‘The time has come’ for more centralised public service recruitment: Finance deputy secretary

By Stephen Easton

Thursday October 31, 2019

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The time has come for a shift back to centralised recruitment right across the Australian Public Service, at least for graduates, according to Department of Finance deputy secretary Katherine Jones.

Human resources is now the federal government’s first formally recognised public service profession and a new centralised graduate recruitment program as a funnel into HR jobs is part of the plan. The head of Business Enabling Services at Finance hopes it is the beginning of a bigger change.

“I think it’s a great starting point to do it with the HR graduate process, but I think the era has come where we just have to be so much more joined-up around thinking about APS capability as a whole, not [thinking] that we have a whole lot of individual discrete organisations,” Jones said on Monday.

“There is so much commonality in terms of what we need. I would love us to take the big leap almost immediately and do a whole-of-APS graduate process, not just a HR graduate process.”

Participation in the new HR grad program is optional for agencies and the APS commission will initially run it jointly with the Australian Taxation Office, as ATO chief operating officer Jacqui Curtis is now head of the HR profession. APS commissioner Peter Woolcott believes the plan will benefit agencies and applicants.

“For example, HR graduates will only need to apply once for any HR graduate position in any APS agency,” he said. “HR graduates will also only need to attend one assessment centre, represented by all agencies that opt into this centralised model.

“Successful HR graduates will then participate in a whole-of-APS development program. The development program will run for nine months, including three rotational placements in different agencies, along with learning and development that will focus on strategic HR problem-solving relating to complex business problems.”

The plan is to do the same for other public service professions that will be recognised in future; Woolcott said “digital, data and probably procurement” were his next priorities. For the centralised HR graduate program, he suggested an intake starting work in 2021 was a possibility.

In the centralised HR graduate program, Woolcott said people would still apply to one particular department as a first preference but their application would go to the APSC for initial assessment and could later be considered by other agencies.

“And we would set the baseline for what it is to be a public servant in Australia,” he said. This would involve checking qualifications, psychometric testing and so on. Those who pass muster for the public service would be considered by the agency to which they applied. “If they don’t take you, you’re still in the pool, and then any other department can look at you,” the commissioner said. The applicant could nominate other preferences, or get an offer from an agency they hadn’t thought about.

As an example, he said “stronger candidates tend to apply for Treasury but they don’t all get in” but this way, the smaller or less well known parts of the public service would have access to a wider talent pool.

Members of the HR profession viewing the announcement were encouraged to submit questions online to a panel of four deputy secretaries with corporate services among their responsibilities, all of whom sit on a reference group that guided the establishment of the HR profession.

Read more: How to change the world with HR: tips on taking people management to the next level from the new APS head of profession and her corporate-affairs counterparts

One popular question was whether this would be “the first of many joint recruitment opportunities” in the APS.

“I think I am probably talking on behalf of everyone when I say, I hope so,” said Jones, with no objections from her counterparts at Defence, Agriculture, and Jobs and Small Business.

Jones questions the sense in agencies running separate recruitment processes when they often attract the same people to apply, so that some put in 12 applications or more, possibly to get a run at multiple interviews and other assessments.

“What other organisation of 160,000 people would put people through that?

“So, I think that time has come. And I think the more that we start approaching our workforce from this professional-streams perspective, which I think is such a great development, we’ll think about pooling our resources and having a much more whole-of-service, strategic approach.”

Read more: ATO’s Jacqui Curtis named as first head of profession for the APS

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