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Strategic priority two: lifting the capability of the APS

In the 2019-20 Corporate Plan, the Commission set out the need for a systematic, service-wide approach to lifting people’s capability to improve the overall performance of the APS for today and the future. The Commission aimed to utilise international best practice and focus on the professionalisation of APS roles.

Under Strategic Priority Two, four focus areas illustrated the Commission’s work to lift the capability of the APS The areas of focus included workforce strategy, data and research, workplace relations and learning and development.

Of the seven targets set for 2019-20 five were achieved and two were not achieved.

Performance Analysis

Workforce Strategy

The Government’s response to the Independent Review of the APS asked the Commissioner to deliver an APS-wide Workforce Strategy in 2020. The Commissioner was tasked with ensuring a number of the recommendations from the Review will be picked up in the Strategy. This altered the original delivery date of December 2019.

In the first half of 2020, the Commission has been developing a draft Workforce Strategy that will reflect the Government’s response and address workforce management lessons learned from responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. These lessons include the need for actions to support flexible working, remote management, and to facilitate rapid deployment of staff across the APS and to other public sectors. The Workforce Strategy will be finalised in the second half of 2020.

The Leading Digital Transformation program (now called Leading in a Digital Age) was developed in collaboration with the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and industry experts. The program has been popular over the past 3 years and has recently undergone a re-design to support virtual interactive delivery.

Data and Research

The Commission maintains comprehensive data sets representative of the APS workforce including personal, employment, remuneration, and diversity and education information for all current and former APS employees. APS agencies and other interested stakeholders continue to regularly access data and research from the Commission’s website and from data.gov.au.

Similar to last financial year, in 2019-20 the Commission received 252 requests for workforce data and actioned 90 per cent within five days. The Commission also produced 24 research insights into topics such as culture and APS reform, and understanding segments of the APS workforce (e.g., service delivery, HR, data and digital).

Data collected by the Commission supported the development of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy 2020-2024, and the reviews of the APS Gender Equality Strategy 2016–2019 and the APS Disability Employment Strategy 2016–2019. The APS workforce data and research insights also informed the work of senior departmental committees and networks such as the Secretaries Board, the COO Committee, the Deputy Secretaries Data Group and the SES Indigenous Network. Reports providing analysis of demographic data and remuneration data are published biannually and annually respectively. This data also feeds into the annual State of the Service Report.

In March 2020, the Secretaries Board agreed to postpone the APS Employee Census from its usual annual deployment timeframes of May – June due to the impacts of COVID-19 on the APS workforce. As such, there are no updated response rates from those reported last year. The APS Employee Census will now be delivered in October 2020 and reshaped to focus on working differently, mobility, support and wellbeing to better capture APS workforce responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the 2019 APS agency survey, almost all agencies (>95 per cent) reported utilising workforce data or products to develop and assess workforce policies and practices. This included remuneration, HR, and employee opinion data.

Workplace Relations

The Workplace Relations Group conducted six capability small group sessions attended by Commonwealth workplace relations and human resource practitioners. A roadshow was delivered in Melbourne presenting a number of these sessions to practitioners unable to travel to attend sessions based in Canberra. Due to social distancing restrictions, face-to-face sessions have not been run during 2020 but planning is in progress to move to a digital platform in the new financial year.

A survey of participants showed that the significant majority of respondents found the content relevant and helpful in their role within the Commonwealth. Respondents were also interested in participating in the program in the future.

Learning and Development

The Centre for Leadership and Learning continued to offer a range of programs across common capability areas for all APS staff. These included programs aimed at:

  • APS staff early in their career, such as Understanding Government and APS Ethics and Values
  • Specific APS skill sets, such as Crafting a New Policy Proposal or Producing a Quality Cabinet Submission
  • APS team leaders, such as Working in Teams and Performance Management
  • Middle managers, like the Management in Action program
  • Senior Executives, such as Band 1 and Band 2 Leadership programs.

For the first half of 2019-20, programs were delivered face-to-face. In March 2020, the COVID-19 restrictions required a rapid redesign of these programs to allow participants to join remotely using online platforms. Since March, over 35 programs across the suite of management and core skills have been transitioned to online, with the first delivery on 5 May 2020.

In addition, since March 2020, seven of the nine programs in the leadership development suite have been transitioned to online delivery, including Band 1 and Band 2 Leadership Development, SES Orientation and EL2 Leadership Expansion. The Leading Digital Transformation program which was developed in collaboration with the DTA and industry experts, has also recently undergone a re-design to support virtual interactive delivery.

The APS Graduate Development program (GDP) offered by the APSC was also transitioned to online delivery. Prior to March 2020, this annual program relied on face to face delivery over a tight eight month schedule of workshops and simulations. In response to COVID 19 restrictions, the course was adapted to use multiple platforms (GovTEAMS, email, and telephone) and learning strategies (pre-recorded webinars, self-paced work and activities) so that all graduates could be included in the learning from wherever they were located, and regardless of their technology options. As part of the Government response to COVID-19, two thirds of the graduates enrolled in the GDP were seconded to other agencies as part of the ‘surge’ workforce. The program was adapted again to ensure the interruption to the learning was managed by offering extra activities and coaching to support the graduates. In June, all graduates returned to the program and were again supported through a series of bridging activities that capitalise on the experience of being a part of the ‘surge’ workforce. This experience has also counted toward the graduates’ assessment for completion of GDP 2020.

The APSC also developed or sourced a range of learning resources that all APS staff could access, at any time and in any place including videos, articles and eLearning modules.

In addition to the development programs outlined above, Jawun Indigenous Secondment opportunities were transitioned from place-based to virtual secondments. In a virtual secondment, secondees provide 100 hours of contribution to a specific project with an Indigenous organisation (based on a minimum of 2 days per week over 6 weeks) from their home or usual workplace. Feedback from the initial pilot in June 2020 has been very positive and indicates that the outcomes of the program - APS employees using their skills and expertise to support Indigenous organisations to achieve their goals, and in turn, building a deeper understanding of Indigenous Australia, as well as improving their own personal and professional effectiveness - are being maintained across the new online approach. The virtual secondments are also allowing for the participation of APS staff who are unable to travel to one of the Jawun regions for a 6 week onsite placement.

Taken together, these additional resources, virtual delivery of programs, and more flexible approaches to learning have expanded the opportunity for participation and capability building for APS staff – regardless of where they are based.

Performance Summary

Table 6 Workforce Strategy

Performance Measure

Build workforce capability in the APS

Area of Focus

Workforce Strategy

Approach

Plan workforce development for a future-fit APS

Build digital capability in the APS by partnering with the Digital Transformation Agency

Gather and analyse workforce-related data

Target

Strategy is endorsed by Secretaries Board by the end of 2019

Feedback from building digital capability program shows a positive shift in capability

Source

Australian Public Service Commission Corporate Plan 2019-2020, p 9; 2019-20 Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio Budget Statements p. 139

Performance Achieved

Not Achieved

The Workforce Strategy was not endorsed by the end of 2019. The timeframe for the development of the APS Workforce Strategy was adjusted to ensure alignment with recommendations made in the 2019 Independent Review of the APS and the Australian Government’s response to the Review.

Achieved

Feedback from participants in the Leading Digital Transformation Program indicated strong results across all metrics, including a 61 point increase in capability across 9 cohorts and 160 participants in 2019.

Table 7 Data and Research

Performance Measure

Build workforce capability in the APS

Area of Focus

Data and Research

Approach

Plan workforce development for a future-fit APS

Build digital capability in the APS by partnering with the Digital Transformation Agency

Gather and analyse workforce-related data

Target

Our data is regularly used to develop and assess workforce policies and practice

We respond to >85 per cent of data requests within five days

APS Employee Census response rates remain high

Source

Australian Public Service Commission Corporate Plan 2019-2020, p 9; 2019-20 Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio Budget Statements p. 139

Performance Achieved

Achieved

Over 95 per cent of agencies in the APS Agency Survey reported regularly using APSC workforce data to develop and assess workforce policies and practices.

Achieved

During 2019-20, the Strategic Policy and Resource Group responded to 90 per cent of data requests within five days.

Not Achieved

In March 2020, the Secretaries Board agreed to postpone the 2020 APS Employee Census until October 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts on the APS workforce, therefore the APS Employee Census response rate target is not available for this reporting period.

Table 8 Workplace Relations

Performance Measure

Build workforce capability in the APS

Area of Focus

Workplace Relations

Approach

Plan workforce development for a future-fit APS

Build digital capability in the APS by partnering with the Digital Transformation Agency

Gather and analyse workforce-related data

Target

Evaluation data indicates a positive shift in agencies’ workplace relations capability

Source

Australian Public Service Commission Corporate Plan 2019-2020, p 9; 2019-20 Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio Budget Statements p. 139

Performance Achieved

Achieved

Feedback from agencies indicates an increase in capability of Workplace Relations practitioners.

Table 9 Learning and Development

Performance Measure

Build workforce capability in the APS

Area of Focus

Learning and development

Approach

Plan workforce development for a future-fit APS

Build digital capability in the APS by partnering with the DTA

Gather and analyse workforce-related data

Target

Evaluation data from learning and development programs indicates a positive shift in capability

Source

Australian Public Service Commission Corporate Plan 2019-2020, p 9; 2019-20 Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio Budget Statements p. 139

Performance Achieved

Achieved

Performance metrics across the suite of learning and development programs delivered by the APSC show strong results. All programs showed positive shifts in capability for participants.