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ANZSOG-partnered APS academy to lift public service capability

16 August 2021

News and media


Photo of lecturer in front of a crowd

The new Australian Public Service Academy, launched last month, will lift the capability of the APS and encourage an agency-wide approach to building skills.

ANZSOG is one of the partners of the Academy and has provided its support and expertise during its establishment. ANZSOG will continue to work with the Academy on its goal of equipping APS people and teams with the skills, tools and knowledge to deliver the best outcomes for the Australian community.

Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott AO, who is also the chair of the ANZSOG Board, said that the Academy was an exciting project that would create a centre for APS-wide capability development, and allow the APS to catch up with how the private sector invested in its staff.

Mr Woolcott was speaking on the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) podcast Work with Purpose, along with Clare Walsh, Deputy Secretary Business Enabling Services in the Department of Finance and Dr Subho Banerjee, ANZSOG Deputy CEO, Research and Advisory, who is also an external member of the APS’s Learning Board.

Capability development has been a central concern of reviews of the APS for the past decade, including most recently the Thodey Review into the Australian Public Service in 2019. Dr Banerjee took up this issue as part of a review of the APSC’s learning and development function on behalf of the APS Commissioner in 2020, and formally recommended the establishment of a new APS Academy. The recommendation was subsequently taken up by the APS Secretaries Board, and endorsed by the Australian Government.

Mr Woolcott explained that “when we looked at the public sector and the need for reform, we focused very heavily on capability and the need to make sure the public service was going to be fit for the future and have the capabilities to deliver into the future.”

“The [Thodey] Review commented on the fragmented nature of the way we did learning and development across the public service. He also commented on the lack of guidance about what were the essential things that made a good public servant.

“This is actually really bold and exciting, and it’s about working in partnership across the system in terms of delivering public sector ‘craft’. We’re going to try and bottle it, we’re going to try and teach it, we’re going to get really experienced practitioners, talk about how you do implementation.”

A network organisation

Dr Banerjee said that one of the things that stood out was how large the APS is, how varied its tasks are, and what that range of responsibilities are across the whole of service.

“Capability development needs to be done in a way that is flexible enough get across that full span,” he said.

While the APS Academy will have a central hub in Old Parliament House in Canberra, it has been designed to operate as a network organisation, rather than a central deliverer of services.

“There are amazing, fantastic initiatives already underway in terms of capability development in different parts of the service. You want to build on that, you want to partner all the way across the service with agencies, and you want to look outwards. You want to look to other experts, you want to connect with entities like ANZSOG, other specialist institutions and universities,” Dr Banerjee said.

Programs run by the Academy will cover six important APS Craft domains with relevance across the public service:

Working in Government
Effective Engagement & Partnership
Implementation & Services
Strategy, Policy & Evaluation
Leadership & Management

Each of these capabilities will be designed and delivered in partnership with the agencies that have known strengths in those areas. For example, Services Australia and the Department of Defence will help boost delivery and implementation capabilities and citizen-focused perspectives across the APS, while central agencies will help lift capabilities to support governance and policy design.

Lifting APS performance

Dr Banerjee said that three reviews over the past ten years – the ‘Ahead of the Game’ Report, the McPhee Review and the Thodey Review – had all come to the same conclusion that the most fundamental requirement for improving the performance of public service is capability development.

“Getting the right people in the right places and then building skills is, over and over again, put as the most important way to build the performance of the public service, and that is then the way to deliver better outcomes for citizens,” Dr Banerjee said.

Ms Walsh said that individual agency investment in learning and development was strong but siloed, and there was a mindset that you did learning and development within the agency in which you operated.

She said the faculty heads would work to make the six domains connected in a way that made sense to people at all stages of their public service careers.

“As we think about the other things we’ve been saying about the needs in the public service to be more mobile, to be more agile, for our workforce to have had opportunity to work in different parts of the public service or doing different things, whether it’s policy, or it’s regulation, or it’s service delivery,” she said.

Learning from the private sector and building essential skills

Mr Woolcott said that the private sector was doing a better job than the public sector on developing staff capability.

“They really train their people, they work on the capability of their people and it is a real focus of the leadership in the private sector. We’ve got to be emulating that in the public sector, too. Part of your job becomes continuing to learn, continuing to develop, and continuing to grow yourself as a public servant,” he said.

“The issues we’re dealing with I think are so complex these days. And so interconnected, that you’ve got to be able to build a cadre of people who can work skilfully together, who understand how to influence. We don’t dominate policy advice or service delivery to government anymore. We’re actually in competition with lobby groups, ministerial offices, private sector, not-for-profits.”

Ms Walsh said that the public service needed more foresight about what skills would be vital or essential into the future.

“If I think about the skills that we’re all looking for now and that we’re all competing with the private sector for, is in digital and data, as an example. So, it’s the APS profession that is looking at that, which is fantastic, because it’s a complete focus. But there will come a time where that becomes a standard APS requirement. It’s like good writing, good data analytics. It’ll just be a basic requirement.”

Dr Banerjee said that the Academy would be able to better equip people who moved laterally into the public service at different stages of their careers.

“It’s not just for people that are going to run through from being a graduate all the way to being secretary or a senior person. It’s also to actually deliver on this promise of more mobility in and out, by being clearer with people about what’s required when they come in.”

Ms Walsh said that COVID had intensified the increasing demands on the public service, in a time when the labour market was tight and there was strong competition for capable people.

“If I reflect back on my career in the public service, I can’t remember a time where I didn’t feel really busy. But there is something particular about now. The pace is just in terms of where information’s coming from, how you need to digest it, the multiple sources all the time is quite different than what it’d had been 20 years ago.

“We feel busier and busier, part of that is because unless we invest in finding that capability, having a market that we can attract from, that we know what our skills are and how we’re developing collectively, it’s only going to get worse, that sense of overwhelmed workload.”

Dr Banerjee said that he was confident the Academy and its goals would be embraced by the public service.

“I think we have such a reservoir of goodwill amongst public servants to do better at their job, because they are so cognisant of the privilege of making a contribution more broadly, that there is a real hunger to try and build capability.”

More information on the APS Academy can be found here.

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