Workforce opportunities and challenges

In this section:

Improving workforce planning

Evidence-based workforce planning is the foundation for developing workforce capability, productivity and engagement. It is a dynamic process which involves:

  • monitoring workforce data, forecasting where skills gaps exist and what skills will be needed in the future
  • creating strong links to other strategic and operational planning processes
  • managing the workforce through best practice job design, advertising, attraction, recruitment, appointment and induction methods
  • evolving people strategies such as talent identification and acquisition (including for critical skills groups), diversity and inclusion strategies, performance management and development systems and leadership development programs.

Anecdotally, and through a recent review of recruitment performance across public sector agencies (see Review of public sector recruitment performance for more details), workforce planning capability and maturity varies widely across public authorities and across the sectors.

International research suggests that as fiscal pressures are likely to continue to have a strong impact on human resource management reform agendas, human resource policies that look at people, and not just employment numbers will be required to ensure sustainable performance and innovation (OECD, 2016).

Any plan an authority develops should be fit-for-purpose. Public sector agencies have varied approaches to formalising workforce planning initiatives with 60 per cent having an integrated workforce and diversity plan, containing elements of both workforce and equal employment opportunity (EEO) planning. A further 25 per cent report having a standalone EEO plan, 19 per cent a standalone workforce plan and 13 per cent reporting having no workforce plans at all. The Commissioner and DEOPE have encouraged public sector agencies over the last five years to integrate workforce and diversity plans. 

The currency of a plan is at the authority’s discretion but survey data shows about 23 per cent of those having integrated plans have not updated them in the last three years. As internal and external factors affect supply, demand and capability of the workforce, authorities should consider the composition of their current and future workforce as a priority. With the workforce currently being streamlined, authorities with robust plans already implemented are likely to be better placed throughout the renewal process.

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Building leadership capability

Leadership and management are primary drivers of employee engagement. As such, building leadership and management capability must become more strategic and consistent across the sectors. 

To enable this, the Commission has continued with the development of success profiles for leaders and specialists, and associated guidelines for measurement. The CEO success profile, which describes and supports high level CEO leadership and business-focused success factors by outlining role expectations, examples of key accountabilities and experiences, was launched during the year. The success profile underpinned the Commission’s refreshed approach to CEO recruitment, and was used as the basis for the selection of Directors General for the new departments.

The Commission has also commenced work on a whole-of-sector CEO leadership strategy which will focus on individuals’ skill sets throughout the leadership lifecycle and ensure a high standard in leadership is set across the sectors.

Effective management and leadership skills are not necessarily inherent, but rather learned and can be improved (Mitchell, 2017). While an aspiring leader may have excellent technical skills and industry expertise, when promoted into management positions, soft skills such as negotiation, collaboration, emotional intelligence and persuasive communication are essential capabilities that may need to be taught, either through formal education, mentoring, coaching or on-the-job training. 

Strategically building leadership capability requires people managers to understand their workforce requirements and develop the skills to be able to readily identify leadership potential. Agencies reported a range of methods for identifying and selecting employees for leadership development programs ranging from broadly casting expressions of interest and competitive assessment of these expressions, to management nomination and via performance management processes. 

The next step for authorities is to consider talent identification strategically, with succession planning and the future landscape in mind. Only 14 per cent of public sector agencies reported having a formally documented talent identification or management policy in place.

Strong, well rounded leadership capability is even more critical for officers in positions of trust. Positions of trust are those which have responsibilities requiring a higher level of integrity than normally required or expected, such as Chief Executive Officers, Chief Finance Officers and Chief Human Resources Officers. Not only do these officers need the inherent technical skills and capabilities to perform their role, they must also lead, and be seen to lead, with high integrity.

Investing in the talent pipeline

In times of fiscal constraint and streamlining, investment in the talent pipeline through learning and development initiatives, graduate programs and traineeships can suffer, as attention is diverted towards more urgent priorities. While this may free up financial resources in the short term, it does not set up workforce planning and capability development efforts in the longer term.

Attracting, retaining and developing skilled graduates is, and should remain, a high-priority investment for the sectors. During the period, 32 public sector agencies (30 per cent) reported having a formal graduate program in place. A total of 3042 graduates were part of the last graduate program intake, with 86 per cent (or 2617) retained by agencies. Graduates studied about 40 different disciplines at university. In most cases graduate programs ran for 12 months (47 per cent), however they can span from three months to 36 months. Many graduates also undertake the Commission’s ‘Graduate development program’, with 51 graduates from 18 public sector agencies completing the program in 2016/17.

Investment in the workforce at all levels ensures talent, from all sectors, is ready to respond during times of change. People are our most valuable but costly resource and when authorities invest in employees ideally they will be retained. Retention initiatives for high-performing talent is an area requiring more development and greater investment.

Investment in the talent pipeline should always be in line with broader strategic and operational priorities. For example in achieving diversity, investment should also focus on removing structural barriers that block the acquisition of diverse talent (Bryans, 2011). The Commission continues to invest in whole-of-sector traineeship and cadetship programs for Aboriginal Australians and people with disability. During the year, 51 Aboriginal trainees and three university cadets commenced programs. We also provided four university cadetships to people with disability, along with opportunities for four school-based trainees and five full-time trainees with a disability. Ensuring these people are retained in the sector assists with diversifying the talent pipeline for the future.

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Page last updated 19 October 2017