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How the ATO reaped the benefits of certification

Kerrie Wilby CPHRDonna Ross CPHR and Lauren Sloan CPHR all work for the Australian Tax Office (ATO). They have another thing in common – they are all certified, and reaping the benefits.

For Kerrie Wilby CPHR, director, learning and development at the ATO, completing the AHRI Practising Certification Program brought a sense of personal achievement and validation from her profession. For her colleagues, Donna Ross CPHR, director of People Support and her colleague, Lauren Sloan CPHR, HR manager in the People Support Team, completing a joint capstone unit as part of the AHRI Practising Certification Program raised their standing and demonstrated their experience .

“The AHRI Practising Certification Program (APC) provided the structure required for an educational initiative of this scale, and the milestones and assessments kept me on track for its successful delivery,” Kerrie Wilby says. “Future surveys will provide the evidence, but anecdotally the response has been overwhelmingly positive from staff at all levels, including senior leaders.”

Wilby, who’s based in Albury, NSW, started working for the ATO in an audit role 24 years ago and has been in HR for the past 10 years. Recognition of prior learning was granted for the other three certification units. Her capstone project, completed in August 2016, followed on from the ATO’s learning express pilot conducted in Canberra and Sydney.

Learning express – also called microlearning or bite-sized, granular, snackable or stackable learning – has been added to the ATO’s longer classroom sessions as research shows learners prefer the benefits and flexibility of short, targeted bursts of learning.

“Smartphones and social media are changing the way our brains operate,” says Wilby. “If we want to engage learners today, we need to rethink our learning models.”

ATO staff receive weekly emails encouraging them to consider learning express topics. “The balance of topics is important so there’s something for everyone. We have some technical sessions, as well as practical sessions. It might be how to use the myATO staff app or Excel sessions, or core skills around communication, resilience, negotiating and the like. We try to provide a balance of core, business and professional skills.”

Delivery methods include face-to-face, live or recorded webinars, Microsoft Office Communicator sharing sessions, and technology demonstrations, with an ever-expanding library of videoed sessions people can access at any time on their desktop or smart device via a learning hub.

Wilby says that, even though she has a degree in HR, she greatly values the recognition of her professionalism through AHRI certification. “With my peers and outside the ATO, the capstone project was an ideal vehicle for demonstrating my experience in the HR profession and personally the program provided me with a sense of accomplishment
and validation.”

Lauren and Donna discuss the benefits of their certification journey

Lauren: The ATO has undergone a corporate review process where a variety of functions have been redesigned to ensure they are as efficient as they can be, but also, as effective as they can be in supporting the business. One of those reviews resulted in HR and the way HR integrates with the business being changed to become a ‘hub and spoke’ model. We now have a local HR presence at more than 20 sites nationally providing on site face-to-face support to staff and managers. We used to have people sitting in our corporate functions throughout the country but situated in different business areas. The HR review separated them into the frontline spoke – which is Donna and I and the People Support Team – and the specialists who sit in the hub.

Donna: The driver behind the model was that the ATO has been undergoing a significant reinvention program that is changing the whole corporate service offer into something that’s modern, contemporary and progressive and that focuses on improving the staff and client experience.

We recognise the value in supporting the client and a good staff experience. By being able to deliver it in a generalist HR function which is face-to-face, but has escalation points to specialised areas we are delivering greater corporate alignment.

L: We know that HR works best when we have face-to-face conversations because you are often dealing with complexity and people’s behaviours. The site model offers that opportunity and also enables us to partner with business in a more meaningful way. Not only do senior executives at each site have a direct line of communication with us, but we can more easily add value into their business.

D: Also this model aligns HR more to the requirements of business and makes it easier for us to demonstrate the value of HR services and how that applies to business outcomes.

L: At the beginning there were some obvious synergies between ourselves and some other site-based functions. Our capstone project was an opportunity to look at the provision of these services from a more strategic, sustainable basis.

D: These changes aren’t going to affect the way taxpayers submit their tax or anything like that, but we’re hoping it will further refine and improve the alignment of how we provide corporate site-based services. The capstone project has also helped to raise our standing in the organisation and been an invaluable networking opportunity.

L: Our chief operating officer, Jacqui Curtis, is a FAHRI and has been integral in pushing to professionalise our HR capability. We’re hugely grateful for that because it brings us in line with our colleagues who are certified in tax specialist roles. It has been a huge benefit to have senior management pushing for that within the organisation. The capstone project was an ideal vehicle for demonstrating my experience in the HR profession. 

Consolidate your HR career by becoming a certified HR practitioner. Find the certification pathway that best suits your professional level by using the HR Certification Pathfinder.

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