Graeme Head, Commissioner

The foundations for major workforce reforms are in place, and agencies have started using the changed policy settings, frameworks and tools.

This year’s State of the NSW Public Sector Report coincides with the fourth anniversary of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and of my time as Public Service Commissioner.

These past four years represent a period of unprecedented focus on whole-of-sector workforce reform in the NSW public service, and I’m pleased to report that there has been substantial progress in some areas:

  • The foundations for major workforce reforms are in place, and agencies have started using the changed policy settings, frameworks and tools.
  • Reforms of the executive level are well advanced.
  • There is a renewed focus on developing leaders and leadership roles across the public sector.
  • Agencies are operating within their Labour Expense Caps.
  • The growth in employee numbers that took place over 10 years has been reversed. From 2002 to 2012 the number of people employed in the sector grew by 17.5%. Since this peak, the sector has shrunk by 6,000 roles.
  • Although the sector as a whole is smaller, there are more people employed in nursing, teaching and police roles, reflecting a more needs-based distribution of employees.
  • Aboriginal representation in the sector continues to improve.

Notwithstanding these achievements, a recent review of our progress shows there is considerable work to be done in taking the sector’s management of people to the next level; hence the title of this year’s report.

TheState of Workforce Reform Review (the Reform review) – a study conducted in 2015 by Deloitte for PSC – examined sector-wide awareness and understanding of the government’s reforms; commitment to and progress in implementing the reforms; workforce management capabilities; and whether there are any issues with policy settings. It also gathered feedback on how PSC could better support the reform effort.

The review found very strong support for the direction of current reforms, meaning there is widespread recognition and acceptance of the need to make significant changes and to modernise the public sector’s workforce management practices. That said, agencies are struggling to understand how the elements of the reform package combine to form an integrated whole. In particular, there is little understanding of the relationship between workforce management reform on the one hand, and delivering improved outcomes for both business and citizens on the other.

The review findings highlighted a number of priorities for the future:

  • PSC needs to better articulate the overarching reform narrative, and how the component parts – legislation, the Capability Framework, the Performance Management Framework, recruitment models and workforce planning strategies – work together.
  • Some individual components of the reform package need to be refined. For example, agencies have difficulty with some aspects of the new approach to recruitment.
  • Capability remains an issue – for human resource management teams within agencies, as well as managers’ and leaders’ individual people management capabilities.
  • PSC needs to draw a clear picture of all the ‘people management’ behaviours we expect of individuals at all levels and in all roles.
  • We need to use workforce data more effectively in our efforts to improve workforce planning and management.

PSC and the Secretaries Board1 are using these report findings, along with insights from the most recent State of the Public Service Agency Survey (the Agency survey), to guide our combined efforts to realise the full potential of the reforms already underway.

Last year, we achieved a significant milestone in securing the NSW public sector’s commitment to developing our existing and future leaders. At the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) NSW State Conference in July 2014, the Premier of NSW announced a new leadership initiative – the NSW Leadership Academy – to foster talent in the public sector.

The Leadership Academy is being delivered by PSC in close collaboration with the Secretaries Board. It will focus on supporting high-potential individuals at key transition points in their careers: when they first become people managers; when they begin to lead managers and other executives; when they are at the most senior executive levels and planning to take on CEO roles; and when they have become established CEOs.

Through a mix of rigorous assessments, coaching, mentoring, executive education, online learning, and alumni and networking events, the Leadership Academy will provide the support our existing and emerging leaders need to best serve the people of New South Wales.

As the body of this report shows, workforce diversity is a key area for improvement in the NSW public sector. For example:

  • Aboriginal representation in the public sector workforce has improved greatly in recent years, but there is more work to be done in improving representation across all types and levels of work.
  • Women comprise the majority of the public sector workforce but are under-represented in senior executive roles.
  • Overall, the proportion of public sector employees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds is close to that of the general population, but again there is a lack of representation in senior executive roles.
  • There is an ongoing under-representation of people with disability in the workforce.

Major efforts are underway to tackle the issue of workforce diversity. The Premier has announced that two of his key priorities in the next 10 years are to double the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in senior leadership roles and to increase the proportion of women in senior leadership roles to 50% of the government sector.

PSC and the Department of Family and Community Services have established a Disability Employment Advisory Committee, with members from key disability-focused organisations. This committee will work with PSC to develop a disability employment strategy for the NSW public sector.

Throughout 2016, PSC will examine the issues affecting the participation of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in senior executive public sector roles.

Workforce diversity is important. It is a critical factor in establishing an equitable workplace, and is also vital to making sure organisations have the range of perspectives and talents necessary to help them flourish. Workforce diversity is also a crucial element in organisations that support innovation, which is critical to developing public policy and designing public sector services.

Performance management is the other notable area of activity requiring a strong focus on improvement. Agencies continue to move slowly in adopting modern, effective staff performance management systems. Lifting performance in this area will be a focus for PSC over the coming year.

Finally, on the State of the NSW Public Sector Report itself, from 2016 onwards all reports will contain employee survey results, and the previously biennial People Matter Employee Survey (the People Matter survey) will be conducted annually. This means that each future report will track the views of employees and customers alongside those of agencies, serving as a valuable accountability mechanism while identifying areas for focus and/or improvement.

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  1. The Board comprises secretaries of departments and the Public Service Commissioner, and is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet