3 Skills to Help You Keep Your Government Career in the Age of Automation


According to a recent United Kingdom government report, “[a]utomation could replace 250,000 jobs in government over the next 10 to 15 years — with potentially one million more under threat.” There is no comparable US federal government study but, most federal, state, and local government jobs are also at risk of being automated. Essentially, if your government job is routine, follows a well-defined process, and rarely changes, an artificial intelligence (AI) agent could easily replace you.

So, how do you as a government worker, remain irreplaceable? One way is to master these three skills. It will be some time before AI agents can master these skills sufficiently to replace human beings.

Strategic Thinking – One advantage that humans have over AI agents is the ability to find solutions to novel situations. The human advantage for novel solutions is because of how AI agents are created. AI agents use deep learning to think through situations. Deep learning uses massive sets of data from past events to help AI agents to create problem-solving models. Therefore, AI agents are often better at making medical diagnoses and handling insurance claims. As long as there are plenty of data to draw upon, AI agents will excel at learning from experience.

However, in situations with little information to go on or the data is conflicted, AI agents cannot create effective problem-solving models.  This is especially true when dealing with volatile, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUAC) situations. Humans have an innate ability to combine concepts from dissimilar fields to create novel solutions. A classic example is how Philo Farnsworth created the concept of television by reimagining how he plowed a field to the way a cathode ray tube uses scan lines to paint a picture on a screen.

Communication – Chatbots are the newest innovation with Google’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. The chatbots are becoming better at interpreting questions and creating answers. However, chatbots still cannot fully interact with humans who pepper their language with humor and hidden meanings. Put a chatbot into a situation where a behavioral script follows and chatbots excel. Think of how you behave in a restaurant. There is an understood script we all follow such as placing an order, interacting with the server, and paying the bill at the end. Intentions are clear, and interactions follow a common pattern.

Compare the scripted communications to situations where the situation is new, and the script is written as the participants interact. Much of human combines verbal and nonverbal communication. What may seem like a straightforward verbal interaction can be greatly altered by the nonverbal signals surrounding the verbal statements. Improving your skills in oral communication, written communication, and emotional intelligence will give you the edge over AI chatbots.

Teambuilding – One skill not automated is teambuilding. Teams are also the new way to build high-performing organizations. Again, the rise of the VUAC world has compelled the need for organizational agility and quick action. Per General McChrystal, teams and teams of teams are the best way to handle the demands of the VUAC world. A good skill to acquire and refine is the ability to build and lead teams. Even teams of humans and AI agents.

If your government job is routine and dull, it may be a blessing it becomes automated. However, this doesn’t mean you need to lose your job. Automating your job can be the signal you need to upgrade yourself and your skills to find more satisfying work. Use these three skills to propel your government career forward into a better future.

Bill Brantley is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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