The public sector’s journey toward HR education

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HRM online

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written on August 10, 2015

AHRI’s Angelina Pillai spoke to Ian Fitzgerald, chief human capital officer at the Australian Public Service Commission, to find out more. 

ANGELINA PILLAI: What role does the commission have in  professional development?

IAN FITZGERALD: The Public Service Act 1999 sets out the commissioner’s responsibilities. These include professionalising the public service, improving workforce management and fostering good leadership and high-quality learning and career management practices. This covers the public service as a whole and equally applies to each profession, including HR.

AP: In your capacity as chief human capital officer, what are your top two priorities?

IF: Giving HR leaders in the public sector greater influence at the executive table – the way to achieve this is to demonstrate that we have something useful to add when called upon. Then we will be called upon more often.

There are many exceptional HR executives in the public service who are doing this today. They are highly respected strategic contributors. We just need more of them and a stronger pipeline of talented HR practitioners following them.

My second priority relates to the people we put in HR roles. We won’t make progress if HR continues to be viewed as something anyone can do. I’ve seen too many cases of people placed in HR roles without relevant backgrounds because more suitable candidates weren’t available. This isn’t replicated in good private sector companies. We should be every bit as concerned that we have highly capable people in operational and strategic HR roles.

There are always exceptions to the rule. For example, someone might be asked to lead the HR function as part of a broader career development strategy. On other occasions, a person with exceptional business acumen might be asked to re-orientate an HR function. In either case, it’s critical to support the person with others who have outstanding HR expertise.

AP: What is the role of AHRI’s professional certification, what issues is it addressing and what will be its benefits?

IF: It’s going to be a great opportunity for participants. They will learn on the job as well as gaining a greater understanding of how things work in different agencies. It also sends a message that HR standards matter. If I was hiring someone to develop a workforce plan, performance framework or talent strategy, I’d want some assurance they knew what they were doing. The level of interest reflects a strong underlying demand for better articulation and application of HR standards.

AP: With respect to HR, often perceived as a ‘soft skills’ discipline, what will be the benefits of the certification initiative across the public sector?

IF: We ran a program of capability reviews covering all major agencies. All had strengths as well as weaknesses, including workforce planning, change, risk and talent management. Many of us have experienced what it’s like to work in organisations with poorly designed work structures or bad cultures, and addressing issues like these should be business priorities.

It’s not always easy delivering these messages to an executive team. Essentially, you are pointing out problems they collectively own. But once there is commitment to act, this all needs to be backed up with a range of HR solutions that will work. There’s nothing ‘soft’ about the skills needed to do this work well. 

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the August 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Spotlight on public sector’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here

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