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The APS Human Capital Environmental Scan

Acknowledgements: Over fifty APS employees participated in the workshops that provide the basis for this paper, without their participation in these workshops, this paper could not have been developed. Dr David Schmidtchen, Group Manager


Ahead of the Game outlined a range of initiatives to improve the performance of the APS, many of which sought to address systemic human capital weaknesses in the APS but human capital reform is a long term process requiring consistent attention over time as workforce issues are often complex and many involve cultural change. There is a need for a long term commitment to identifying and analysing the key human capital issues that impact APS organisational capability; that is, there is a need for a strategic approach to APS human capital.

Much relevant work has been done within agencies over recent years. However, as is often the case in large, complex organisations the coordination of these efforts within a long term strategic perspective is a work in progress. To be successful, strategic human capital planning must address APS-wide workforce issues in a way that gives agency senior executives a basis for decision-making about the long term shape of their workforce.

In a tighter fiscal environment, it is reasonable to assume that the ‘more money’ option for addressing systemic human capital issues in the APS is an unrealistic approach. Also, there are real and significant pressures on the APS workforce that arise from social and technological pressures external to the institution but also from significant systemic weaknesses in existing APS human capital. The strategic issues confronting the APS workforce need to be more clearly understood so that APS senior executive can determine what human capital investments will best support the APS workforce of the future; the APS Human Capital Planning (HCP) Framework has been developed for this. The Framework complements and supports existing agency planning processes by providing a whole-of-APS perspective on the human capital and organisational capability needs of the APS.

There are a number of key elements supporting the Framework at the APS level that can be scaled to meet agency, and perhaps even more discrete organisational level human capital needs. One of these is the development of a human capital environmental scan that will provide the information needed to better prepare the APS to meet the demands of possible future external environments. By systematically assessing likely changes to the environment, the APS can better position itself to meet any challenges that might be reasonably anticipated; this is the purpose of environmental scanning.

Environmental scanning

Environmental scanning has a multitude of meanings; however, the common thread among these revolves around the interpretation of broad factors such as political, economic, social and technological trends which influence a business, an industry or even a total market. Environmental scanning fits within a continuum of business planning support activities somewhere between labour market analyses, which might consider how many accountants will be needed to meet the APS capability needs in the next two years, to more broadly based long range forecasting which looks at the type of factors that may influence the nation or the community at large.

There are two key challenges with environmental scanning: identifying an appropriate timeframe for the scan and operationalizing the results of the scan; that is, turning the outcomes of thinking about the future into strategies that can be applied today.

Choosing an appropriate timeframe, or time horizon, for an environmental scan requires a balance between not attempting to look so far into the future that the reasonable range of possible futures becomes too difficult to identify yet not so close in time as to make the scan meaningless as a planning tool. The choice of a time horizon will often be driven by the scope of the scan; if one is looking at global influences, the time horizon will be longer than if the scan is focussed on skills gaps in an APS agency.

The process of operationalizing the results of an environmental scan requires extrapolating back from the conclusions made in the scan to develop a set of immediate actions an organisation can take to be better placed to respond to the possible future. This component of environmental scanning is arguably the critical outcome as it builds a degree of resilience into the organisation. Environmental scanning is a key activity in building organisational resilience, and, given the complexity and of time required to deal with strategic workforce problems it is crucial to human capital planning.

The process of operationalising the results of an environmental scanning is made difficult because of the wealth of information that is typically identified during an environmental scan. Taking all the information and extrapolating back to what needs to be done today in some coherent fashion requires a framework for organising one’s thinking that has to be able to map how possible future factors might influence the human capital elements of the APS. Along with being a way to integrate environmental scanning into broader human capital planning, the HCP Framework also provides an organising framework for operationalising the outcomes of environmental scanning.

The APS Human Capital Planning Framework

The APS HCP Framework was developed from an analysis of the recurring human capital risks identified in a range of investigations and reports on the APS.1 The HCP Framework identifies the key elements of human capital in the APS and integrates them into a model with distinct planning and response components. The Framework is shown graphically in Figure 1 below; this shows the relationship of the human capital elements to each other, and the relationship between human capital and organisational performance.

Figure 1: The APS Human Capital Planning Framework

As can be seen in Figure 1, there are four distinct elements to the human capital planning:

  • The first element is the conduct of an environmental scan; this involves an examination of the broader external environment in which the organisation operates through the lens of the current APS (or agency) context. How one considers the external environment will range in complexity and scale depending on the nature of the human capital planning requirement; in considering human capital implications for the entire APS, for example, global forces require consideration. At this level, the APS context is the lens through which the external environment is analysed to draw conclusions that will relate specifically to the APS. It includes things such as the enduring nature of the APS that serves to set it apart from other organisations, the legislative framework under which the APS functions, the current political climate, fiscal conditions, and any other extant Government policy initiatives (e.g., the Blueprint). It will result in a set of workforce planning drivers.
  • Strategic workforce planning is a continuous business planning process of shaping and structuring the workforce to ensure there is sufficient and sustainable capability and capacity to deliver organisational objectives, now and in the future. It aims to ensure that the right people—those with the skills and capabilities necessary for the work—are available in the right numbers, in the right employment types, in the right place and at the right time to deliver business outcomes. As an element of human capital planning, strategic workforce planning aims to address the drivers identified in the environmental scan that will affect the availability of the workforce required to deliver organisational outcomes, i.e., the organisation’s human capital. It will typically produce a suite of actionable strategies to mitigate the effects of these organisational drivers.
  • The human capital response is the interaction between the range of strategies an organisation might identify as a result of their strategic workforce planning activity and the key elements of human capital: workforce capability and capacity, workplace culture, leadership, conditions, and design. The important concept in this is that individual strategies will impact the human capital system and therefore impact each individual element of human capital to varying degrees, so the ultimate effects of a strategy may be indirect and even unanticipated. As a result, human capital planning needs to consider potential strategies in a holistic sense, and be aware that the workforce effect they seek may be achieved in a variety of ways. So, just as individual strategies require evaluation, there is a need for ongoing measurement of the individual elements of human capital that make up the human capital response in order that the response can be monitored and adapted as the effects occur.
  • The ultimate outcome of human capital planning is better organisational performance. The monitoring of organisational performance is fundamental to ensuring the effectiveness of any human capital planning activity for two reasons. First, it allows the planners to determine the effectiveness of their overall planning and adjust as necessary. Planning in an ongoing process, it is not a static, one-off activity it is part of business as usual in high functioning organisations. Second, the environment in which an organisation functions is highly dynamic and will respond to changes in an organisation’s performance; the impact of these requires constant monitoring and feedback into the human capital planning process as a routine activity.

Environmental scanning is a key element of the HCP Framework and Figure 2 shows how this element might function; i.e., when the external environment (in this case described in terms of the CSIRO megatrends2), when viewed through the APS context lens leads to the identification of a set of workforce challenges which lead to a set of specific human capital or workforce drivers to be considered as part of strategic workforce planning.

Having identified, conceptually, how environmental scanning might contribute to human capital planning in the APS, the logical next step was to test the process; to actually conduct an APS Human Capital Environmental Scan.

Figure 2: CSIRO Megatrends viewed through the APS Context


The purpose of this paper is to describe the outcomes of the 2011 APS Human Capital Environmental Scan.


There were two key elements used to conduct the 2011 APS Human Capital Environmental Scan: first was to identify an appropriate external input data set for analysis, and second was to structure and subsequently conduct a series of workshops that would, effectively, apply the APS context to the analysis of the external environment to yield a set of strategic workforce planning drivers for the APS.

Input data: The external environment

There is a wealth of futures research material available; an initial scoping activity conducted by the APSC in September 2010 brought together environment scanning and workforce planning practitioners from a number of different APS agencies to allow them to showcase their environmental scanning work and discuss the potential value of an APS-wide environmental scan. This provide the collation of a large number of existing agency environmental scans ranging from very short documents identifying what an agency considered its key concerns, to multi-part documents running to hundreds of pages incorporating an exhaustive collection of data on specific and broad (global) trends.

Available research from beyond the APS is similarly broad and exhaustive; a search on Google using the compound term “environmental scan” yields over 300,000 results. Background research conducted by the APSC in support of this research identified over 40 documents that were considered major pieces of environmental scanning research conducted in the past two years. One of the major difficulties in conducting the 2011 APS Human Capital Environmental Scan, as it is with any future planning activity, was to determine what data to include in the planning activity. The key considerations in selecting input data for an environmental scan include: relevance, recency, and the rigour associated with the analysis, fortunately, a recent project by the CSIRO addressed all of these.

Input data: The CSIRO Megatrends

In a project3 aimed at identifying the future research needs of Australia, the CSIRO identified five ‘Megatrends’ which are likely to influence Australia’s development. A ‘megatrend’ is based on the aggregation and synthesis of multiple trends4. The five Megatrends identified in the CSIRO research are ‘iWorld’, ‘A personal touch’, ‘More from less’, ‘On the move’, and ‘Divergent demographics.’


The iWorld megatrend is based in the concept that everything in the natural world will have a digital counterpart due to the increasing changes in technology. In contemporary times computing power and memory storage are improving rapidly. Many more devices are getting connected to the internet. Two sub-trends have evolved within this megatrend; they are:

  • e-government: The increasing digital nature of commerce and human interactions makes it necessary for governments to interact with citizens and offer their services online. The benefits of improved e-Government services include improved citizen and business satisfaction with government services
  • e-security: The increasing use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) carries new risks to critical public infrastructure and personal security. Benefits from the use of ICT cannot be enjoyed without enhanced security measures against new forms of crime, terrorism and warfare through online systems.

A Personal Touch

A Personal Touch evolved from the concept that the growth of the service sector of western economies is being followed by a second wave of innovation aimed at targeting services; personalised services are more likely to gain loyal customers. There were two emerging sub-trends within this megatrend:

  • Proliferation of personalised services: Personalised services, also known as “mass customisation” and provides users with specific services that are tailored to their needs and preferences. This trend is reinforced by the growth of the service industry sector and its growing importance to industrialised countries such as Australia. As personalisation goes beyond electronic devices and services (example: personalised medicines) governments will also be expected to provide personalised services. This shift in business and citizen expectations will require cross-jurisdictional and cross-agency cooperation as well as user focussed government service delivery.
  • Personal data collection and privacy concerns: In order to provide personalised services private organisations and governments need to retain an increasing amount of personal information. This has lead to the development of new commercial opportunities but also raised a new awareness of privacy concerns from citizens. This sub-trend highlights the importance of the confidential handling of personal information by government agencies to ensure a maximum of services quality and personalisation without compromising personal privacy.

More from less

The More from less megatrend is based on the concept of the tensions between the diminishing natural resources and the increasing demands for these that result from continued economic and population growth. Coming decades will see an increased focus on the efficiency of resource use; there will be new technology, new government regulations and new markets. Two sub-trends have evolved within more from less, which are:

  • Increasing transport prices: As a consequence of increasing fuel prices personal and cargo transport worldwide will become more expensive as car fleets are mostly powered with hydro-carbon based fuels. For Australia this means that commuting long distances and conducting business in remote locations will become increasingly unfeasible. Governments and private industry will have to respond to this by finding ways to deliver services without the use of personal transport.
  • Increased likelihood of natural disasters: The facts in support of this megatrend show a future tendency towards an increased amount of natural disasters and potential public health problems. This may require governments to enable its services to be delivered at short notice and under extreme conditions

On the Move

The On The Move megatrend comes from the fact that people are changing jobs and careers, moving house, commuting further to work and travelling around the world much more frequently than previously and that this increase will continue. This has a profound impact on people’s lifestyles, housing needs, transportation needs and employment markets. Two sub-trends emerged within On the Move, these are:

  • Urbanisation: Urbanisation is an effect of increasing mobility among younger people in rural and remote areas. This is a global and Australian trend. In Australia this will have a dual effect on the rural and urban areas: First, the workforce in rural areas will decrease in number and in terms of skills among remaining residents. Second, adverse effects of urbanisation such as congestion and rising housing costs will be accelerated making it more difficult for parts of the workforce to travel to centralised workplace locations.
  • Job flexibility: Restrictive immigration and citizenship laws reduce the effect of global migration on the Australian Public Service. Internal migration by highly qualified staff will increase. This flexibility is not restricted to geographic movements but also includes an increase in job mobility. Future skilled workers will be more demanding and more willing to change their employment to gain job satisfaction.

Divergent Demographics

Divergent Demographics is perhaps the megatrend most commonly discussed in the media and elsewhere; it is based in the tension that is created by the ageing of the population of OECD countries, and the concomitant lifestyle and diet related health problems in contrast with the high fertility rates and problems of not enough food for millions in many non-OECD countries. There were two sub-trends evident within the Divergent Demographics megatrend:

  • Ageing population: A major challenge facing Australia is the growing portion of mature aged workers in society. By 2030, one quarter of the population of the developed world is projected to be over 65 years, and by 2050 this figure is expected to reach one third. This creates healthcare problems and labour challenges as the productive working portion declines.
  • Health and lifestyle related challenges: Another challenge evident in contemporary times is the increasing rate of obesity in developed countries. The percentage of overweight or obese Australian adults is projected to grow from 61% in 2007–08 to 73% in 2025 (Source: CSIRO, Our Future World, 2010, p. 11). In contrast people in third world countries are suffering from malnutrition and starvation resulting in high fertility rates. The number of undernourished people in the world increased from 848 million to 963 million between 2003-05 and 2008. It is expected that world food demand will be 75% greater by 2050.

Data collection and collation

In order to turn the megatrends into input to the Environmental Scan, an extensive data collection process was undertaken to identify material to support each of the megatrends. This data was compiled into a fact sheet for each megatrend which was structured into three sections: Global, Australian, and APS facts.

Environmental scanning workshops

In order to develop the set of APS-specific workforce drivers from that might results from the impact of the CSIRO megatrends, a series of workshops were held with key informants from across the APS. Overall, more than fifty individuals ranging from EL1 to SES1 participated in the focus groups.5 A total of four workshops were held (one for each megatrend with iWorld and Personalisation combined into one). Participants were provided with a copy of the fact sheet for the relevant megatrend prior to their participation in each workshop. For each workshop there was an introductory conversation about the megatrend and the HCP Framework followed by a set of guiding questions designed to focus the conversation:

  • What are the elements of the trend?
  • What are the early indicators?
  • What are the implications of the trend?
  • Who are the leaders (both internal and external) in dealing with this?
  • What should we be watching to monitor this trend?
  • Are there parallels of precedents?
  • What are the enablers or drivers of the trend?
  • Are there any constraints on the trend?

After these guiding questions were addressed; the groups focussed on what the APS workforce capability and capacity needed to look like to deal with the megatrends and were then led through a discussion about the implications of this for each of the elements of APS human capital; workplace culture, leadership, design, and conditions. Each group was led by an experienced facilitator and co-facilitator, and had at least two scribes who were responsible for recording the key comments and overall themes in the group discussion without being required to record the conversations verbatim. Due to the physical size of the groups and the facilities available, recording the discussions was not possible. Data were catalogued against each of the key questions raised in the group and these were then collapsed across the megatrends to provide the overall data set for analysis. A content analysis of these data was then conducted using computer assisted semantic analysis software.


The findings of the workshops are presented below and are organised against the key elements of the APS human capital response and presented as a set of drivers for any APS-wide strategic workforce planning. Two overarching themes that arose through the workshops are presented after the other findings.

Workplace culture

A total of 16 different aspects of the workplace culture of the APS were identified in workshop narrative. Underpinning all of these was a strong sense that the megatrends would impact the APS workplace culture so fundamentally and that, as an organisation, the APS would have to be prepared to face issues that would:

Challenge the concept of work6
Dispel myths e.g. core hours, people do not own jobs

Those aspects of APS workplace culture identified as most important for the APS to be able to provide an adequate human capital response to the potential future world were:

  • The APS must develop a culture of collaboration as a key, business as usual activity among agencies and must look broadly at the ways that agencies can collaborate including that collaboration should occur between and across multiple levels in organisations.

Collaboration- within agencies, portfolios and between agencies/portfolios and other external knowledge
Wikis rule internally- Bank ideas and share them with each other go on wiki’s workshop as people are not frightened to state opinions within reason

  • The APS needs to develop a workplace culture that actively supports employment mobility, where mobility was valued and actively pursued within agencies and across the APS and was integrated within a range of APS-wide people management strategies.

Genuine rotation policy (e.g. mobility as part of the talent management)
Workforce education around mobility and portability
Reduce stigma on mobility

  • There was a strong sense that a future APS must have a workplace culture that is fundamentally focused on the diverse needs of its workforce as a priority over often more short-term organisational goals.

There should be a culture of what can we do to make you (as a staff member) happy and productive instead of organisation requirement first then you second
Respect for diverse workforce (e.g. intergenerational differences)

  • Underpinning these was the perceived need for a workplace culture that very actively supports openness in terms of accepting the diversity of the workforce as well as being open to critical review of the way work is done.

Communication and awareness raising to remove attitudinal barriers (e.g. to encourage greater respect and understanding generational labelling is not helpful, it reinforces stereotypes).
Cultures open to questioning
Encourage/respect different ways of doing things

Workplace leadership

Analysis of the narrative around APS workplace leadership identified over a dozen different aspects that participants felt required attention for the APS to be better placed to deal with the possible future; the most important of these were:

  • The importance of leaders having and communicating their vision for the future workplace. There were two components to this; leaders need to be able to look beyond the immediate future, particularly beyond the constraints of the election cycle, and they must clearly communicate their expectations to engage staff in the future of the organisation.

Clarify expectations, set and agree priorities so that there is a shared responsibility to deliver outcomes...
Long term vision, beyond the term of governmentInnovation and forward looking to shape change in line with or ahead of trends
Focus on the future, beyond immediately financial year or terms of government

  • A critical challenge seen for APS leaders of the future was to have the ability (and preparedness) to be responsive to future changes. While it was recognised that all APS employees would participate in dealing with the changes the organisation was facing, it was clearly seen that this was a leadership responsibility and that the drivers for change should come from APS leadership.

...leadership-led reform...
Drivers at the top to bring about change
Shift from command and control to trust and empowerment
How do we become flexible? Workplace relations are good however leadership and workplace culture are barriers...

  • Linked to the immediately previous theme was a strong theme centred on leaders taking responsibility for change in the APS and also taking responsibility for their actions in responding to this change. There was recognition that leaders could not achieve everything, but there was a strong desire to see leaders being prepared to respond to change.

Decisions based on value of change rather than problems of change
Leadership by example, being prepared to try to be flexible, open to change
Maintain APS reputation in spite of the increasing political pressure
Leaders take responsibility
Responsibilities and accountabilities from top

  • There were a number of specific areas of skill development seen as necessary to support the APS leadership in responding to the changes facing the APS; these included improved ability to deal with change, as well as specific skills in collaboration and communication.

Change is messy, need to be prepared
Mitigate uncertainty of changeWorking to break silos within and across agenciesRegular and meaningful communication of service leaders with their managers

  • There were also some specific comments regarding the nature of leadership that the APS required to respond to these environmental changes that are reflective of the broader comments around the fundamental impact the future changes will have on workplace culture. For example:

Reform of SES capability framework to include innovation, creativity, strategic vision, strategic management...
Need to change/challenge the way we think about work leadership...
Not enough courageous leadership.

Workplace design

This workshop identified 14 different themes; of these there were very strong themes around flexibility and mobility, as well as around the importance of the interaction between the workforce and the design of work, employees were not seen as passive participants or peripheral to workplace design but active and engaged participants in the process. There were four key drivers for the future workforce

  • In order to be best placed to respond to the future, respondents thought that the APS workplace needs to be more flexible than it is now, in terms of its structure and the way people were able to work (e.g., greater use of teleworking). There was a recognition that this would require more than just placing responsibility on individual leaders, and there was also recognition that there were existing facilities for employees to work more flexibly that have not been accessed as effectively as they might.

Additional APS Act flexibilities- Act for the future.
Use of existing flexibility in the HR process.
Flatter structure
Ability to telework
With limited resources has the infrastructure been put in place to allow people to work outside the cities

  • While the flexibility driver was focussed on the individual employee, the organisational level response that was identified by workshop participants was the concept of mobility. Mobility was seen as a challenge to the APS and the traditional way of work (in that work could be mobile as well as employees) and the organisational value of an employee, but, more importantly, it was seen as a way of enhancing the human capital of the APS. Finally, there was a view that mobility did not need to be confined to within the APS, and that the APS could look at the value to be gained from a system that supported employee mobility outside the APS.

Mobility of the work as a concept...
Need to identify individual need in mobility and target those who want to move: redeployment register is an actively used tool, not a developing ground.
Reduce tenure in organisations; APS is built on a foundation of tacit and long term knowledge.
Mobility across APS and outside APS better alignment co-operate in state and public serve system
Mobility of people into and out of the APS: are there barriers to this?

  • It was universally accepted within the workshops that the workforce of the future would be considerably more diverse than the current workforce and, as a result, have considerably more diverse expectations and demands of work in the APS. The workplace design needs of the APS in the future will need to include these diverse needs and expectations and the nature of work may need to be more able to adapt the future workforce than it has been in the past.

Incorporate employee’s circumstance in designing the workplace
Need to change the work to suit the workforce, not the other way around.
Match skills to roles (e.g. get rid of generic or bulk recruitment)
Adapt organisational structures to enhance various work styles

  • The final main driver identified in the workshops regarding the design aspects of the workplace of the future is that the work needs to be aligned with broader outcomes sought by the APS and that employees want to be an active part in meaningful work, they want to be able to see the value of what they are doing.

Align people strategies with business strategies
Map work through/across team’s workforce plans. Each workforce plan identify the portfolio objective relevant i.e. shows how work of section links to strategy plan
Match capability to desired outcomes (People strategy aligned to business strategy).
Jobs really need to deliver an essential service. In this reactive APS culture we keep switching priorities. Either something is important in which case it requires adequate resources or it is not in which case get rid of it.

Workplace conditions

The narrative around the conditions element of human capital was largely dominated by the issue of flexibility; mobility and the appropriateness of rewards offered to staff were the next two most important concepts, but both were overshadowed by the main driver.

  • Almost one third of the comments related to workplace conditions reflected the importance participants placed on workplace conditions that were able to support flexible work in order to meet both the needs of the business and needs of the workforce. Importantly this was not seen as an unequivocal good, but rather something that needed to be carefully considered and both the positive and negative aspects weighed up.

Flexibility needs to be business wide (technology allows easier communication and working from home.)More than Monday-Friday why not 5 days in any 7 - which could include a quiet Sunday with Monday off.With rise of female majority should we re-examine flexible work times as a team conceptIs working from home good?

  • Somewhat related to flexibility was the strong concept that workplace conditions must support mobility in the workforce. It viewed mobility in its broadest sense including within and between agencies, and even external to the APS. While employee needs were seen as a major driver for mobility and these must be considered in any mobility program, the need to be able to retain important corporate information was seen as a critical to the success of any mobility program in the APS.

Portable (both between organisations and a job itself, teleworking, working from home)
Mobility drives change as a result of the lifecycle: you can be mobile at the end of your career just as easy as at the beginning.Implement transition to retirement strategies where staff can discuss expectations and plan ahead to transfer skills and knowledge
Implement knowledge transfer strategy (e.g. formal mentoring programs, handover of knowledge when a person leaves the organisation.
Family issues, carers responsibilities- it is the mobility of the family. We cannot be constrained by old understandings. We need to know more about our workforce at a deeper level.

  • Although this element of human capital is not just about the rewards employees receive for work, they are a crucial element of any narrative about workplace conditions. In this case, the key elements of the discussion were less about the adequacy of the rewards, than they were about the appropriateness of the rewards. Workshop participants focussed on the reasons for rewards and reinforced the importance of employee being rewarded for outcomes that met organisational needs. The meaningfulness of the work provided to employees was seen as a crucial part of this.

Rewards for outcomes, not just process
Targeted at what the organisation needs (rewards)
Meaningful work. What does meaningful work look like?

Integrating the findings

The findings coming from the workshop are both detailed and comprehensive; integrating this information is important to being able to draw substantive conclusions, in particular, ones that can lead to action. The key findings from the workshop have been mapped against the elements of human capital and displayed in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Integrated Findings from the APS Human Capital Environmental Scan

The analysis of the narrative surrounding the future of work in the APS identified a range of drivers, which show a high degree of consistency across the different human capital elements. These might be broadly summarised as including:

  • A focus on collaboration and communication as key business skills.
  • The need to support and improve APS leader responsiveness to change
  • A greater people focus (including the diversity of the workforce).
  • A greater emphasis and support for work mobility.
  • Flexibility in how the APS considers work.

Throughout the workshops were two separate but related themes that underpinned the overarching narrative: first, that there is a need for the APS to rethink how it conceptualises work, and, second, the concept of “One APS” has a crucial role to play in the APS ability to rethink work, but at an organisational rather than an individual level.

The “Rethinking Work” theme

Pervasive within the overall narrative of the workshops was a theme regarding the need to rethink the concept of work in the APS. The basic tenet of this was that the future of work (and the workforce) was going to be so different that the APS could not continue to do things the way it have been if it was to be able to meet government and citizen’s needs into the future. The drivers for this included the expectations placed on the APS by both the government (of any persuasion) and the population, and the increasing diversity of the APS workforce.

Cannot keep doing business the same way...Government will struggle to meet public expectations...
People will develop expectations beyond what government can provide e.g. the degree of accuracy of information provided
The workforce we have today will do different things in the future.
Need to change the work to suit the workforce, not the other way around...

Workshop participants felt that there was a need to think about different ways of doing things to be effective and recognised that there was a cost in doing this.

Effectiveness has not left the building, but we need to work differently to achieve things...
So busy doing that we do not get to thinking...
...rethinking the structure of work has a management overhead, but we do not always think about managing this work differently

And that this could fundamentally alter the way the APS works and that people work within the APS.

Shift in balance of power (and nature of power from centralised and hierarchical to decentralised and networked.)
...a different way of working- networked or team based model...
...bring people together for the job...

The One APS theme

The workshops focussed on the broader narrative around the future of work in the APS and how this would impact the APS workforce of the future; throughout this there was a consistent theme about the concept of “One APS.”

This theme centred on One APS in a number of guises. Some comments were focussed on how some individual department’s behaviour worked against the concept:

Cannot have one APS if various departments act/work differently
...competition for workforce among agencies...

In some cases it was seen as a logical outcome or extension of existing APS workplace conventions, in particular the concept of joined up government and a whole of government response to workforce drivers. It was certainly seen as having some very practical implications and applications (e.g., the application of APS-wide people strategies ranging from retention strategies to job standards). More often than not, however, the concept was proffered as a means of addressing various workforce planning drivers and something that needed to be led by the APS senior leadership

....one APS model directed at Grads – a generalist training for all APS grads leading to employment in specific agency...
If we lose an employee and go to another agency it is not a problem as they are still working in the public service.
Framework and branding of one APS and APS senior leadership leading organisation.

However, there were some who were concerned about how well One APS had implemented:

What is the one APS cost-benefit?

And while it was recognised that One APS supported some of the drivers identified in the analysis, e.g., mobility, there was recognition that it required specific infrastructure to support it and an ability to work together at the systems levels.

Needs systems to support mobility (HR, pay, IT etc)
Sophisticated use of technology to facilitate use of more mobile workforce...
...inconsistency in interoperability...

The One APS theme was a strong and consistent influence on the entire future of work in the APS narrative; individuals spoke of it with a degree of passion not seen in relation to most of the other issues discussed.

The singular focus that comes with the concept of One APS was considered as very much as part of the future identity of the APS which was seen as crucial to the effectiveness of the APS in the future.

People trust banks but banks have an identity, does the APS have an identity?
The public image of the public service...people trust the institution of the APS.
Perception of trust..public perception of who is the public service? (Local, state, commonwealth) ...people do trust the APS but not the politicians


The 2011 APS Human Capital Environmental Scan has identified a number of key (and in some cases not unexpected) findings about the human capital response the APS needs to make to adapt to its possible futures. The analysis involved consideration of a range of external future drivers through the lens of the APS context. As a result, the findings of the Scan identify the human capital response necessary for the APS to adapt to the future while still retaining those unique and enduring aspects of the APS that are fundamental to its identity and its effectiveness.

The elements of the APS human capital response include the need to develop workplace conditions and culture that support work mobility and changes to workplace design to supports greater flexibility in work. APS leaders will have to be more prepared for and responsive to change and more aware of the diversity of their workforce. There will also be a need for a greater focus on collaboration and communication as important business skills.

Two overarching themes from the workshops provide a way of binding these together in a consistent way. The first identified a need for the APS to fundamentally rethink the way it conceptualizes work at both an individual and organisational level. The second was that the concept of One APS has a clear and prominent role in the identity of the APS now and into the future and can assist the APS address the broader issues of its future work.

Rethinking the concept of work in the APS will require an ongoing future focussed research and analytic effort to identify what work might look like and what options the APS has to address this. It is a human capital planning activity for the APS and while there are many key stakeholders in this (not least APS agencies) it fits squarely within the thought leadership role given to of the APSC under Reform 7 - Strengthening the APS workforce in the Blueprint; the APSC should have responsibility for leading this activity.

Although “One APS” has had very little formal recognition,7 at a conceptual level it has clearly embedded itself in the vernacular of the APS and has real meaning in terms of contributing to the identity and culture of the APS. Workshop participants saw it as being able to contribute in a meaningful way to the APS’s ability to deal with its possible futures. However, they recognised that to do this, the concept of One APS needs support in terms of being more formally articulated in a way that allows it to support inter-agency mobility and flexibility while also supporting existing agency identity and cultures. This is an APS-wide responsibility and the leadership of this was seen by workshop participants as belonging to the senior leadership of the APS.


1 Australian Public Service Commission Staff Research Insight September 2012 The APS Human Capital Planning Tool, Australian Public Service Commission, Canberra, 2012.

2 Our Future World: Megatrends and Megashocks. CSIRO, 2010.

3 Our Future World: Megatrends and Megashocks. CSIRO, 2010.

4 It is recognised that there are a broad range of environmental scanning research undertaken quite regularly to which the Commission had access, the CSIRO work was undertaken for a range of reasons including its high degree of relevance to the APS, the rigour of the process behind the development of the megatrends, and, finally, the recognition that almost all environmental scanning activities produce common major themes, there is in fact a term for these: PESTLE – political, economic, social, technology, legal, and environmental.

5 It should be noted that not all participants were involved in every workshop.

6 Text presented in italics is data taken directly from workshop participants.

7 The first reference to the concept of “One APS” appears to be in the 2005 MAC Report on the SES, the concept is also referred to in the Blueprint as well as part of Recommendation 6.1, but only in reference to this recommendation. Otherwise, while it is referred to frequently in SoSR and has a whole section devoted to it in the Commissioner’s overview in the 2009-2010 SoSR, there appears to be no other formal acknowledgement of the concept.

Last reviewed: 
31 May 2018