APSC gets emotional over secondments

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday December 13, 2016

Newtons Cradle Happy Drawing on Chalkboard

Professional development for public servants should include opportunities to learn “emotionally, not just cognitively” through secondments and other “immersive” experiences, according to the Australian Public Service Commission.

As part of its moves to promote a more transient APS workforce with less permanent long-term jobs, less career public servants and more turnover, the APSC has published a new guide to making the most of short stints outside one’s normal job.

The commission favours the 70:20:10 system, which suggests formal education should comprise only 10% of professional development, with 20% coming from coaching and collaborative work and 70% left to experiential learning. According to the APSC’s new guidebook:

“The conditions that make immersive learning possible cannot be foreseen and simulated or practiced outside their naturally occurring settings. This is what makes learning by doing so effective.”

The guide covers academic courses with a specific link to public service work as well as secondments, ‘acting’ and other limited roles, and shorter visits that provide relevant “condensed” experiences in other people’s workplaces.

Immersive experiences are expected to provide new networking opportunities and strengthen personal attributes like resilience, problem-solving, adaptability and autonomy as well as teaching new skills. The APSC guide enthuses:

“People often experience transformational growth as a result of immersive experiences. This type of development is of immense value to the APS. According to research from Harvard, today’s environment requires more complex thinking skills, including learning agility, self-awareness, and comfort with ambiguity.

“These skills are honed through immersive experiences, as individuals make sense of new organisations, new environments and new roles. Immersive experiences provide opportunities for both horizontal development (new skills, abilities, and behaviours – technical learning), and for vertical development – essentially an expansion in the way people see the world that deepens their ability to engage with complexity and challenge.

“Immersive experiences help ‘grow bigger minds’. People at higher levels of vertical development perform better in more complex environments. For the APS, the argument for immersive development is powerful.”

But not so fast. Public servants can’t just go off and take on new jobs willy-nilly. Supervisors are advised to apply a three-point test for immersive experiences.

Managers are expected to carefully identify employees who are likely to benefit most from the experience, match them with appropriate opportunities, and agencies must have processes to support them in place. The commission advises:

“This includes having clear development goals linked to the experience, supporting the employee before, during and after the experience, and evaluating experiences to support continuous improvement.”

It should also be demonstrated that the APS will benefit. The commission’s guidebook warns:

“Immersive experiences are not opportunities for employees to ‘test’ a new career before leaving the APS.”

The new handbook sets out a six-stage model of the “immersive development lifecycle” from preparation to re-entry, before moving on to general and specific guidance to agencies looking to arrange new immersive opportunities.

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