What skills make a ‘job ready’ public servant?

By Melissa Coade

February 9, 2022

Standing out as a candidate who best fits the bill will always help your chances. (Drobot Dean/Adobe)

Being part of the public sector workforce has long been viewed as a secure career choice but the tide is turning in terms of demand for certain employee skills. Rather than relying on professional development opportunities once you’ve got your foot in the door, here are some of the general traits pegged as desirable by the ones hiring and firing. 

According to the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), delivering services for Australia during a global pandemic has a silver lining. COVID-19 has forced agencies and departments to adapt their ordinary approach and work – in some cases with the constraints of working from home orders – more flexibility, and certainly under pressure to deliver more at pace.

If the workplace ‘pivot’ agenda is largely underway two years into the pandemic, it is now a matter of asking just how fit-for-purpose the public sector systems and people are to continue with this change moving into 2022. 

Policy wonks at the commission have been turning their minds to Future of Work considerations for some time, even before the pandemic crisis, and settled on several core opportunity areas to enhance how public servants work. These have included questions about what public sector work looks like, where and how public servants work, and how workplaces will look to support those different ways of working.

These Future of Work considerations create a need for changing skill sets across our workforce,” an APSC spokesperson told The Mandarin. 

“In the near future, we anticipate managers and supervisors will be challenged to develop their remote engagement and performance skills, and their ability to build relationships within the team and with internal and external stakeholders, in an increasingly digital environment,” they said.

For public sector leaders, the spokesperson said the challenge was to articulate a clear vision and lead their teams through significant transformation. It is a way of thinking that is a far departure from the dreary, ‘walk in step with the bureaucratic line’ stereotype synonymous with what is colloquially known in Canberra as the Grey Cardigan Brigade. 

“Leaders will [also] be required to develop their own entrepreneurial ability to develop a business line in the public service, and connect meaningfully with their teams, in remote and hybrid environments,” the spokesperson said. 

Demand for talent with soft skills

In the APS Workforce Strategy 2025 document, published last year, the commission identified critical shortages in deep expertise and specialist skills, particularly for emerging roles in digital and data. Meaning, candidates with that background have a better chance of landing an APS role sooner.

If you are a job-seeker gunning for a job in the public service, current market conditions are favourable but standing out as a candidate who best fits the bill will always help your chances. 

This is what those shaping policy on how to hire the best public servants have earmarked as the most desirable, ‘job ready’ skills:

  • Resilience and personal management, including prioritisation, time management and delivery.
  • Teamwork and collaboration.
  • Communication – in particular quality argumentation and writing skills.
  • Learning agility, curiosity and creativity.
  • Critical thinking, judgement, problem-solving, research and analysis skills, which includes a level of data literacy employers expect of prospective employees.
  • Digital dexterity, using technology and engaging in digital ways.
  • Basic office skills – being able to use standard professional packages used in most professional environments, for example: email, a word processing tool, a data analysis tool or software for presentations.

Those candidates who are successful in their pursuit of a job in the public service have access to support in furthering developing their skills via agency-specific programs or the APS academy. Through these programs, employees can learn about APS craft, enhance their leadership and people and enterprise management skills, or gain specialised professional skills across data, digital, human resources, finance and accounting streams. 

Staff are also supported to attain further qualifications through studies assistance, including financial assistance and study leave, scholarships, and access to a variety of flexible working arrangements to balance work, personal life and further study,” the commission spokesperson said.


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