Commonwealth looks to ‘I work for NSW’ for inspiration

By Harley Dennett

March 16, 2017

In the not-too-distant annals of public service memory, New South Wales was a ragged, politicised, uninspired workforce with very little to offer as an exemplar for other jurisdictions. But hasn’t that changed in recent years?

Service NSW has become the definitive model of joined-up customer-centric delivery. The state has led — among Australian jurisdictions at least — on exploration of investment approach, behavioural insights, data analytics, ethics and many other reforms, and there are high expectations for its new Commissioning and Contestability Unit.

Nearly all its ‘new’ ideas weren’t inventions, but dare we say it, innovation — openly poached from successful trials in other countries and adapted to Australian conditions. Naturally, those ideas are now being implemented in other states and territories.

The state’s employee value proposition and job board is now also attracting cross-jurisdictional attention. But you wouldn’t call it revolutionary.

‘I work for NSW’ was soft-launched by then-premier Mike Baird at the Premier’s Awards for Public Service in late 2015 and slowly rolled out across the sector, including rebranding NSWjobs to the new slogan. Public servants were given an agency-less email address, emphasising the state itself, not the specific organisation.

The campaign was officially launched as a recruitment drive in August last year to attract the best and brightest to “shape the future of the state”. It wasn’t a plea to prematurely jaded millenials, that the NSW government can become a great place to earn a buck — it was a recognition that it already does inspiring and influential work.

Staff members who appear in the campaign materials each tell a unique story and highlight why they are proud to work for NSW, one of those people is Juliet, director of client information access in the Department of Family and Community Services at NSW. She says: ‘Going to work each day isn’t a job. For me it’s bigger than that, knowing you have a real impact on people’s lives.’

Six of these videos were made, each telling a different story of finding fulfillment and meaning in public service, and being able to make a difference.

The Mandarin has only heard good things about the campaign so far, without much tribal disquiet from agencies and departments losing soverign ownership of the brand as you might expect.

Horses for courses

The Commonwealth is on a similar trajectory, though saturated with such inter-agency competition that a whole-of-government proposition will be much harder for pull off. Nonetheless, Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd is taking cues from his NSW counterpart Graeme Head’s success.

The Australian Public Service Commission has been busily working to address recommendations from Sandra McPhee’s workforce review for the APS. Beyond the headline HR reforms was an acknowledgement that the APS brand wasn’t working to attract creative thinkers, those with the drive to try a different approach.

The new APS brand was launched last month, with the slogan “Shape Australia. Create your Future.” — nearly identical to the materials out of NSW, replacing ‘state’ with Australia.

McPhee also recommended an overhaul of the APSjobs website. While to me a job board is a job board, the current implementation is rather dated, and limiting. It would be nice if it had an API so others could develop apps that sit over the top. Maybe one of those creative hacker types will come up with a truely value-adding approach that in a few years everyone will copy.

The APSC says it’s looking to ‘I work for NSW’ for inspiration. In a guest blog post on the Department of Finance site, it says APSjobs should capture all job types, not just those that are legislatively required to be gazetted.

Another complication is that Commonwealth agencies and departments have been encouraged to run their own job boards, and within the limitations of the regulations, diverged on process and requirements. Pulling them back into a central hub will be an interesting case study to watch.

Perhaps one day all tiers of government in Australia might find a way to co-operate and interoperate their recruitment systems. For now, taking inspiration is a good first step.

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