The public sector is one of the biggest employers in Australia. However, for the individual employees, it can be difficult to navigate a career path within a sector that is rapidly changing, where qualifications and relevant experience may not be enough to secure a role and where a significant portion of the workforce is in a constant rotation. In 2020, contract and non-ongoing staff accounted for 12.5% of Australia’s public agencies and departments’ workforce. While the public sector is a dynamic employer that offers development opportunities and the ability to transition across departments, for those just starting out, it can be hard to determine how best to utilise and secure these opportunities.
According to Kate Boorer, who is a leading career coach within the public sector, there’s a big responsibility on the individual to ensure they see the progression they desire. As she mentions in her own development courses, while an organisation can provide development opportunities or learning courses, it’s up to the individual to articulate the skills they want to develop and to invest in their own career planning. Taking this into consideration, we look at the three key areas employees can focus on, when trying to leverage and develop their career within the public sector.
Embrace Your Capability Framework
Planning is an essential part of how to develop your career, ensuring you’re continuously headed in the right direction and making your dreams a reality. Within government organisations, each state has it’s own capability framework, which has been designed to help facilitate an individual’s career planning. Each framework provides level markers which can be used by the individual to measure their current capability levels, while identifying what lateral moves are required to reach their desired ‘level’ or career position. A key imperative for the Public Service Commission is to build a high performing culture, where workforce capability and performance align and focus on achieving organisational objectives. Consequently, each government association is required to prescribe to this framework, which outlines they key capabilities that are required for each department and job category. Having these capabilities are imperative to career progression, as they are able to provide tangible examples or benchmarks to both workers and management of the expectations required of a current role. They can also help guide performance reviews and show an individual staff member what they might need to aim for to secure a promotion or successfully transition into a new role.
Government organisations are also known for providing comprehensive professional development opportunities for their employees. Each state’s capability framework provides a common language to describe learning and development needs and supports a systemic approach to addressing these needs through recommending each organisation within the public sector offers a blend of three learning offerings; made up of 70% on-the-job learning, 20% of peer-based learning and 10% of learning through formal courses and reading. Staff looking to develop new skillsets, or wanting to gain new skills or experience required for a particular role can look at their state’s capability framework to see what learning and development activities and resources they are both entitled to and provided by their organisation.
To find out more information about your state’s capability framework relates to you, you can visit your state government’s website or reach out to your organisation’s human resource department.
Invest In Your Professional Network
Fostering and developing strong working relationships is key in any job, but with the high number of role transfers and department reshuffles, having strong connections with people across the sector can be beneficial in not only helping you secure a particular role, but also in finding out about any new opportunities. The two easiest ways to build on your professional networks is to invest in both mentorship programs and networking opportunities.
Mentoring can be an informal or formal process. You can sign up for formal mentorship programs where you are assigned to a ‘mentor’ within your particular field. Or perhaps, you’ve already established a strong relationship with someone within your field. In either situation, the ideal mentor is an experienced professional who is either currently in a position you’d like to reach or has taken a career trajectory that you wish to emulate. These mentors can pass on their knowledge, expose you to new ideas and different ways of thinking, provide advice – particularly on developing certain skills or strengths- and help the mentee gain recognition within the organisation. A mentor will have already built and established a strong reputation for themselves as well as built relationships with other key decision makers within the organisation; consequently, a referral or a formal introduction from them, will go a long way in trying to build your own career and expand your professional network.
Professional networking works in a similar way, in the sense that ‘connecting’ or building relationships with other professionals will help the individual to gather vital information and further their career progression.However, effective networking is a skillset in it’s own right, as trying to force connections can feel disarming and deter people. HR and career consultants recommend people to consider two key questions before attending a networking event or reaching out to a colleague; ‘what can I share?’ and ‘how can I add value?’. Perhaps, you know someone in the HR department (which you’d like to eventually transition to) that’s looking for excel help on a project they’re currently working on. Introducing yourself and offering up your excel knowledge, can be a great way to build a connection in the short-term, while helping you secure connections in your desired field/department in the long-term. Any functioning relationship is two-sided and consequently approaching a potential relationship with something of your own to contribute, will help for the relationship to feel more natural and also build a level of trust and mutual respect.
For those wanting to find out more about networking and mentoring opportunities, asking your organisation’s HR department or seeing what programs they have available on their intranet or staff portal is a great first step. Professional organisations like LGPro and the Institute Australia also host a number of informative events, networking forums and conferences which provide a great opportunity for people to meet across services, sectors and local information. They’ll also provide up-to-date trends and information within your industry, which is always beneficial for career development.
Looking For Outside Opportunities
Knowing when both yourself and an organisation have given each other all that you can, isn’t always the easiest thing to identify. But rather than staying comfortable and stagnant in the same place for years on end, the best solution to develop your career is to move on and seek new prospects outside of your current organisation. If you’re experiencing the following, HR professionals recommend starting to look for new opportunities:
Being too comfortable – If you find yourself mindlessly going through the motions at work rather than being engaged in what you’re doing, it’s a sign that you need a change. Julie Vessel, chief talent officer at Mono advertising agency claims that if you’re not being challenged at work you will eventually get bored and won’t be inspired. “For those of us who are entrepreneurial-minded, stagnation is a breeder of resentment: for your job, your same old boss. If you find yourself in a position where your job is the easiest thing you have to do all day, it’s time to make a move.”
Lack of Opportunity- You’re committing the majority of hours Monday through Friday to a job, so it’s not worth investing the time into a job or organisation that doesn’t have the ability to invest in you. If you feel you’ve exhausted all of you opportunities to progress within your company or you’ve consistently gone for promotions, after seeking and following the advice and feedback from your managers and haven’t’ been successful, it might be time to move on. Furthermore, if you’ve made it known to both your managers and HR professionals that you’d like to develop your skills or looking to progress within the organisation and haven’t received any advice or offers for professional development, it suggests that this isn’t something the organisation really values. Thus, if you’re wanting to develop your career further, it’s best to do so outside the organisation.
Negative Experiences - If you find yourself no longer enjoying your work for whatever reason; you’re not being challenged, you’re not receiving the recognition you feel you deserve, the organisational culture doesn’t value learning or supporting the needs of it’s employees. Whatever the reason, if you suddenly find you’re dreading Monday morning when you have to start work for another week, it’s a clear sign that that particular job is no longer working for you.
If any of the above scenarios resonate with you, it could be time to explore the job market and reach out to recruiters, in order to properly evaluate what else is out there and what options could be a better fit for you. By reaching out to a recruiter, especially one that works within the public sector, you can gain up-to-date market advice on the types of roles that are available, what would be suited to you and perhaps receive some ideas of roles you previously hadn’t considered. Recruiters within the public sector will already have built up strong relationships with a lot of key decision makers within the sector, and consequently if they don’t have something suitable currently available they’ll probably be the first to know when new opportunities pop up. Ultimately, establishing external opportunities before you make any ‘official’ moves at your current place of employment will help you feel more prepared in your future job search and expose you to more fulfilling and satisfying careers.
If you’re looking to develop you career or experience new opportunities within the public sector and are interested in getting some real-world advice, don’t hesitate in reaching out to our specialised consultants.
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