At a recent PAI Masterclass, Mazars’ Keith McCarthy estimated that in the next five to ten years, some 50% of the current Civil Service workforce will be retired.


So then, there will soon be a push to introduce a generation of workers to the public service in Ireland. The target group, often referred to as “millennials” (those aged between 18 and 35), will need to take on a very particular shape to truly serve the country best.


The workforce we should be working to build, and employee, is T-shaped. T-shaped professionals[i] is a term that is attributed to people with diverse abilities that they can apply to their position. The vertical bar is representative of a deep knowledge of a specific field of expertise. This is the kind of professional that was most-often sought after previously. Now, however, there is a focus on the horizontal bar, which is representative of the varied skills and the ability to work across disciplines and think laterally.


Dr Philip Gardner defines a T-Shaped Professional as someone who can display: “mastery of a discipline, mastery of a system, transdisciplinary knowledge used in the system, mastery of additional systems (as T grows), boundary crossing skills, and ME (knowing who I am and where I want to go)”.[ii] T-Summit, a yearly US conference around the idea of developing and nurturing T-Shaped professionals have created Figure 1 as a way of visualising what is expected of future professionals.


Creativity is key

Throughout the literature on T-shaped people, the idea that one must be creative is prevalent. Along with this, there is a call for students who are trained in “soft skills” areas such as liberal arts. It has been acknowledged that these degree programmes often develop skills in analysis, adaptability, creative thinking, problem-solving, and lateral thinking[iii]. There will always be a need for those trained in harder areas, such as business, law, or STEM fields. However, introducing some of the opportunities for creativity that are present in arts degrees could lead to the production of professionals who not only operate in disciplinary silos, but who can move sideways into other fields, when needed. Dr Loretta Jackson-Hayes suggested, in her 2015 article on the subject,

“imagine how much more innovative students and employees could be if the pool of knowledge from which they draw is wider and deeper. That occurs as the result of a liberal arts education.”[iv]

In March 2011, the late Steve Jobs, one of the co-founders of Apple, announced,

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not alone – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing”.[v]

In Ireland, there is little research being done in this area. However, that is not to say that some of the principles are not being employed in the public sector.


The Irish Case

A 2008 OECD report into the Irish public service acknowledged the progress made in modernising and reforming the sector. It recommended, however, that going forward, “‘is not about changing structures and systems, but is primarily about getting people to think and work outside of institutional boundaries”[vi].


A 2015 IMPACT submission regarding “Developing a New National Skills Strategy for the Period 2015-2025” noted that skills gaps are changeable and predicting future skills gaps is an “imperfect science”. Therefore, IMPACT favour a position of lifelong learning and provision of education and training of employees to fill skills gaps when they arise. That is to say, in a time when the needs of the sector are unclear, it is worth investing in employees to ensure they can cross their T. During the hiring process, it is important to be aware of the candidates who are willing to learn and progress with the needs of the organisation, and candidates who show an ability to move across or into new disciplines.


The workers that will soon fill the places in the public sector must not only be reactive, but adaptive.

In 2015, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was recognised for the development of their “My First 12 Months” scheme, which helps new employees integrate smoothly into the Department. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) Delivery and Reform office noted that the programme had resulted in: “increased retention rates, engagement levels, and skills acquisition within the organisation … [It] set a high standard for nurturing the talents of new staff members in the Civil Service and has influenced and informed approaches in other Government Departments”. It also recognised the transforming of the graduate recruitment and development work done by DPER (in conjunction with the introduction of the Public Appointments Service). It “established a new graduate recruitment and development process to attract high quality graduates into the Civil Service, and further nurtures their skills through a programme of development and training.”[vii]


The Millennial Question

Millennials are Generation Y, and they are starkly different than the baby boomers who came before them. There is troves of research on all of the ways the generations differ. One of the main points is that millennials – having come of age in the midst of the Great Recession and having grown up with technology and globalisation abound – are highly-adaptive and incredibly flexible. The rate at which the society they grew into changed has laid groundwork that is positive in an employment situation. Their technological savvy, their cultural and social awareness, and their need to find work with a purpose means that millennials are the generation that are most-suited to the development of T-Shaped Professionals. So, then, are they generation best-poised to move into the space that will soon open up in the public sector in the coming years.



[i] The first reference to a T-Shaped person, or professional, is attributed to David Guest in his 1991 article in The Independent, “The hunt is on for the Renaissance Man of computing.” (September 17, 1991).

[ii] Gardner, Philip. “T-Shaped Professionals”. Collegiate Employment Research Institute. Webpage. Accessed 05/06/16. Available at <>

[iii] University of Vermont. “Outcomes of a Liberal Arts Education: Transferable Skills”. Available at <>

[iv] Jackson-Hayes, Loretta. “We don’t need more STEM majors. We need more STEM majors with liberal arts training.” The Washington Post. 18 February 2015. Available at <>

[v] As reported in Lehrer, Jonah. “Steve Jobs: “Technology Alone is Not Enough”. The New York Times; New York, October 7 2011. Available at <>

[vi] 267



This article was first published in PAI’s HR Magazine “The Public Professional”.