DTA's plan to avoid a govt IT brain drain

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DTA's plan to avoid a govt IT brain drain

Minister unconcerned about impact of agency restructure.

Australia’s digital transformation minister isn’t worried about the impact his restructure of the Digital Transformation Agency will have on the government’s efforts to recruit the next generation of digital gurus to the public service.

Angus Taylor today detailed where the $13.9 million the DTA and Australian Public Service Commission were given in the recent budget to improve government digital capability will be spent.

The DTA and APSC are hoping to place 250 IT cadets and apprentices in agencies across Australia within the next 12 months through two entry-level programs.

The pair are also working to develop executives’ skills in IT to “enable better service delivery”.

Both initiatives sit under the remit of DTA chief digital officer Peter Alexander, who was appointed to the role earlier this month.

Alexander first joined the agency just prior to the drastic restructure of its remit last October.

The changes saw the agency take over responsibility for the sweeping whole-of-government IT policy and procurement functions that had sat within the Finance department, prompting critics to label the DTA AGIMO 2.0.

The restructure - which scaled down the delivery mandate the DTA had originally been established to provide - resulted in an exodus of digital delivery staff from the agency in the following months.

But Taylor denies the focus on delivery has been reduced, and says he isn’t worried about the effect the public perception of the restructured DTA will have on its recruitment drive.

“We’ve broadened the DTA beyond delivery, but it’s still an enormously important part of what the DTA does,” he told iTnews.

“I can tell you it hasn’t changed, except now delivery is done in a lot of different ways: partnering with the DHS on myGov, for example.

“The DTA needed to be about more than just delivery, it needed to include a focus on investment - evaluating investments being made across the Commonwealth, and making sure they fit across a broader digital agenda. If we weren’t able to influence investment and procurement, we wouldn’t be able to drive that broader digital agenda.”

Taylor and the DTA are hoping 1000 apprentices and cadets will apply to the training programs in the current recruitment round.

But the drive is also targeting senior departmental staff, offering training programs to executives to upskill them on technology.

The training - which will be provided by unnamed third party providers - will be less about technical skills and more focused on “strategic understanding” of things like IT procurement, cloud deployments, dealing with cyber security threats, and managing an environment of multiple service providers, Taylor said.

“These are all skills that need to be at not just a junior but a senior level,” he said.

“We recognise it’s not enough to have digital capability in junior employees, we have to have it right to the top.”

The government has long struggled to lure the best and brightest to the public service given the more lucrative positions available in the private sector.

Taylor argues government workers have far more potential to have an impact on people’s lives.

“The projects we are doing touch every Australian. They’re quite profound - look at what we’re doing with projects like Tell Us Once, that’s impacting the way everyone uses technology," he said.

“They are big exciting projects that can have really positive benefits. We can offer that in a way that no-one else in Australia can.”

Ideally people would “cycle in and out of the public sector” and put the skills they’ve learned in private business to use in government, he said.

“We want to avoid a brain drain to the public sector, so we have to be a good employer to people with strong career paths, and that means building skills and giving them exciting work.”

Applications for the 2018 apprenticeship program close August 4 and cadetships close August.

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