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“I have an obligation to be there as a role model”

She broke the glass ceiling at ASIO and is now preparing government workers for the future. Underpinning it all for public sector veteran Kerri Hartland is the concept of lifelong learning.

Change in the workplace is not a new thing, there just seems to be a doomsday preoccupation with it at the present. Kerri Hartland knows this more than most.

Hartland was the first female ever to serve as deputy director general of ASIO, the first person appointed in that position to reach the heights without having an intelligence background, and her stellar public service career has spanned over three decades.

“I feel like I have an obligation to be there as a role model for for other women, and out there encouraging them to take on senior roles. But it’s a good obligation to have.”

Now the secretary of the department of employment, Hartland says that it’s difficult to predict with a lot of certainty what the future of the workplace will be like.

“Over the years, change has happened in an evolutionary way,” she says. “One of my key messages is that it is a transitioning process. We need to look at how the nature of work is evolving, but not be afraid that there will be a major disruption overnight”.

So how should we embrace the unknown future of work? Hartland says it’s important to adopt a lifelong approach to learning. “HR practitioners, leaders, managers – they all need to be aware of how workforce capability is changing and ever mindful of the necessity of keeping our skillsets current,” she says.

Train to gain

Despite the continuous need to upskill, Hartland points out that studies by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicate the level of work-associated training has dropped across all socioeconomic groups in recent years, which is a world-wide trend.

“With that in mind,” she says, “One of our biggest challenges is to getting across the message about the need for continuous learning – on-the-job training that has an eye to the future.”

Hartland emphasises the need to develop core skills (some call them “soft skills”), such as relationship building, analytical skills and creativity, coupled with a more adept use of technology. And being open to development is a big step in the right direction.

“What a lot of businesses are after these days is employees with people skills, and the ability to learn and continue to learn, rather than specific technical skill sets. They are happy to take on people and teach them on the job, but the presence of those core skills is increasingly a must.”

People first

In her public service role, Hartland is front and centre with regards to government initiatives that prepare the public workforce for the future. “One of the key strategies that the government announced in the May budget was initiatives focused on the development of mature age workers.”

This is a response to demographic shifts and the need to help older workers re-enter the workforce when they have lost their jobs – a greater challenge for this age group than for their younger counterparts (see an earlier HRM piece for more on the challenges faced by older workers).

“We have introduced a number of programs that look at that concept of lifelong learning catered towards the skills that are needed at certain points in people’s lives,” says Hartland.

“We look at a checkpoint from age 45 onwards to measure whether people have the skill set necessary to perform in the future. Alongside that work, we also concentrate on employers and industry bodies to help them come to the realisation that workers of different age groups have different corporate knowledge and skills that they can bring to the table.”

Embracing change, it seems, is a two-way street.

Reflecting on her previous role at ASIO, when she was the first woman to reach the upper echelons of that organisation, Hartland notes that the ratio of male to female departmental secretary roles is now 50/50. If this is the kind of change the future brings, what do we have to be afraid of?

Hear more from Kerri Hartland and other experts on topics including the future of work, workplace ethics and workforce design at the Public Sector HR Conference on 28 August – a part of the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition (28 – 31 August). Registration closes 21 August.

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Kelly Nestor
Kelly Nestor

Chasing the rainbow! Thanks Kerri. You are an inspiration.

Sonia King
Sonia King

Yes change appears to be constant and we must get used to the uncertainty but it is difficult to do because it goes against our nature which is “to fear change”.

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