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Mr Peter Woolcott AO, Australian Public Service Commissioner

HR Professional Stream Strategy Launch, Opening Keynote

2:10pm – 2:25pm, 28 October 2019


Thank you Mary.  It’s a pleasure to be here today to launch this much-needed public service-wide initiative.

I’d like to echo Mary’s acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, across all locations, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

As you all know, the Australian public service is operating in an increasingly complex environment.

The APS is facing the challenges of digital disruption and automation, globalisation, and changing demographics including a growing and aging population and an evolution in how people want to participate in work and manage their careers.

To continue to deliver the best service to the community, the APS needs the best minds and most dedicated people. However, the APS is up against tough competition for talent from the private sector.

Potential employees are looking for a dynamic, challenging and flexible work environment, and the APS will need to work hard to attract them.

This is critical for the betterment of our workplaces and employees, and the community we serve.

To strengthen our effectiveness we must ensure we are a public service that is capable, open, dynamic and flexible to change.

Today is one part of the plan for how we will achieve this.

APS Review

You’ll no doubt be aware the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service has recently been delivered to the Prime Minister.

While the Review has not yet been published, the interim report, Priorities for Change, highlighted the need for formal, focussed professionalisation of all APS roles, drawing on international best practice.

Several reviews of the APS over recent years have highlighted capability gaps across a number of professions, including strategic human resources management.

This has led to why we are here today, and to the work we are doing to establish a formal professions model in the APS, with the aim of lifting in-house skills and expertise and providing rewarding public service careers. 

Profession-based models

The Australian Public Service Commission has looked at what other governments overseas have learnt from implementing profession-based models, such as in New Zealand, Singapore and the UK. 

In the UK, for example, when you join the Civil Service, you become part of a profession. Your profession offers networking opportunities, career routes, training and development programmes.

A formalised professions model has the advantage of being able to help define and support career paths for both generalists and specialists, providing opportunities that value expertise and management capability. 

However, a professions model also needs to be flexible, keeping in mind that what works for one profession may not work for another, and there should be scope to work across different professions. 

To do this we have to build career paths for our core professions that create a common understanding of the skills and experience needed at each level, and the opportunity to gain these in a structured way. 

APS HR Professional Stream Strategy

It is my pleasure to announce that we have developed an APS HR Professional Stream Strategy to further professionalise HR leadership and the HR workforce in the APS.

This Strategy will provide a systematic service-wide approach to lifting strategic HR capability and attracting and retaining the best strategic HR talent available.

The HR Professional Stream Strategy follows the key principles of:

  • Growing capability
  • Sharing knowledge and experience, and
  • Engaging via collaboration and voluntary activity.

The Strategy has been developed through consultation with an established reference group comprising senior Deputy Secretaries representing a range of APS agencies.

The Deputy Secretaries who have guided this work are our special guests today and were introduced by Mary earlier.

My thanks go to all of you for your advice and help along the way to get us to this point, including providing people to lead the work.

I would like to specifically acknowledge the early conceptual work undertaken by Deputy Secretary Jill Charker. It was Jill’s early strategic thinking that was used as the foundation piece for evolving the strategy.

I would also like to specifically acknowledge the ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan, who generously provided resources to work at the Commission over the past few months as well as generously hosting our event today.

For anyone who is not aware, Commissioner Jordan is a strong advocate of strategic HR. He understands the value of his people and the importance of partnerships between business areas and HR to deliver outcomes and drive change. Thank you Chris.

Can I also thank the Secretaries Board for their strong support for this initiative.

Signature Initiatives

The Strategy includes initiatives that will help identify the core, long-term capability needs, standards and career pathways to support HR professionals in the APS.  It will draw on public, private, domestic and international experience and best practice.

The key signature initiatives of the Strategy are:

  • Creation of a HR Professional Network
  • Implement a HR mobility program
  • Develop a workforce strategy for HR professionals
  • Improve the recruitment of HR specialists to the APS, and
  • Streamline HR graduate recruitment.

Today we have launched the HR Professional Network, and I am pleased this network is now up and running.

The APS HR Professional Network brings you all together - HR employees from across agencies to share your knowledge and experience.

A monthly schedule of networking opportunities will be created so the HR Professional Network can come together regularly for collaborative learning.

Master classes on topical issues will also be a key feature, as well as a speaker series.

Today, I also introduce to you the complementary online virtual HR network established on the GovTEAMS online channel.  The online channel will provide resources and learning opportunities for all APS HR professionals.

Next Steps

So what are the next steps?


On mobility, the Strategy outlines that we will create mobility opportunities for APS HR practitioners. These will include intra-agency and cross-agency secondments, as well as with external private sector providers and academia.

These mobility opportunities will aim to provide a way for people to develop their individual capabilities, expand their knowledge and experience, and immerse themselves in diverse organisations and environments.

People can then return to their home agencies with new perspectives, and a diversity of views and ideas to share.

This is the first time we are implementing a formal mobility program for a professional stream.

HR Workforce Strategy

We will also be working to identify the professional HR standards and HR capabilities needed for strategic HR practitioners in the APS. 

Optional formal HR certification will be considered to ensure growth and retention of a professionalised workforce that is aligned to professional standards and broader future capability needs.

At a senior leadership level, we would like to understand the profile of that cohort and develop a talent and succession management plan.  There is a need in the APS for our HR leaders to be exemplary role models for the wider HR workforce.

As we move to address the expectations of Government and the Australian community, and the new challenges that face us in an increasingly connected world, the nature of what we need from strategic HR needs to broaden to include skills outside of traditional HR. 

Key needs include change leadership, design capability, commercial and business acumen, data analytics, behavioural economics, organisational psychology and other broad credentials that partner with business to achieve pragmatic business outcomes.

Recruitment of HR Specialists

We have co-designed a central HR graduate recruitment and development program, for the APS which will work on an opt-in basis. This will be coordinated and initially run jointly with the ATO.

As well as benefiting agencies and the wider APS, HR graduates will have a better candidate experience. 

For example, HR graduates will only need to apply once for any HR graduate position in any APS agencies. HR graduates will also only need to attend one assessment centre, represented by all agencies that op into this centralised model.

Successful HR graduates will then participate in a whole-of-APS development program.  The development program will run for nine months, including three rotational placements in different agencies, along with learning and development that will focus on strategic HR problem solving relating to complex business problems.

The co-design of this initiative is bringing together different agency views and a diversity of thinking and ideas.

APS HR Head of Profession

At the centre of the APS HR Professional Stream Strategy is the appointment of a HR Head of Profession.

The role of the HR Head of Profession is to champion strategic HR capability and strong collaboration across the APS.

The HR Head of Profession will be rotated every two years between relevant senior executives at the Deputy Secretary level.  This will share ownership across agencies and leverage the diversity of thinking over time.

The responsibilities and accountabilities of the HR Head of Profession are distinct from those of agency heads. The Head of Profession will not have any formal authority over agency head decision making.

The Head of Profession will use influence and will assist and guide decision makers to ensure HR strategists are actively engaged with business to deliver workforce capability improvements across the APS.

This is not the only professional model that will be established – it is, however, the first. I will be Head of Professions and have oversight across the APS of the various models and be the conduit to the Secretaries’ Board.

It is now my pleasure to introduce you to the newly established HR Head of Profession – Jacqui Curtis.

Jacqui’s current role is Chief Operating Officer at the Australian Taxation Office.  In that role, Jacqui leads the ATO’s Enterprise Strategy and Corporate Operations functions.

Jacqui sits on the ATO Executive, responsible for shaping and setting strategic direction and oversighting implementation. 

A significant part of her role is corporate positioning, change management and design of the 20,000 strong organisation that is primarily based outside of Canberra as a national business.

In oversighting the people function, Jacqui brings together an integrated picture of the people and resource management to ensure the ATO has the right capability and culture to meet its strategic intent.

Prior to her current role, Jacqui was Deputy Commissioner of the ATO’s people function and led the Reinvention Program Management Office, leading change management and key reforms to improve the client and staff experience.

Before then, Jacqui held other HR functions in both the public and private sectors. 

She is a Fellow of the Australian Human Resource Institute and was appointed Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra last year.

Along with her Deputy Secretary colleagues on the reference group, Jacqui has helped guide development of the HR professional stream work program.

It’s my pleasure to announce Jacqui’s appointment today and to introduce her to you. Please join me in congratulating Jacqui.



Last reviewed: 
6 December 2019