The capabilities all APS leaders need

By Shannon Jenkins

March 18, 2021

Senior APS leaders' capabilities must include being collaborative, influential, and entrepreneurial.
A contingency workforce of contracted consultants is now very entrenched in the APS. (Image: Adobe/alotofpeople)

Senior leaders in the Australian Public Service must possess key capabilities such as being collaborative, influential, and entrepreneurial if they are to effectively shape strategies, support the workforce and deliver for the public, according to the APS workforce strategy.

Launched by the APS Commission on Thursday, the strategy noted that the APS’s changing operating environment requires the workforce to be flexible in order to respond to future challenges.

For example, the rollout of technological solutions across the APS will lead to a decline in administrative and transactional roles over the next five years, requiring “continuous capability development and re-skilling activities” to transition the workforce to other areas.

The operating environment for the APS is also becoming increasingly digital, and cyber challenges are rising. According to the strategy, at least 17,000 more cyber experts will be required across private and public sectors over the next five years to 2026, to support Australia’s cyber resilience.

The top job functions with the largest projected growth in the APS are in data, digital and intelligence and policy analysis, the document noted.

It has proposed that the APS grow and develop its own capability, and attract and retain skills and capabilities, in order to deal with the increasingly competitive labour market.

“To do this at scale and better access diverse talent across Australia, strategies are becoming increasingly important. A strong employee value proposition, alongside modern and innovative approaches to workforce management, will ensure that we attract and retain this diverse talent,” the strategy said.

READ MORE: Major APS workforce strategy goes live

The APS is experiencing critical skill shortages and capability gaps, including in basic literacy, numeracy and digital skills. The projected number of skills shortages in government services by 2030 exceeds 2 million, the report noted, with digital literacy ranking in the top skill shortages for government.

The APS must foster a culture of continuous learning to re-skill the workforce, the strategy said, while also building and retaining talent and skills. This will require the APS to embrace technology and ensure jobs are “less tied to specific locations”.

“APS agencies also need to support the workforce across a range of cohorts and career stages, and accommodate employees’ trends for more flexible working conditions and working longer before retirement,” the document said.

Key APS capabilities

The strategy has outlined four broad ‘capability domains’ that all APS employees must have in order to build a highly capable and future-ready workforce. These include:

  1. Employability — the fundamental skills and knowledge required across nearly all jobs in professional environments, such as communication, learning agility, team work, research and analysis, and digital dexterity.
  2. APS-specific — the skills and knowledge which are unique to the APS, such as integrity, risk and information management, and ‘craft capabilities’ such as policy design and development across government.
  3. Technical and professional — the skills and knowledge required to undertake specialist roles within the APS. Technical roles could include passport and cargo control, or weather observation and analysis, while professional roles include data and digital specialists, strategic HR professionals, and policy officers.
  4. Leadership — behaviours and attributes which inspire, develop and direct others to achieve APS goals can be built and retained both within the APS and in the market.

Continuing to build strong leadership capabilities will be a “high priority for the APS as the workforce adapts to rapid change”, the strategy said.

The Secretaries Board has endorsed a set of leadership capabilities that can shape long-term organisational strategy, develop high-performing workforces, and harness the benefits of diverse thinking and perspectives. Senior leaders must be:

  • Visionary — the ability to identify emerging trends, opportunities and challenges, and inspire a collective purpose.
  • Influential — leaders must be able to build relationships and influence others, winning and maintaining the confidence of stakeholders.
  • Collaborative — having an openness to diverse perspectives, developing relationships, building trust, balancing competing interests and finding common ground.
  • Delivery — leaders must be highly skilled at managing the delivery of complex projects, programs and services.
  • Enabling — creating an environment that empowers diverse individuals and teams to deliver their best for government and citizens.
  • Entrepreneurial — challenging perspectives, generating new ideas and experimenting with different approaches to find new and better ways of achieving outcomes, while also managing risk.

Further, being courageous, self-aware, resilient, citizen-centric and a life-long learner can “enable senior leaders to hold steady through the challenges of leadership”, the strategy said.

The APS is taking a number of steps to recruit and develop the skills and capabilities it needs to be successful in the future, such as setting up the APS Academy, delivering an annual emerging skills needs forecast for the APS, and delivering an APS-wide L&D Action Plan.

To deploy talent and skills where they are needed, steps the APS has taken include developing an APS Mobility Framework, a surge reserve, and the data and digital professional stream. Future steps include undertaking a review of the APS classification structure, and supporting workforce flexibility and talent accessibility by increasing the regional presence of the APS.


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