New strategy to uplift digital capabilities of the Australian Public Service

The Australian Public Service Digital Professional Stream Strategy forms part of the plan to 'professionalise' the APS, with a focus on digital.

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Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) is hoping to lift the digital capability of the government's workforce, preparing the APS to charge forward with the federal government's ambitious transformation plans.

One of the priorities under the federal government's digital transformation strategy, launched in late-2018, was to create a government that is "fit for the digital age".

This included equipping the public service with the skills and digital ways of working that are needed to deliver "world-leading" services.

"Government has made significant progress on our digital journey, however there is a long way to go. If we are to deliver the high calibre of digital services that Australians deserve, we need to act quickly and strategically to lift digital capability," the APSC, alongside the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), wrote in APS Digital Professional Stream Strategy, released on Thursday.

Currently, there are an estimated 10,000 people working in digital and IT roles across the APS. 

The APSC said there was a requirement for 100,000 additional technology workers between 2018 and 2024 within the public service.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored, in the sharpest way possible, the need for the APS to be more joined up and agile with digital technology if we are to effectively meet community expectations," APS commissioner Peter Woolcott said.

The review, chaired by CSIRO chairman David Thodey and launched by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in May 2018, was to mainly understand whether those staffing Australia's government departments are capable of ushering in the "next wave" of digital.

The APS Review, released in December 2019, found that the APS needed to accelerate its adoption of data and digital technologies to "deliver personalised, integrated, and proactive services" and "drive productivity and efficiency".

It also stated that "the APS lacks the ability to attract, retain, and nurture high-quality talent and the level of consistent leadership across the whole of government required for a culture of innovation and change".

The Digital Professional Stream Strategy will be overseen by DTA CEO Randall Brugeaud, who will also assume the title of Digital Head of Profession.

"They have already made remarkable progress on the digital front," Woolcott said of the DTA and Brugeaud's appointment. "It will be important for the Head of the Digital Profession to work with heads of APS departments and agencies to ensure we do not revert to business as usual when we emerge from the current crisis".

Among other things, Brugeaud will be responsible for championing support for upskilling digital capability across agencies; defining what good digital capability looks like; guiding the strategy's implementation; and guiding identification of current and future professional standards and priority capabilities for the digital professional stream.

Brugeaud became DTA CEO in 2018, leaving his post at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) where he was deputy Australian statistician. An obvious natural progression from statistician to leading a country's digital transformation efforts, Brugeaud was the DTA's third official CEO in as many years.

Expected to launch later this year, the digital profession includes both IT capabilities and human-centred capabilities such as service design.

"It will help attract and develop the skills and mindsets needed in the APS to deliver on government's digital service delivery goals," the strategy explains.

The strategy has six themes: Establish the digital profession, define leadership of the profession, develop professional standards, highlight career pathways, grow capability, and invest efforts in professional communities.

"We will take a design-led approach to delivering this strategy. This means we will learn, adapt and grow from our experiences and your feedback over the first year," the strategy says.

Under establishing the digital profession, a reference group will be stood up, engagement with other parts of government will occur, and a funding model will be determined.

The leadership theme will find leaders, starting with Brugeaud.

A code of service will be written up under the professional standards theme, and the APS will also be provided with stewardship.

While career pathways will establish just that, starting with identifying the digital skills required for specific roles, and under the header of capability, digital skills will be assessed and built upon.

Professional communities, meanwhile, is explained as "supporting the digital professional community" and "learning by sharing".

One of the first initiatives already underway is a "sample skills assessment", with 100 volunteers from across the APS to undertake a trial a digital skills assessment.

"This framework helps people to assess their current skills, and explore options to develop into digital roles," the strategy explains. "The framework can adapt to use different databases of skills. We will draw on global frameworks to describe the skills and competencies for professions working information and communication technologies, software engineering, and digital transformation."

The APSC said the pilot will help develop a broader picture of the APS digital workforce and enable it to test the skills assessment tool and the skills assessment process it has already outlined.

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