Why the public sector needs to adopt workforce skills mapping

By Tom Larter*
Monday, 27 May, 2024

Why the public sector needs to adopt workforce skills mapping

When the government introduced the Australian Public Service (APS) Strategic Commissioning Framework late last year, its purpose was simple: to limit the use of external contractors and ensure core government work is done by APS employees. By reducing the overreliance on external workforces and transferring knowledge and operations back into the APS, the framework seeks to encourage the growth of public sector expertise, enable inter-agency mobility and strengthen the internal capabilities of the public service.

Yet there is an underlying complexity in the framework’s implementation, which seemingly contradicts the ‘One APS’ ethos of a holistic and integrated public service. As it stands, the framework requires individual agencies to be separately accountable for developing and reporting on their approach to rebalance workforces — a requirement which inadvertently promotes an insular process that is misaligned with One APS. After all, the purpose of One APS is a public service in which resources and expertise are shared across the federal landscape — not one in which agencies work in isolation to pursue shared objectives.

The situation does present a valuable opportunity for the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to update the framework’s requirement for agency-specific strategies to better fit the collaborative and integrated nature of One APS. To effectively implement the framework, it is essential to fully understand each agency’s current capabilities and forecast their future needs. Agencies must engage in strategic planning, including robust workforce analysis, a strong focus on capability development and efforts to maximise in-house expertise. Conducting this analysis in isolation with a narrow focus would be a significant missed opportunity for the APS. On the contrary, viewed as a chance to advance the broader APS reform agenda — including informing the realisation of the APS Mobility Framework — significant benefits can be realised.

The APS Mobility Framework — a key deliverable of the APS Workforce Strategy 2025 — is the vehicle to lay the foundations of a coordinated and integrated approach to mapping, understanding and mobilising the skills of the APS workforce. The framework is designed to enable the seamless movement of skills and talent across the public sector ecosystem, fostering a more dynamic and adaptable workforce in which public servants can transition easily between roles and departments. The framework seeks to leverage the collective skillsets of Australia’s public servants to improve and strengthen the sector’s capabilities across the board.

With this objective in mind, effective skills mapping and management becomes the keystone of strategic workforce planning across the entire APS. Skills mapping requires public sector leaders to identify the skills available within their current workforce and determine how and where they can be best utilised. The implementation of skills mapping enables leaders to uncover employees’ potential aptitude for different roles, as well as highlighting skills gaps which, left unaddressed, could leave the public sector vulnerable to risk.

In other words, a skills-based workforce management approach underpinned by comprehensive skills mapping ensures the right talent is hired, nurtured, trained and retained within the public service ecosystem, and provides a continuous improvement model for aligning supply to demand.

By matching public servants with the required skillset to specific roles, the APS can efficiently mobilise talent on demand to address emerging priorities. This data-led approach to identifying and expanding public sector capability allows for a shared resource model, utilising internal expertise rather than relying on an external workforce, and thereby strengthening the knowledge and capabilities of Australia’s public sector. This not only ensures that the right skills are available when needed, but also promotes a more cohesive and flexible organisational structure, enhancing the APS’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to new challenges.

From here, the next step is recognising when there is an opportunity to invest in upskilling to close an identified skills gap or determining if engaging an external workforce is the most viable option: a vital element of realising the primary objectives of the Strategic Commissioning Framework.

If workforce capability is assessed and managed by agencies in isolation, the public sector will miss a critical opportunity to create a comprehensive picture of its workforce’s existing skills and a fragmented approach to skills management will prevent the APS from leveraging its full potential. Instead, an integrated view of capabilities across the service is essential for strategic planning and resource allocation, allowing the APS to identify not just current gaps but also emerging needs and future skill requirements. Without this overarching view, the APS will inevitably revert to relying on the contractor model.

The key question now is whether the Australian Government will translate the mandate in the Strategic Commissioning Framework into a holistic skills management process. Implementing such a process requires commitment to continuous learning and development, ensuring that upskilling becomes a core component of future workforce planning. By investing in the development of existing employees, the APS can build a more versatile and highly skilled workforce, ready to meet the nation’s evolving demands.

The opportunity to create significant and meaningful change does not present itself every day. The potential for a transformative shift in how the APS manages its talent and resources is on the table now. To achieve a truly unified One APS, the public sector must act swiftly and decisively. Embracing a comprehensive skills mapping and management approach will not only enhance efficiency and effectiveness but also reinforce the APS’s ability to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing environment.

*Tom Larter is CEO of WithYouWithMe. Prior to joining the company, Tom was a former Captain of the Australian Army, where he had a distinguished 13-year military career, including serving in Afghanistan. In 2017, Tom transitioned to the private sector and became one of the early leaders at WYWM. He continues to use the lessons learnt from the frontline in his role as CEO today and says his military experience has had a huge influence on his leadership.

Image credit: iStock.com/relif

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