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Exploring Human Resource Challenges in Australia's Public Sector

In recent times we've seen a significant shift to flexible, hybrid and virtual working environments with the rate of change showing no sign of slowing. Australia's public sector is not immune to the challenges that this change brings.

Much has been said, printed and published about the changing nature of work, the future of work, and the pace of workplace transformation.  In recent times we’ve seen a significant shift to flexible and hybrid working environments supported by digital technology with the rate of change showing no sign of slowing. Australia’s public sector is not immune to the challenges. 

The Australian public sector accounts for over 2.1 million employees, covering government services from the military, transportation, law enforcement and emergency services, to the judicial system, health care, public education, and infrastructure.  The vast majority of the public sector (over 1.7 million or 79%) works in state government, with almost 254,000 or 12% in the Commonwealth government and the remaining 192,500 or 9% in local government.

Source: “Employment and Earnings, Public Sector, Australia”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, November 2022.

Hunting for HR innovation in the public sector

Across two weeks in January and February, Deloitte hosted a series of roadshows, together with the Public Sector Network, across the country on human resources (HR) and the future of work in the Public Sector.  Deloitte was proud to chair this program of events in six Australian cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, and Perth. The event was attended by over 300 HR professionals from all levels of the public sector.  Attendees included chiefs, directors, heads and managers of human resources, people and culture, diversity and inclusion, talent acquisition, workplace strategy and learning and development.

“The Melbourne roadshow invited the audience to share perspectives on the imperative for reinvention and innovation in building modern workplaces and people agendas. The sessions were productive and energising.  Speakers generously shared inspiring and practical examples of how they have focussed on building inclusive environments, developing work strategies, and identifying critical skills needs for the future, shaping irresistible cultures and differentiated employee value proposition to retain people in a competitive talent scape.Thank you to the PSN and speakers who stimulated discussion and ideas, everyone left motivated for action.” 

                                                       ~ Amanda Flouch, Partner Human Capital Consulting

Through an agenda of keynote speeches, case studies, roundtables and panel discussions, the roadshow enabled attendees to engage in targeted conversations about the challenges facing the public sector workforce.

Polls conducted at the beginning of each session highlighted some interesting similarities and key differences across cities.  It became obvious very quickly that across Australia the public sector is at vastly different stages of maturity in implementing an effective HR strategy.  Results show that Brisbane is the most mature geographical area in terms of HR strategy, with at least one in two describing their HR strategy as comprehensive, holistic, and integrated into work. Considerably higher than the 38% national average.   

Nationally, HR strategy is skewed towards focussing on the physical, mental, and financial health of workers.  Interestingly, the greatest variance among cities was at the other end of the scale, with one in four attendees (25%) from one city stating they had no HR strategy. Compared with the national average of just 13%. 

“I was thrilled to chair the Brisbane event. It was a packed event where presenters, panellists and participants discussed their HR challenges, and shared ideas for solving their key issues around talent acquisition, retention, diversity and inclusion, and implementation and adoption of HR technology.  All the speakers, presentations, keynotes and panel discussions were incredibly engaging and there was a real sense of sharing knowledge and insights.”    

                                                ~ Ruth Postle, Partner, Deloitte Human Capital Consulting

For almost four in five attendees, the greatest challenge in creating the future workforces is access to talent, which resonated across the country, and most strongly in Adelaide and Brisbane.  Technology readiness and keeping up with the pace of innovation was identified as the second greatest challenge, indicated by two in five attendees.  This was highlighted most strongly in Perth, with over one in two highlighting this challenge.

Looking ahead at the next 6 to 18 months, the main focus for three in five attendees is improving employee experience, most notably in Sydney (69%) and Adelaide (68%).  Sourcing new talent was the second highest rated area of focus in coming months, indicated by over one in two attendees nationally, and resonating most strongly in Perth (68%).

The HR space across all industries has been exploring innovative and emerging technologies to support organisations’ HR transformations.  When asked about their main priorities regarding HR innovation in the public sector, the majority of attendees nationally (68%) nominated the workforce experience as the main concern.  This was consistent across most of the geographies, and ranked highest among Perth attendees (82%).  Innovation and adaptability were indicated as the second most significant priority with 40% of attendees across the country.

With access to available talent becoming more and more competitive, the public sector is looking to new technology innovations to secure talent and ensure they have a solid employee experience framework in place to retain that talent.  These are the key focus areas for the HR leaders in the public sector to ensure they can build a world-class workforce to meet the needs of the future.