Commissioner reveals next professional stream as APS looks to increased use of data

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday June 15, 2020

public servants
Peter Woolcott

Australian Bureau of Statistics boss David Gruen will lead the Australian Public Service’s data profession.

In a recent speech, APS commissioner Peter Woolcott said a key priority of the APS reform agenda was the development of the APS workforce strategy, which would look at current capabilities, expected workforce needs, and plans to develop, deploy and recruit needed staff.

When complete, the strategy would help agencies deliver the government’s pandemic recovery agenda, and would be informed by longer term trends around automation, artificial intelligence, digitalisation, and new ways of working.

Skills needs identified in the workforce strategy would be met through the APS professions model, which was first announced last year.

The Australian Taxation Office’s chief operating officer, Jacqui Curtis, was named head of the HR professional stream last October, followed by the appointment of Digital Transformation Agency head Randall Brugeaud as the digital head of profession earlier this year.

Woolcott said the data profession would be next, revealing that Gruen had been asked to “take forward this work”.

“The professions model allows us to target development and build career paths for some of our core professions. It creates a common understanding of the skills and experience needed, as well as the opportunity to gain these in a structured way,” he said.

Woolcott noted graduate recruitment would be another “crucial avenue” for attracting talent into the APS.

“This year we’ve experimented with a new approach, with the launch of the Australian Government Graduate Recruitment pilot. Where most graduate programs are unique to specific agencies, this pilot looks to create recruitment streams that are shared,” he said.

“It simplifies the application process for the graduates with one application reaching multiple agencies. At the same time it reduces the double up of administrative handling in each agency.”

The pilot offers shared recruitment streams for graduates in economics, data, digital, human resources and STEM, as well as the Indigenous Graduate Pathway. Virtual information sessions and assessment centres have allowed it to continue during the pandemic.

“As we move forward, these virtual platforms will allow the program to target a larger number of students,” Woolcott said, noting the pilot has received almost 6000 applications this year.

“I am keen for this to expand outwards and dramatically, and while we are at it, to develop an employee value proposition for the Service which does justice to the nature of our work and all we do to keep the Australian people safe and prosperous.”

There have been three innovations that have been key to the APS’ successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic: people, systems, and data.

Utilising data and ICT

Woolcott said the APS would continue to leverage data to drive outcomes for the public, as it has proven crucial for decision-makers and has increased public trust.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet established a data analytics team early on in the pandemic, which included experts seconded from across the APS. The team compiled and analysed COVID-19 data from across jurisdictions, as well as from the private sector and overseas.

Woolcott argued the team’s work has helped the government track the impact of COVID-19 response measures, and has allowed decision-makers to spend more time solving problems. He put the team’s success down to the use of collective information, advice and skills from the APS, which provided the PM and the national cabinet with a consolidated product “rather than a series of separate reports from different pockets of expertise across government”.

“They worked with an initial product and constantly iterated as the crisis evolved. And they experimented with new approaches to provide a ‘real time’ picture, instead of simply relying on traditional government data sources,” he said.

“This dynamic use of data to measure success and track progress will continue to be critical as the COVID-19 response continues. It will help to ensure implementation of the government’s agenda is on track — or allow us to intervene early if it’s not.”

On digital systems and ICT architecture, Woolcott said the APS’ “digital ecosystem” must support collaboration through a “one APS” operating model, and must meet increased demand for government services.

“The end goal should be to enable rapid delivery of an enterprise-wide approach to ICT development, investment and implementation across the APS. This is a significant challenge,” he said.

Mobility

During COVID-19, traditional barriers to APS mobility were removed or “simply ignored”, and the largest mobility exercise ever undertaken by the APS was coordinated with great success.

The APS response to COVID-19 saw a “large scale re-prioritisation of tasks” and the redeployment of thousands of staff to critical roles, Woolcott noted.

“In fact, we used the crisis to break out of some bureaucratic cages and focus on delivering, in a joined up way, high quality advice to the government and better services to the Australian people,” he said.

“The challenge now is to entrench the ability to flexibly move staff where and when they are needed across the APS.”

More than half of the APS has worked from home during the pandemic. The commissioner argued it’s “crucial” that the APS doesn’t revert back to the old patterns of working as staff return to their usual workplaces.

“With a better understanding of the vulnerabilities and capabilities for remote working, we are keen to ensure that we retain flexibility where it is working well,” he said.

“We have learnt much – the value of flexibility and mobility. The importance of collaboration. And the value of thinking as one enterprise and utilising data. So now is the time to drive reform, drive innovation and lock in the lessons we have learnt to ensure that in the future the public service continues to be fit for purpose.

“There is nothing glamorous about public service reform, but it matters. This crisis has given the reform agenda real momentum. The challenge to us all now is to make sure we maintain this momentum as we move forward.”

 

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