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Insights from the capability reviews into workforce planning

To date, 17 capability reviews of APS agencies have been completed, the findings of which are discussed in detail in Chapter 10. Relevant to workforce planning, the capability reviews have identified in agencies a broad business agenda, which in some cases is transformational.

The reviews also found the level of workforce planning required to support that agenda is not always well developed. One area the reviews noted for improvement was consistency in the way agencies deliver effective workforce management, including workforce planning. This finding takes on additional importance in a fiscally constrained environment.

While several agencies have workforce planning approaches in place, there is greater need for it to take on a more strategic and enterprise-wide focus that factors in the range of skills required by agencies to deliver into the future. In addition to technical skills, this includes leadership and management, communication, change management and corporate stewardship skills. Leadership and management skills need to include the capacity to work effectively with others and exercise strategic foresight in relation to agency operating environments. Agencies undergoing transformational change have a particular need to match the skill mix with the service offer. This often means moving away from transactional and processing activities and applying more analytical and judgement-type work.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is an example where the review team found there was a transformational business agenda in place that had substantial implications for the way work was handled.3

The shift in skills and approach required of the workforce to achieve the DHS vision is arguably without precedent in the APS. It will involve the practical translation of workforce planning into recruitment, development activities, training, job design and work level standards. It will involve new models of work and new ways of thinking about work. Moreover, this transformation must be achieved at the same time as the usual, yet complex, business of the department is carried forward. The department has done significant planning for transforming its workforce from one that manually processes transactions on a large scale to one that is focused on developing relationships with clients and within the community and using those relationships to make connections and achieve outcomes for people.

This agenda is, in the view of the DHS review team, well supported by its focus on workforce planning: ‘Moving forward, the department can build on the good start it has made to meet the workforce needs of the future’.4 In response to the review, DHS has designed a workforce roadmap that defines key points of difference in job roles for its future operating model.

In addition, talent management and succession planning programs have been expanded to key workforce segments.

However, in other agencies reviewers found that workforce planning was informal, or that responsibility for shaping the future workforce needed to be shared among the senior leadership, or that the priority and profile of workforce planning needed to be raised in business-planning processes.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has reported the following progress on workforce planning:

The ATO completed a comprehensive, agency wide job profiling exercise, where required capabilities for each role were articulated. The ATO is now mapping individual capabilities against these profiles through a process of self-assessment and manager approval. Results will be validated against other mechanisms already in place, such as a manager survey, quality assurance mechanisms and reviewing service standards performance. As part of this validation, consideration is needed for a ‘manager's manager’ sign-off process, to mitigate the risk of potential biases in individual joint assessments with their immediate supervisor. This will allow the executive to assess the ATO's overall capability strength and to inform decisions about where capabilities need to be augmented to deliver the vision and strategy. Once this exercise is complete, the challenge for the ATO will be to fully exploit and proactively use this valuable information and keep it up to date and relevant to address longer-term capability issues.

In summary, the capability review findings suggest that the current challenge across the APS is to implement agency-wide workforce planning approaches that focus on future delivery and have a direct line of sight to the agency's strategic vision, as well as other agency plans and strategies.

As discussed in more detail in Chapter 10, the APS has two ways to assess agency capability. The first is through the capability reviews, discussed here, in relation to workforce planning. The second and complementary method is to ask all agencies to assess their key organisational capabilities against a standard capability maturity framework. The next section of this chapter uses those results and examines agency assessments of their workforce planning capability.


3 Australian Public Service Commission, Capability Review: Department of Human Services, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012), p. 11.

4 Australian Public Service Commission, Capability Review: Department of Human Services, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012), p. 11.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018