Hot demand for digital professionals in public service: Aust Govt outlines upskilling pathway

The Australian Government has moved to formalise training and career pathways for digital professionals to cope with escalating demand for highly skilled workers.
 

By 2024, another 100,000 technology workers will be needed to fulfil tech roles across the Australian Public Service (APS), according to official estimates.

Presently, 10,000 people work in digital and ICT roles within the public service, covering cybersecurity, programming, software engineering, digital media and data science, among a host of others.

The formalised training and careers development program has been outlined in a just-released APS digital professional stream strategy, which seeks to build skillsets for technology staff whilst opening career pathways into the upper echelons of management.

The future action plan offers a more formalised career pathway for digital professionals in government. 


Nurturing digital talent

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has mapped more than 150 digital roles – among which include systems architecture, service design, interaction design, and software engineering – into its digital career pathways program, offering a clearer pathway for digital professionals to better upskill for more demand-critical roles.

It was found that digital roles within the public sector had evolved without clear definitions or remits, under the broad category of ‘digital jobs’, rather than more structured pathways, career development, and salaries.

According to APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott, these structures need to be formalised further to help nurture and grow the digital workforce.

“This includes equipping the APS with the skills needed to deliver world-leading services and engage with current and future challenges,” Woolcott said.

The latest training strategy supports a cohesive and fully engaged digital profession, he added. The initiative also addresses the APS’s digital skills shortage while assessing what has already been done and what lies ahead to develop a digital profession.

To build its digital skills base, the Government will draw on the experiences and lessons learned in the UKSingapore, and Canada, which have led the charge on digital transformation.


Championing the profession

The Digital Transformation Agency is tasked with managing the digital professional development strategy.

The strategy is led by the agency chief, Randall Brugeaud, who takes on additional responsibilities as the “digital head of the profession". His brief is 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 is supported by a digital leaders’ reference group comprising senior chief information officers and senior officials from central agencies.

Details about this reference group are yet to be released.

The broader aim is to build on existing initiatives like the ‘Leading in a Digital Age' program for senior executive service (SES) staff, which seeks to enhance digital ways of thinking and working.

“Our leaders need to show their 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.”


Managing attrition 

Formalising digital career pathways was canvassed in an earlier review of the public service by CSIRO chairman and former Telstra boss David Thodey. The review, released last year, warned that the Australian Public Service had fallen behind in its ability to attract, retain, and nurture high-quality talent.

The Government’s staffing arrangements were marked by a higher attrition rate compared to the private sector, the review found. More work was needed to accelerate reforms and build the foundations for a digital economy.

Feedback was collated from 755 public submissions, 814 online comments, as well as surveys and research activity involving government, industries and peak bodies. This outreach was supported by more than 400 meetings, workshops and information sessions nationally.

More than one in 10 members of the APS’s senior executive service has already participated in the ‘Leading in a Digital Age’ leadership program run by the DTA and Australian Public Service Commission. The program aims to help participants become better leaders and enablers of digital transformation, and of digital ways of working in the APS.