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Management of human resources
The new Public Service Act
The new Public Service Act provided the department with greater flexibility and discretion to adopt resource management policies more attuned to our needs. A key aspect of the Act for us was the change of status of locally engaged staff in diplomatic missions overseas, for whom the department has primary responsibility. Under the Act, locally engaged staff are no longer regarded as employees of the APS. We took the opportunity of this development to launch a comprehensive review into management of our locally engaged staff. The review, which will be completed during 200001, is exploring the implications of the new Act, and will recommend ways in which the department may be able to exercise more flexibility in employment arrangements for locally engaged staff.
We also took advantage of section 24 of the Act to extend certain terms and conditions of employment to non-continuing departmental employees that were previously only available to continuing employees.
The department focused closely on people management and training and development strategies during the year. A major priority for both the Senior Executive and staff was the negotiation of a new certified agreement for 2000 to 2003. Reallocation of the departments resources as well as productivity gains allowed the department to give improved pay and conditions of service for all staff.
The Secretary launched the departments key policy statement on human resource management, A Strategic Plan for People Management, in September 1999. The policy highlighted the need to offer staff professionally rewarding career opportunities, incentives for high performance, attractive conditions of service, and fair and transparent staffing processes. It also noted the importance of the systems and tools available to the department to achieve those outcomes, including promotions, overseas postings, performance management and the mechanisms available to help cover skills gaps in the organisation.
To develop and maintain a flexible workforce, the department continued to use a number of specific measures. We employed generic selection criteria in annual promotion-to-level selection processes. (These processes are open to external candidates as well, and enable us to engage staff from elsewhere in the APS or the private sector). We also deployed staff by broadband rather than APS classification, thereby ensuring that employees have greater choice of placement and postings options, and that managers have a wider range of candidates to select from in filling a vacancy internally. Details of the departments broadband structure are contained in the description of the Certified Agreement 20002003 on page 187. Finally, where there was a need for specialist skills the department conducted separate, smaller-scale selection processes. In most cases, despite being considered as specialist recruits initially, employees who have entered the department in this way are engaged as continuing employees.
The department continued to enjoy high retention rates and a very healthy level of interest in vacancies advertised. Over 2 500 graduates applied in April 2000 for the departments 2001 graduate intake (around 25 positions). There were continuing difficulties in recruiting and retaining professional accounting staff. The department is looking at strategies to address this.
The department continued to encourage employees and their supervisors to identify any skills gaps and deal with them through either formal courses or on-the-job training and by encouraging all staff to devote at least five days a year to training and development activities.
We introduced in November 1999 a training and development strategy that set out the principles and processes involved in staff development. This strategy better connected individual training and development and the performance management system with the annual performance appraisal process used to identify individual training needs for the next year. The new strategy also identified priority areas for the departmental training program and introduced reporting systems to ensure that the best use is made of available resources.
For planning purposes, the strategy identified three main categories of training: leadership and management; professional knowledge and skills; and capacity in key languages. The department increased the use made of web-based training delivery systems during the year. We developed new programs for distance learning and course outlines for use by overseas posts and State and Territory offices covering leadership, management and professional skills.
The strategy envisaged a continuing role for the departments Administrative Officer Development Program, offering junior staff who have shown management potential a structured series of job placements in our corporate functional areas over two years. Participants are then in a position to apply for posting to consular and administrative roles in overseas posts. Another new program established under the training and development strategy was a professional development awards scheme, which offers more senior officers the opportunity to undertake fully or partly funded secondments or study leave, where these activities are demonstrably of relevance to the departments work.
We restructured our training program for graduate trainees during the year by replacing the existing post-graduate academic course (the Graduate Diploma in Foreign Affairs and Trade) with a more practical and focused in-house program. Trainees are now exposed to two years of on-the-job training, case studies, professional skills development and tertiary-level courses in relevant disciplines, such as international law, economics and public sector management.
Divisions in Canberra continued to offer to interested staff training programs fostering the development of particular professional skills and knowledge, for instance, short courses covering multilateral trade and consular issues.
The departments operating environment provided a significant challenge for our staff welfare resources. Through our Foreign Service Medical Unit we were involved in managing the medical evacuation of 68 people from overseas posts, almost all of them departmental employees or dependants. We maintained seven medical clinics attached to posts.
Our Employee Assistance Program continued to promote staff morale by offering counselling services to departmental employees and their families in Australia and overseas. We incorporated specialist psychological services into the selection process for Bougainville peace monitors and our graduate trainees. We also offered support services to employees and families in NukuAlofa and Suva following an aeroplane crash in which an AusAID employee and a locally engaged staff member died.
The department also maintained the Staff Welfare Network, which includes the Family Liaison Officer in Canberra and the Community Liaison Officer network at 29 overseas posts. Work undertaken by the network included processing and coordinating reunion visits and compassionate travel (for example, when a parent of an employee overseas dies), as well as providing support to medical evacuees and those employees and dependants evacuated from posts in times of civil unrest.
We made efforts through the year to ensure that employees enjoyed a safe and healthy workplace through the promotion of sound occupational health and safety (OH&S) principles. We encouraged interested staff to undertake training courses to qualify as OH&S representatives or to upgrade existing skills. Details of the departments occupational health and safety performance are at Appendix 5.
Streamlining human resources management
In July 1999, the department introduced PeopleSoft HR as our new Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS). This powerful system provided greater accountability, functional reporting capacity and flexibility for managing staff in the new accrual-based environment. The system met the challenges of the new Public Service Act by focusing on employee rather than position management, helping us to re-deploy staff rapidly. PeopleSoft also incorporates a system under which staff are able to access a range of services electronically.
The Employee Self-Service system
The Employee Self-Service (ESS) system, available to all departmental employees in Australia, allows staff to lodge their leave and higher duties allowance forms electronically from their workstations. Managers can then deal with these applications electronically. Staff can also use ESS to view salary details, leave balances and personal data. The system offers considerable advantages over its predecessors, particularly in the way it links directly to the payroll system, reducing the need for manual intervention by pay and conditions staff. In April 2000, a ready reckoner was made available through ESS to enable staff to estimate the Overseas Living Allowance payable at each post. Previously these calculations had been undertaken centrally.
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