrans, likewise, has nearly 400 job vacancies, 111 of those being engineering positions. Throughout the country, there are thousands of job vacancies within departments of transportation and many tasks have been left undone.

Likewise, employees want flexibility in their jobs. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more jobs have shifted to remote work, with 35% of job holders working from home full-time, and 23% working from home part-time, according to McKinsey. According to the same article, "87% of workers offered at least some remote work embrace the opportunity and spend an average of three days a week working from home." Flex work is obviously very important to those looking for job opportunities, and it’s time that government agencies embrace this.

Those still in the public sector have been left to navigate tricky waters. With far fewer employees, departments of transportation have been left to deal with the repercussions of massive budget cuts from the pandemic with even less resources than before. While agencies are finally starting to see funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, many of these grants won’t actually be rolled out for quite some time.

Until then, agencies must adapt to these new trends or risk falling behind.

One aspect of this change is the automation of tasks. AI in the workplace has been met with strong opposition as well as support. Either way, automation and AI technologies are here to stay.

Some jobs are already being taken over by AI in the transportation industry, such as the manual roadway inspections. There are technologies being developed that can automate maintenance detection. Some technologies are using AI to create digital twins of our roadways and streamline road repairs. The Federal Highway Administration recently issued a new contract opportunity that calls for AI technologies to help modernize highway systems.

However, as mentioned above, many people oppose this kind of technology, claiming it will cost time and money to implement as well as take away jobs. Given the current landscape of public sector work and an industry-wide inability to fill these roles in the first place, it looks like it’s time to lean into this trend.

Even though the automation of a job like manual inspections seems like a scary thing, it can increase safety, reduce emissions and even create jobs in other areas like repair. Agencies can finally have the time to fix issues, rather than spend time and money finding them.

A massive change like shifting toward an automated future, however, can and will be met with many challenges. Agencies can and should take steps now to prevent and also overcome these challenges.

A key first step is educating the workforce. If employees don't understand the technology that their agency has invested in, then it will be difficult—if not impossible—to implement that technology. Ensuring that employees understand the technical capabilities of automated technologies as well as potential benefits and harms will be a key to success.

Along with AI and automated technologies, governments should also consider how to fully transition from paper to digital in order to streamline and simplify processes. This can create common ground throughout the agency and, in general, updating processes can help ensure the success of innovation, whether agencies use technology or training to accomplish this goal.

In the transportation industry, AI is vital as people shift to working from home. Automated technologies get people out of the field and allow them the opportunity to work remotely, which can increase safety, decrease agencies' liabilities and reduce emissions.

Given the recent trends in the government workscape, departments of transportation and other agencies should explore how to automate jobs that people don’t want as well as how to allow flexibility within the jobs that people do want—all while creating new jobs internally, like innovation and technology positions that can oversee the success of their investments.

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