The online public service community platform Apolitical, recently conducted a survey across a number of professionals working within the public sector, to identify trends and commonalities across the sector, especially after such a tumultuous 18 months. And some of the most interesting results to come out of the survey were around career ambition. When asked what’s one thing you wished you had learned sooner?, the most popular response (26.2%) was career strategy while the second most popular answer was influencing people (19.9%). Furthermore, when asked what they’d most like to learn (from colleagues or otherwise) the most popular response was how to strategise their career (35.8%) (apolitical, 2021).
The public sector is one of the biggest employers in Australia. However, for the individual employee, it can be difficult to strategise a career path within a sector that is rapidly changing (especially over the last eighteen months), where qualifications and relevant experience may not be enough to secure a role and where a significant portion of the workforce is in constant rotation. In fact, last year contract and non-ongoing staff accounted for 12.5% of Australia’s public agencies and departments’ workforce (Tadros & McIlroy, 2020).
Over time, the Public Sector has become a dynamic employer that can offer a multitude of development opportunities to employees but this level of choice can seem overwhelming, especially for those starting out in their careers. Consequently, in today's blog, we explore these development opportunities further and how employees can utilise these for their own career development.
First things first, before you can utilise the professional development opportunities available to you, you need to have thought through your career progression…or at least have a rough idea of where you want to end up. A great resource to help you in this initial planning stage (and one that can often be underutilised) is your capability framework. Within government organisations, each state has its own capability framework, which has been designed to help facilitate an individual’s career planning (NSW Government, 2020). Each framework provides level markers that 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 the 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 for 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.
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.
In addition to providing career planning support, each state’s capability framework outlines the three learning offerings available to staff within local and state government and what each organisation should be providing. The framework recommends each organisation within the public sector offers a blend of on-the-job learning, peer-based learning and formal courses, workshops and resources. Once employees have looked at their capability framework and have determined the development activities, experience and resources that are required for a particular role, they can then reach out to their organisation to see how these can be accessed.
Informal learning is often characterised by how it occurs; it often takes place away from a formal classroom setting and is often self-directed where the learner is able to set their own goals and objectives. Informal learning is believed to be how humans learn around 90% of the time and luckily there are many informal training options available to those within the public sector.  (Training Industry, 2014).
One of the most popular forms of informal training – and very common within local and state government – is secondments (sometimes referred to as a job rotation). A secondment is a chance for employees to temporarily work within a different team or department and receive on-the-job training. Secondments are an excellent way to help with career progression, as not only do they provide employees with the opportunity to expand their skill set and gain new experiences, but they also allow them to grow their professional network. They get the chance to engage with a range of colleagues they wouldn’t normally and showcase their work ethic and other transferrable skills like problem-solving, creativity etc. This can then open doors for future collaboration with these team members at a later date, or even help them to access new opportunities.
Another informal career advancement strategy popular within the public sector is mentorship programs. Today we are seeing more government agencies look to mentoring to empower and develop their employees, with the Australian Taxation Office and NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment being public advocates of mentorship programs (Art Of Mentoring, 2020). Mentoring can be a more ‘official’ process – some organisations require mentees to have completed a training program before they can become an accredited mentor – or more low-key, but the main aim is that the program connects those who are looking to develop their careers or skillsets, with someone who can help or provide guidance. For example, pairing employees who have identified that they want to take on a leadership role with current senior leaders of the company so that they can learn and better understand the specific skills required to take on leadership and managerial positions. Through these programs, mentors can also advocate for their mentees, let them know of potential opportunities occurring within the organisation they think would be relevant and provide references for future promotions or advancements within the company.
There are a few characteristics that define the formal learning experience – namely that the learner is instructed in what they have to learn, and that the goals and objectives of the learning experience have been clearly established by the instructor. Examples of formal learning are certifications, courses and workshops and specific compliance training. Most organisations within the public sector will have a wealth of formal training options available to their staff. Some training options like compliance training will even be mandatory, depending on what their role or department works in. For example, the NSW Department of Justice allows staff – especially those within the department – to complete their Certificate III in Correctional Practice. Completing this course is a key step for employees wanting to advance their careers within the Department of Justice and specifically if they aspire to be correctional officers. Furthermore, because of the current IT skills shortages within the Public Sector, the NSW Government have created an online digital pathways tool that recommends the upskilling resources employees can undertake to develop their digital competencies. This online tool allows employees to become eligible for a number of digital roles within the organisation, or just enhance their overall employability (NSW Government, 2020).
All of these combined informal and formal development and training options are readily available across the Public Sector and can be valuable tools in preparing employees for new opportunities and career advancements. To find out more about any of the learning and development options mentioned above, you can reach out to a manager to discuss the learning and development options available within your organisation that would best align with your career goals, or alternately go through your organisation’s human resource department.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career within the public sector or alternatively, wanting to seek opportunities outside of your current organisation, you can reach out to Public Sector People. Our specialised consultants can provide up-to-date market advice on the available roles within the sector to best suit your needs and help you to take the next step in your career journey. For more information, you can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Apolitical. (2021). Empathy, impact, wellbeing: 10 insights from polling public servants. Apolitical. Retrieved from: https://apolitical.co/solution-articles/en/10-insights-from-polling-public-servants
 Tadros, E. & McIlroy. (2020). Government Spent $2b On Contractors In Six Years. Australian Financial Review. Retrieved from: https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/government-spent-2b-on-contractors-in-six-years-20200604-p54zfg
 NSW Government. (2020). Professional Development. My Service NSW. Retrieved from: https://www.nsw.gov.au/nsw-government-communications/professional-development
 Training Industry. (2014). The 70-20-10 Model For Learning & Development. Training Industry. Retrieved from: https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/content-development/the-702010-model-for-learning-and-development/
 Art of Mentoring. (2020). Why mid-career public servants need mentoring. The Mandarin. Retrieved from: https://www.themandarin.com.au/141986-why-mid-career-public-servants-need-mentoring/