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How to prepare the criminal justice workforce for the future

Emily Littlewood Manager, PwC United Kingdom 20/02/20

The criminal justice sector employs over a quarter of a million people in England and Wales across the public, private and the third sectors. It also plays an essential role in delivering a fairer future for the UK. But this workforce faces a myriad of complex challenges - adopting new ways of working, re-designing services to meet the changing expectations of stakeholders, and confronting the threat posed by criminal use of new technology.

Ultimately these changes will require a more diverse and flexible workforce doing different roles, using different skills, in different places and in different ways. Responding to these demand drivers is made more difficult by supply side challenges - including for example an aging workforce. In the context of an overall tight labour market, other careers can be seen as more lucrative and flexible, in potentially more rewarding and dynamic working environments.

Our global report, New World. New Skills, illustrates how our world of work is rapidly changing. It reveals that one in three jobs is likely to be severely disrupted or disappear in the next decade because of technology change. Alarmingly, we found that UK workers – followed by their Australian counterparts – thought that they were offered the fewest opportunities to upskill. Consequently, only half said they feel well-equipped to use new technologies that are being introduced into the workplace.

What do we mean by Upskilling?

Upskilling is not simply a matter of teaching people how to code or use a new device. It is more speculative about the skills that are needed and gives employees the tools and ability to continuously learn in a digital world.

Upskilling can be a more dynamic way of learning than traditional classroom-based delivery. Individuals create their own learning paths and pick up skills on the go via mobile learning modules.

Typically, an upskilling initiative follows a strategic workforce assessment that identifies which skills will be needed in the future and which are most at risk of disappearing.

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What do we mean by Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP)?

SWP is the proactive, data driven analysis of current workforce supply and future demand to build the capabilities and capacity to achieve an organisation's strategy. It considers options such as recruiting external staff, borrowing staff via secondments, upskilling the existing workforce and rebalancing resources across an organisation.

It can range from a periodic review of resource requirements to a proactive strategy that identifies future workforce risks. There are now several analytical tools that can assist.

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Our UK focused Future of Government - How we work report subsequently explored how government can respond, not only by working with business to develop a national strategy for upskilling, but also by playing a direct role through upskilling its own workforce.

The system must act to prepare its own workforce for a future characterised by automation, artificial intelligence and other technologies that change user expectations, the jobs and roles within the sector as well as the nature of crime itself. 

We suggest four calls to action that organisations can take to better prepare themselves.

Workforce challenges

Demand-side challenges

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Changing nature of crime

New technology combined with globalisation are enabling new types of crime; how can the sector develop the relevant skills and roles (e.g. forensics, data analytics, psychologists) to keep pace with criminals?

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Complex caseload

Staff often deal with large and psychologically confronting caseloads (e.g. child sexual exploitation, modern slavery, mental health issues and abuse); how can the sector maintain the mental health and well-being of its own people?

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Automation and digitalisation

A shift is already underway to move away from paper-based systems to online and automated services; how can organisations maximise the benefits on offer while also supporting and re-orienting staff whose jobs are changing as a result (e.g. HM Courts & Tribunals Service Reform)?

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Changing public perception

To maintain legitimacy, the sector’s workforce must constantly strive to reflect the communities it serves. While the sector has been alive to diversity for many years, real progress in some parts of the system remains slow. In addition, “inclusivity” (which goes beyond just the diverse composition of the workforce) is vital.

Supply-side challenges

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Changing employee expectations

The current generation entering the workforce tends not to look for a “job for life” but often considers multiple careers.The Police are beginning to address this with direct entry routes. How can organisations across Criminal Justice continue to cater to this change in expectations?

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Pay & conditions

There is fierce competition for talent in certain legal, technology, data and general leadership roles which threaten entire sectors of the justice workforce such as criminal defence solicitors, barristers and even judges. How can the sector ensure it continues to attract and retain essential talent and its world-class reputation?

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Retirement waves & other shortages

Some elements of the workforce (e.g. the CPS or judges) are facing retirement waves that require a surge in careful succession planning. There are moves to improve recognition for justice professions (e.g. accreditation for Probation Officers). Additionally, innovative recruitment schemes such as “Unlocked” for Prison Officers are attempts to address staff shortages. Will these moves be enough?

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Workforce composition

The sector still mostly employs full time staff on permanent contracts which does not create a very agile workforce that can rapidly change structure or bring in new skills on a short term basis. How can the sector capitalise on the benefits of mixing permanent, non permanent and an AI resources?

Calls to action

Organisations in the criminal justice system can better prepare themselves to navigate the demand and supply side challenges.

1. Understand your current and future workforce supply

Our research of 22,000 employees has shown that different demographics feel differently about technology and change in general. Understanding the digital confidence and aspirations of your existing workforce is essential when designing solutions. These depend on a number of factors:

  • Age - Younger respondents prefer to develop proficiency in a specific technology while older respondents are keen to build proficiency at adapting to new technologies as they emerge. This type of insight should inform upskilling strategies when, as is the case with the Ministry of Justice for example, 53% of staff are over 40 years old and only 16% are aged under 30.
  • Education - The level of educational attainment impacts people’s optimism about technological change. College and university educated respondents are the most optimistic about technology and their future employment prospects. Fear is greatest where opportunities are fewest. Understanding the educational attainment of your workforce could be an important factor to rolling out a suitable upskilling programme.   
  • Geography - All criminal justice system workforces are geographically spread across the UK, albeit with differences in front, middle and back-office. The Office for National Statistics Report on Automation shows that depending on where you live, you have a different chance of automation impacting your job.  Our research also showed that there was a north south divide with workers in the north less aware that they had to reskill than those in the south. Therefore the communication around upskilling programmes need to take account of this.

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2. Understand required and impacted skills sets

Most criminal justice sector workforces span the frontline (e.g. police, prison officers and probation staff) as well as middle (e.g. customer service centres and case progression) and back office functions (e.g. policy, HR, finance and procurement). The changing nature of work will impact these groups differently. Several analytical tools now exist to identify how different roles will be impacted for particular organisations. We also know a few general trends prevail:

  • Frontline policing or justice workers are, on face value, likely to be at lower risk of pure automation. The human connection will always be valued – from the reassuring police officer to the motivating probation officer. Still, they need to learn to use technology better and to improve their skills in dealing with digital crimes. Some will use technology to augment  human skills for example better and more accessible data and analysis (e.g. machine learning and facial recognition). But equally frontline practitioners will need to develop new skills to deal with online crime or people experiencing trauma induced by digital interactions. Body worn cameras are proving increasingly popular by officers after initial skepticism - could this be used on Prisons to the same effect?
  • Middle and back office tasks are typically considered to be more at risk as technology, such as blockchain, starts to self-resolve contracts or algorithms generate policy suggestions or automate analysis. These scenarios are quickly becoming a reality, for example, the legal profession is already using AI to more efficiently complete due diligence and conduct research.  Bots are also now prevalent in many front and middle office environments and will become ever in their ability to solve.

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3. Prepare a strategic workforce plan and upskilling strategy

By comparing the current workforce picture to future requirements, a strategic workforce plan can be developed that addresses the ‘gaps’ between them. Many leaders in criminal justice we speak to can talk generally about the future of their workforces. But this work is rarely supported by the level of granularity and predictive capability that modern workforce analytics can achieve. We find organisations are typically sitting on a lot more data about their workforce than they realise.

An essential part of a workforce plan is likely to be an upskilling strategy. There are tremendous opportunities to make the ways employees learn more innovative and digital. These methods reduce levels of abstraction and allow frontline staff to complete their chosen learning modules on the go. Again, blended learning (multimodal) has been long accepted as the best way to close capability gaps - however too often responses from organisations or individuals tend to favour classroom teaching.

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4. Invest and act

Our survey found that only a third of workers are given many opportunities to develop digital skills outside their normal duties. With the world of work changing at lightning speed the UK government needs to ensure that it acts now to remain competitive. As a starter consider whether your organisation has:

  • The necessary focus at executive level - Is there the right level of executive support for a business-led workforce agenda?
  • A person on point - Is there someone accountable to ensure the workforce is fit for the future and owns this challenge?
  • The appropriate allocation of funds - Have budgets been allocated to allow for meaningful work to be done on this topic?
  • Laid the foundation for cultural change - Do you have a baseline understanding of your culture?
  • Evaluate Return on Investment - Have you thought how you will measure success?

Maintaining a motivated workforce that can work symbiotically with new technologies will be essential for our society going forward. As government embarks on a first Royal Commission for 20 years to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System, there is an opportunity to consider these workforce challenges and design a system that is future proofed and ready to deliver beyond 2020. This should not be limited to preparing public sector employees, but extend to the 330,000+ people in the prison and probation system in England & Wales alone who would also benefit from upskilling to increase access to future employment opportunities.

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Leading by example

The challenge is no different for PwC ourselves. In an example of drinking our own medicine, PwC has launched a US$3 billion, four-year commitment, the “New World, New Skills” for it’s own workforce - 276,000 people across 157 countries. The goal is not just to make our own workforce fit for the future, but also to impact millions of people through PwC’s network of clients and the work we do in the communities we operate in. Employees of all levels will learn specialist skills in data analytics, robotics, process automation and AI.

Contact us

Andy Key

Andy Key

Home Affairs Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7720 270761

Franzi Hasford

Franzi Hasford

Justice Lead, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7483 407403

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