‘The war for talent’: APS assistant commissioner warns of challenges in attracting staff

By on 24/04/2022 | Updated on 24/04/2022
Picture of APSC's first assistant commissioner Patrick Hetherington
The APSC's first assistant commissioner Patrick Hetherington has explained the challenges government faces, which include the pressures of an increasingly competitive job market at a time of multiple crises

Bringing highly-skilled workers into the Australian Public Service (APS) amid a competitive job market and ongoing crises has felt like a “never-ending journey” with difficulties still to come, Patrick Hetherington, the Australian Public Service Commission’s first assistant commissioner (APSC), has warned.

At a virtual event that drew around 26,000 Australian public servants in Victoria this month, Hetherington explained the difficulties APS had faced over the past 12 months in what he described as ”the war for talent”.

Citing the APSC’s latest State of the Service report, he added that public service reform would require “a coordinated leadership approach” to instil cultural change over time.

“[Reform] is also about how we attract, retain and develop our people capability; to make sure that our employee value proposition is strong, and that we stay competitive,” he said.

“As we continue to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, and other recent events across the country, the challenges that have been thrown at the APS over the past year have been significant.”

In February this year, the APSC said that it planned to centralise recruitment for roles across government in order to overcome hiring challenges. This came shortly after APS had urged reservists to support Services Australia amid an Omicron outbreak to alleviate staff pressures.

Data, diversity, and disaster response

To meet people’s increased expectations of government, Hetherington emphasised the need for APS to increase investment in data-driven services. According to government data, around 70% of APS agencies face a shortfall in digital and data skills. In December last year, the Australian government was urged to produce a long-awaited digital capability review prompted by an inquiry into APS’s existing capability.

The digital review was assigned to the government’s Digital Transformation Agency two years prior off the back of recommendations made in the Thodey Review. As well as working to implement the recommendations, Hetherington said the commission had formulated a workforce strategy aimed at elevating human resource and capabilities across the public service. The strategy highlights three key objective areas, which seek to:

  • Attract, build and retain skills, expertise and talent
  • Embrace data, technology and flexible and responsive workforce models
  • Strengthen integrity and purposeful leadership.

Hetherington said that to deliver on its strategy, APS would also need to focus its attention on workforce values, with a view to improving diversity and collaboration. Reflecting on events such as the pandemic, extreme weather events and the global fallout of war in Ukraine, he said APS had to build a workforce capable of responding to events quickly and with the needs of citizens across multiple demographics front-of-mind.

“The pandemic continues to illustrate the increasing complexity of our work, a public health crisis with implications for our economy, our regulatory system, national security and how we deliver services, integrate technology and data, and mobilise our workforce,” Hetherington said.

Key to the workforce strategy is a newly-created learning hub – the APS Academy – in which serving senior and retired public servants will run a faculty dedicated to shaping the curriculum and programmes.

Hetherington said programmes will range from basic training in integrity, policy delivery and professional development, to specialised areas such as human-centred design and engaging stakeholders.

Addressing public servants directly, he commented: “Your work matters through persuasive policy advice to government, through regulation, and through service delivery. You touch the lives of every Australian.”

Read more: APS human resource managers receive fresh guidance to tackle misconduct

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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