When the MyGov website crashed and thousands of newly unemployed Australians queued outside Centrelink offices in March, the new CEO of Services Australia was about to start her first day at work. Speaking to the Work with Purpose Podcast produced by the Institute of Public Administration Australia, Services Australia CEO Rebecca Skinner explained her organisation needed to mobilise thousands of additional workers to process JobSeeker applications. Taking a capability driven approach, they realised that the experience and skills they required sat outside their organisation; in other Commonwealth agencies. In an unprecedented move, Australian Public Service (APS) transferred thousands of workers with relevant skills from other agencies to Services Australia, where they were trained using a just-in-time approach to manage the specific tasks required to process the backlog of unemployment applications.
The COVID19 pandemic has changed everything, and workforce planning is no exception. Government organisations have been forced to dive deeply into the skills and capabilities that are required to respond to rapid change, as their current organisational structures and roles are unable to meet the new demands. This has led some organisations to realise they know next to nothing about the capabilities of their own employees, and created a new market for technology solutions to this problem. The barriers between “insiders” (permanent employees) and “outsiders” (everyone else) are also breaking down as organisations look to access skills on demand. Departments and Agencies which have not made themselves agile through strong workforce planning practices and having the right conversations with staff are now struggling to manage the rapid pace of change.
The APS's workforce response to the Services Australia requirement, was managed out of the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC). The APSC maintains a high-quality, comprehensive workforce dataset (the APSED) which includes a breakdown of all staff employed under the Public Service Act by capability. While those capabilities are quite high level, the data is accurate and current, and was sufficient to identify where in the APS the capabilities required by Services Australia could be found.
The Services Australia experience shows that government organisations need to be even more agile than the private sector in responding to an uncertain and volatile future. Nick Kennedy, Managing Partner of Workforce Planning advisory firm deliberatedge, told Randstad that most government entities aspire to be agile, but many have identified challenges in achieving this. Nick advises us that by mapping out the critical capabilities your organisation is in need of, you'll become more open minded in identifying ways to source these capabilities into your organisation. When you look for capabilities rather than people, all kinds of possibilities open up.
Australian technology start-up Reejig has an AI-powered big-data solution to the capability mapping challenge. Reejig’s CEO Siobhan Savage says that many organisations struggle to map the skills they have internally, let alone pipeline external talent that is already connected to their existing talent. Reejig’s approach is to visualise all of an organisation’s available internal employee data, plus aggregate all publicly available data to create the complete picture. If you have a critical skill or capability requirement, Reejig shows you instantly whether you have that capability internally, and if not, where you can find that capability externally.
Furthermore, some government organisational leaders may feel that while they would like to shift and retrain internal talent to meet emerging needs, they face insurmountable barriers in the form of industrial relations or cultural resistance to change. According to Alison Hernandez of talent mobility firm Randstad Risesmart
“We conducted client focus groups earlier this year in the US, UK, and Australia, to better understand the true talent mobility needs of clients. A common challenge for organisations is the internal ‘visibility’ of their people – their skills and experience, particularly in a time-pressured environment. Whatever technology you use, it is important that managers have the right conversations with employees – discussing transferrable skills and strengths – well before a trigger for redeployment or outplacement. These conversations then propel the employee to ensure that they become visible in the internal talent mobility database to further their career and equip the organisation for agility as workforce goalposts move daily.”
The Randstad Innovation Fund invests in early stage HR technologies with the potential to solve important HR problems. One of those technologies is Crunchr. This people analytics tool aggregates all of your people data and allows your organisation to draw out the important trends. It also allows you to conduct workforce analytics and planning in real time.
Tools like Reejig and Crunchr allow executives to make real-time, data-driven decisions about how to plan and mobilise their workforce, and those that don’t have those tools may fall behind.
Julie Sloan, OAM and CEO of Workforce Planning Global, told Randstad that organisations that have positioned themselves with good workforce planning practice pre-Covid19 are well placed and confident in developing responses to current demands and to re-think their workplace structures, workforce, and service delivery models. Those that have not are scrambling and reactive in their workforce decision making.
Julie reminds us that it is important to be undertaking workforce planning, utilising reliable data and analysing the workforce from both the vertical level i.e. organisation, division, branch perspective and horizontal level i.e. skills and capability requirements. Executives need to be looking at the organisation structure as it stands now and take this opportunity during the Covid19 Pandemic to consider what it should or could look like if it were being set up today, and identifying the interventions required to achieve the required workforce adjustment.