US federal agency’s tech hiring drive pays dividends; New Zealand PM axes policy plans: management & workforce news in brief

By on 16/02/2023 | Updated on 16/02/2023

Global Government Forum’s weekly digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

Tech recruitment drive proving successful at US Department of Veterans Affairs

The US Department of Veterans Affairs is focusing on its flexible work offering as part of a new approach to workforce development and has been successful in attracting tech specialists from the private sector.

Nathan Tierney, the chief people officer at VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT) said during the GovExec Workforce Summit last week that the department’s ambition to attract workers recently laid off by some of the world’s biggest tech companies represented “an incredible opportunity to welcome more skilled technologists” to its workforce.

The VA – one of the biggest US federal government departments with around 400,000 employees – has been working to attract people made redundant from Amazon, Meta, Twitter and other firms. It updated its website to make job descriptions more familiar to those in the tech industry and to emphasise the benefits of a career in the civil service, has been actively identifying potential candidates and inviting them to virtual jobs fairs, and is making efforts to align technical specialists’ pay more closely with salaries offered by the private sector.

Tierney said that such measures had helped VA fill roughly 25% of the approximately 1,000 tech vacancies across the department.

He said that to aid recruitment, flexible working policies were also crucial, and noted that 63% of OIT’s employees had been moved to remote working.

“If we fail to adapt to how we attract and develop employees, it can negatively impact VA’s mission,” he said at last week’s event.  

The average age of OIT employees is 50 years old, with nearly 30% of the office’s employees currently eligible for retirement. 

“We just cannot afford to let good people go, which is why we’ve got to focus on people,” Tierney added. “We’ve also seen throughout the pandemic – and now that we’ve shifted more to remote work – that 44% of our OIT employees are actually working more than their normal duty hours, mainly because of the flexibility that is offered through our telework and remote work statuses.” 

Read more: Beyond pay and promotion: how governments can attract and retain staff in a fast-changing world

New Zealand prime minister axes policy plans, signalling intent ahead of October election

New Zealand’s new leader Chris Hipkins has dropped or postponed a number of policy plans and said he will instead focus on tackling the cost of living crisis and other priorities.  

Legislation that would have outlawed hate speech against religious groups – introduced after the deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch in 2019; a mandate for fuel suppliers to increase their use of biofuels; an insurance scheme to help workers who have been made redundant; and a plan to merge the nation’s public television and radio broadcasters are among the policies to have been axed or delayed.

Hipkins said the plans were good ideas but that the time wasn’t right to implement them, and that dropping or putting them on hold could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

“These are the first and the most significant set of decisions that we are taking to refocus the government’s agenda,” he said last week. “They’ll allow us to shift our focus, our time, our energy and our resources to the most pressing issues that are facing New Zealanders at the moment. They won’t be the last policy changes we’ll be making.”

He added that the government was reviewing other policies, such as plans to tax farmers for the greenhouse gas emissions produced by their animals, proposals for the government to take greater control of water infrastructure, and plans to build light railway connections in Auckland.

Since the policy announcement, New Zealand has been rocked by Cyclone Gabrielle, which has killed at least four people and caused widespread flooding and damage in the North Island. Hipkins described the weather event as one not seen “in a generation” and declared a state of emergency – only the third in the country’s history. Around a third of the country’s population of five million live in affected areas.

Hipkins was sworn in last month after the surprise resignation of Jacinda Ardern. A general election will take place on 14 October this year.

Read more: ‘Machinery of government expert’ becomes New Zealand PM

Australian federal agencies urged to address sexual harassment in the workplace

Australian government departments have been asked to begin implementing policies that address sexual harassment in federal workplaces.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) called on agencies to start work now, ahead of legislation due to go into force in December that will require all employers nationwide to take “reasonable and proportionate” measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, hostility and victimisation in the workplace.

A new page has been created on the APSC website to provide the federal public service with resources to combat sexual harassment. It noted that a survey carried out by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) last year found that one in three workers had experienced sexual harassment in Australian workplaces over the previous five years, that such harassment is known to cause psychological and physical harm, and that it is often under-reported.

“Employees have told us that sexual harassment has occurred in the Australian Public Service (APS) and it remains a present concern. It is therefore critical that the APS ensures that workplaces are safe, respectful and free from harassment, and the APS leads by example,” it said.  

The webpage points agencies to the Respect@Work website, which provides resources to help organisations fulfil their obligations under the new Act – it includes training and guidance materials, assessment tools, and a ‘good practice indicators framework’.

The APSC highlighted that if the AHRC suspects an employer has not taken appropriate measures “it can initiate action to address it using its new compliance and enforcement powers” from the end of this year.

Listen: Stephanie Foster: Stepping into the unknown, and embracing her flaws – and strengths – as a leader

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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