NSW workforce management goes ‘to the next level’

By Stephen Easton

Monday December 7, 2015

More responsibility for mid-level managers, a fresh focus on leadership development and increasing indigenous representation are all features of the leaner New South Wales public sector workforce at the end of 2015.

There is still a lot more work to be done, writes public service commissioner Graeme Head in the foreword to this year’s State of the NSW Public Sector Report. While public servants are keen to support his people management reforms, they still don’t fully understand what that entails.

A Deloitte review found recognition of the need to change and very strong support across the sector for Head’s reforms, which aim to revitalise the way the NSW public service manages people.

Graeme Head
Graeme Head

“That said, agencies are struggling to understand how the elements of the reform package combine to form an integrated whole,” he adds. “In particular, there is little understanding of the relationship between workforce management reform on the one hand, and delivering improved outcomes for both business and citizens on the other.”

The Deloitte study advised the commission to more clearly articulate the overall reform narrative and how each component fits into it, and refine some of those components such as a new approach to recruitment.

At a conference in October, Head agreed with his federal counterpart John Lloyd that public service recruitment processes were too slow and complicated. “You can’t attract people if the first interaction looks like their worst stereotype of how the public service works,” he said at the time.

It took 7.1 weeks on average to fill roles advertised on the JobsNSW website last year.

The inaugural leader of the state’s four-year-old public service commission reports the workforce he keeps an eye on has shed about 6000 positions since its 2012 peak. NSW now has more nurses, teachers and police on the payroll despite the reduction, which came after 17.5% growth in 10 years. There are now a total of 326,765 full-time equivalents, which equals just over 10% of all employed people in NSW, with a median age of 45 and median salary of $79,656.

“You can’t attract people if the first interaction looks like their worst stereotype of how the public service works.”

Next year, the NSW Leadership Academy will add a new dimension to the workforce modernisation. Head explains it will support “high-potential individuals” at career transition points like when they first begin managing other staff, move up to manage other managers, and hit the senior leadership levels. The academy will also co-ordinate professional development for established chief executives.

It will feature “a mix of rigorous assessments, coaching, mentoring, executive education, online learning, and alumni and networking events” according to the introduction to the yearly data release.

Diversity is crucial for innovation

The report shows women are still underrepresented in the senior executive ranks (33.8%) despite making up the majority of the workforce (63.3%). People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are represented at around the same level as in the general population in the overall workforce, but slightly less at the top of the tree. The statistics also show “an ongoing under-representation of people with disability” at only 2.9% but Head reports there are “major efforts” afoot to improve diversity.

Doubling the number of senior executives from indigenous backgrounds is one of the premier’s 10 priority targets, along with getting the number of females in the top tier up to 50%.

Head’s agency is working with a new Disability Employment Advisory Committee, established in conjunction with the Department of Family and Community Services and including advocacy groups, to develop a disability employment strategy for the sector.

“Throughout 2016, PSC will examine the issues affecting the participation of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in senior executive public sector roles,” he adds.

“Workforce diversity is important. It is a critical factor in establishing an equitable workplace, and is also vital to making sure organisations have the range of perspectives and talents necessary to help them flourish. Workforce diversity is also a crucial element in organisations that support innovation, which is critical to developing public policy and designing public sector services.”

Performance management is also in for a shake-up next year. Head thinks agencies need to move more quickly towards “modern, effective staff performance management systems” in the NSW public service.

Along with the usual facts, figures and statistical trends, the report demonstrates modern government reporting standards that put the reader’s needs first, and red tape second. Next year’s report will incorporate the previously biennial People Matter Employee Survey, which will inject the views of citizens and the rank-and-file public servants.

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