18 March 2021

APS embraces working from home in a flexible, tech-savvy future

| Ian Bushnell
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Peter Woolcott

APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott says the APS must work as one enterprise across traditional boundaries and jurisdictions. Photo: APSC.

Public servants can expect to spend less time in the office, be more mobile and require better digital skills as more of their work moves online or they need to work from home or other locations, according to a new Australian Public Service Workforce Strategy released on Thursday (18 March).

The strategy is based on a ‘one-APS’ approach. It envisages a tech-savvy flexible workforce that can move easily between agencies, particularly in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

It says the nature of public servants’ work is changing and it identifies critical skills gaps, particularly in technology.

Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott says the APS must work as one enterprise across traditional boundaries and jurisdictions, “taking an outcomes-based approach to delivery, with the Australian people in the centre of all we do”.

“We must equip our workforce to maximise the use and potential of data and technology as we strive towards a world-class digital government,” he says.

“We must also build these capabilities for ourselves – through attracting the skills we need to deliver and through reskilling ourselves in emerging roles we have not yet dreamed of.”

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The strategy says the recent crisis management experiences through the 2019-20 bushfire season and the COVID–19 pandemic have reinforced the need for the APS to be flexible, work as one and respond to the best evidence available.

It acknowledges the benefits and productivity gains from staff working from home and how this flexibility can help attract and retain staff.

“APS agencies embraced technology and quickly adapted to the COVID-19 crisis. Based on lessons learnt from the crisis, agencies intend to make a number of changes to their workforce strategy and/or plan,” it says.

These include facilitating flexible and remote working, increasing the workforce’s mobility and agility, and exploring different approaches to recruitment.

The strategy says that by 2030, APS employees may spend less time on basic cognitive tasks and more time on technological activities and social and emotional tasks.

It says executives have reported growing skills shortages over the past three years – mostly in data, digital and ICT – in an increasingly digital environment.

The strategy proposes major upskilling programs, strategic recruitment and the continuing use of non-APS staff such as consultants to meet the need.

From 1 July, an APS Academy will be established and based at Old Parliament House to transform the way public servants learn and develop work practices.

The strategy says it will operate as a national, networked model in partnership with all APS agencies, connecting with existing APS centres of excellence and extending networks with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, academic institutions and other specialist providers.

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Its focus will be on building leadership, integrity, governance, policy, delivery and engagement, and emphasising the importance of a broad suite of learning approaches, including experiential learning, on-the-job training, mobility, and secondments as some intensive face-to-face course offerings.

The strategy says the APS needs to be less restricted and siloed and more open and integrated, both across the service and how it interacts with other sectors.

It says the mobilisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, bushfires and significant weather events in 2020 showed the importance of breaking down these barriers so staff can move even more quickly and efficiently to support government services that need their skills the most.

“We are creating an APS Surge Reserve to assist with large-scale responses to unforeseen workloads in the future,” the strategy says.

“We will also continue to share and deploy resources rapidly, reduce duplication and deliver effectively against government priorities.”

The APS Workforce Strategy 2025 can be found on the APS Commission website.

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It depends on the work that is being done from home. If APS staff are doing generalist policy work, then it seems reasonable that they can work from home. But if they are looking up any client information, any client personal information or details or anything of that nature, they should not be allowed to do that work at home. Anyone else living in the home, or visiting the house, can possibly see their screen (who is not security cleared and does not have a need to know) and it is not safe and a big breach of privacy. There are also far too many gossips in the APS (particularly in Canberra) who cannot be trusted to work from home. Confidential client information should only be able to be accessed, and worked on. in a very secure office environment.

HiddenDragon7:37 pm 19 Mar 21

Sounds like they’d rather just outsource the whole show to Amazon, Facebook and Google, with a bit of local input from Service NSW.

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