The Australian Public Service Commission has settled on a pathway to help uplift digital capability across government, releasing a new strategy to establish a formal APS tech career track.
Commissioner Peter Woolcott announced the APS digital professional stream strategy on Thursday to “drive a cohesive and engaged digital profession through building digital expertise”.
A digital profession, as well as a separate data profession, was called for in the root-and-branch review of the APS last year to “ensure the APS has the skills required to develop, build and maintain ICT systems”.
The review had found 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 new strategy, which was developed with the Digital Transformation Agency, aims to address this “digital skills shortage”, outlining both what has already been done and what lies ahead to develop a digital profession.
It expects to do this by introducing a “structured way to build and uplift the core digital expertise ... and specialist expertise in digital roles” through “setting professional standards, implementing digital career pathways and addressing digital skills gaps”.
While there are currently an estimated 10,000 people working in digital and ICT roles across the APS, as many as “100,000 additional technology workers” are expected to be needed by the government by 2024, according to the strategy.
To drive forward change, Digital Transformation Agency chief Randall Brugeaud has been appointed digital head of profession to “champion the digital professional stream and collaboration across agencies”.
Brugeaud will work with heads of departments and agencies to “embed and showcase good digital capability”, though he will have no “formal authority over agency head decision making”.
He will also be supported by a digital leaders reference group composed of senior chief information officers, as well as senior officials from central agencies.
An immediate area of concern will be “advanced digital skills such as embedding cloud environments”, which the APSC and DTA have only recently begun to address through the capability cubed pilot under the ‘building digital capability program’.
The strategy will also see a digital professions code of service developed to “ensure those in the profession meet thresholds for skills, attitude and aptitude” and a common framework for skills assessment.
Digital professionals will also increasingly play a key role in vetting prospective applicants for leadership roles in a bid to increase attributes that are attuned to a changing APS.
This will build on existing initiatives like the ‘leading in a digital age program’ for senior executive service (SES) staff, which aims to increase “digital ways of thinking and working”.
“Our leaders need to show their own abilities to lead well in new, changing and ambiguous situations, using their ability for whole-of-systems thinking in an adaptive and agile public service,” the strategy states.
“There are some key roles where we need relevant professional credentials. Agency Heads will be encouraged to include digital professionals on selection panels for key leadership roles. They will be professional advisers to the selection panel.”
Specialist communities will also for certain disciplines like cloud and service design will also be introduced to increase on-the-job learning and improve networking.
Woolcott said the coronavirus pandemic, which has uprooted long-established ways of working, has highlighted the importance of digital and IT skills, which are expected to only become more important.
“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,” he said.