A graduate perspective
Meet Chris and Seamus, two of the APS’s newest recruits and members of our first ever HR Professional Stream graduate program. Both have different backgrounds, and have had quite different experiences across 2020. One thing they have in common? A passion for HR and excitement for what the future holds.
Piloted for the first time in 2020, with an expanded program already in the works for next year, the APS HR Graduate Development Program brings together bright HR professionals from across the APS. Sitting on top of the existing graduate programs at the participants’ home agencies, it provides a whole-of-APS view to HR with a calendar of networking and training events. The program is a structured way to uplift strategic HR skills across the APS, and provide a strong foundation for emerging HR graduates to kick-start their APS career.
To learn more, we spoke to two graduates about their experiences of the program so far: Chris Watson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and Seamus Carr from the Department of Defence (DOD). What emerged was that while the two have had a very different year, the graduate program has helped to provide a common grounding in HR best practice – and they both share a passion for the future of our profession.
For example both grads cited their interest in strategy and new ideas as a motivation to join the program. “I was first interested in the program to learn more about the strategic direction of HR across the APS,” said Chris, “and to soak up and share ideas on how we can improve outcomes for the business and staff.” Seamus, similarly, saw the opportunity to learn: “I was attracted to the opportunity to participate in innovative, cross-agency HR training and strategic practices,” he explained.
But neither could have predicted the extraordinary circumstances of this year, and the disruption meant they have had different experiences. For Seamus, the emergence of COVID-19 changed the course of his year when he was called on to be part of the government’s response to the crisis in Australia. “It was impressive to see the APS respond to the situation so quickly, and exciting to be a part of that response” Seamus said.
Seamus was redeployed from the DOD to Services Australia where he was part of the front line helping process Jobseeker claims. “Our job was to assist the many Australians requiring financial assistance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Seamus stated. “It was a steep learning curve at first, but once I was able to make a contribution it was inspiring to be able to help people in need during such a stressful time.”
While all this was going on for Seamus, Chris was partaking in his first data and workforce analytics module. Describing the course, Chris said that “workforce analytics can be a fairly dry topic, so I was impressed at how engaging the team made the session through the interactive activities and ‘break out’ rooms.”
With data literacy becoming an increasingly valued capability across the APS as a crucial element to making informed decisions, it’s no longer seen as a specialised skill just for data experts. Recognising this, the HR Professional Stream is taking this year’s grad cohort through a training module that shows them how they can use data to make informed and strategic decisions for the benefit of a more cohesive and engaged workforce.
“It was interesting to hear from some of the experts in the ATO,” Chris added. “I could really tell they were passionate about data. It’s great to know where these pockets of expertise exist across the APS network,”
Despite the two contrasting experiences Chris and Seamus had across the year, their similar perspectives came through when they were asked about their future plans beyond the completion of the program. Building on their professionalisation and HR expertise were common themes resonating with both of them.
Seamus elaborated further that he would like to be in a taskforce area where he can apply the skills and knowledge he’s learning currently in his Defence Graduate Program: “Having the opportunity to apply my workforce planning and analytical skills to create workplace strategies would be rewarding.”
Chris has a flexible approach when it comes to planning his career, acknowledging that there are many fascinating areas worth exploring. “I’m open to working anywhere where I can make the most impact,” he explained, “which I suspect will be where I can combine my organisational psychology and international relations skills.”
The two seem passionate about using their skills to help build HR capability across the APS, with big ideas for the future. With HR forming a vital part of our response to change, we asked Chris and Seamus – as upcoming HR practitioners – how they see the future of HR across agencies. Given the current working environment, Seamus recognised that building a highly functional, agile and resilient workforce that is future-ready is most important. “This includes ensuring there are professional approaches to dealing with increased policy complexity, changing demographics and growing expectations,” he said.
Chris explained that creating a high-performance culture in the APS and generating effective methods for increasing innovation and engagement for staff will be a focus in the future. He noted: “although this is something most organisations and industries are working towards, I think the APS has some unique barriers to achieving this, and we’re going to need to find unique solutions that fit for us.”
To learn more about the program, visit the APS HR Graduate Program website for more information.