The Australian Public Service Commission is moving to centralise merit lists for the most senior executive roles, as debate around how to identify and keep talented executives forms part of the independent review of the public service.
Starting February 1, agencies will be required to notify Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott a month before vacancies at the SES Band 3 level are advertised publicly, and ensure other merit lists have been checked before advertising.
The measures, announced in a circular not long before Christmas, are part of efforts to share information about candidates and streamline processes for the recruitment of deputy secretaries.
The changed processes are aimed at sharing knowledge about candidates between agencies.
"Feedback from agencies has indicated that centralising the sharing of merit lists would streamline current processes used across the APS," a spokeswoman for the Australian Public Service Commission said.
While agencies have already been asked to fill the commission in on details of upcoming senior vacancies, they will now be required to tell the commission that merit lists for similar positions "have been identified and reviewed".
That doesn't mean agencies will be forced to hire someone already merit listed at another agency.
"There is no obligation for an agency to make an offer of employment to any person on a merit list, including in circumstances where additional information has been sought for a particular candidate," the commission said in the circular.
"Agencies will not be required to provide the commission with reasons for a decision not to use an existing merit list."
The advanced notice to the commission could result in recruitment processes for senior roles in more than one agency being done at the same time.
"Where there are opportunities for joint recruitment processes, agencies will be advised, and relevant secretaries and agency heads can choose to be involved in a shared selection process," the circular said.
The centralisation of merit lists with the commission is yet to happen, but the commission says it is working towards it as part of measures to "improve the efficiency and effectiveness of SES recruitment".
Recruitment in the public service is often criticised as slow and laborious, and making the public service an "employer of choice" is one of the independent review chairman David Thodey's five areas of focus.
Submissions to the review include various gripes about recruitment in the public sector and opportunities for promotion. Many believe the processes discourage good candidates, while others argue talented employees aren't well developed and encouraged.
Dr Samantha Johnson from the University of New South Wales' public service research group said any moves to increase mobility and career opportunities for public servants were welcome, and while steps forward in the time-consuming and expensive area of recruitment were good, the wider human resources system needed reform.
"Changing isolated elements of a complicated [human resources management] system can limit improvement. All elements of the HRM system must be reviewed. So if we're going to change elements of recruitment we should look at what other elements of HRM could be changed to support the desired outcomes," she said.
Dr Johnson said it was a good move to look at more easily sharing merit lists, but making sure qualified people are given the best opportunities to get on merit lists is also important, as well as making sure the lists are developed appropriately.
According to Dr Johnson, the success of new recruitment processes should be measured not only by the processes being followed, but by the outcomes actually being achieved.
"When this new practice is evaluated, [it's important] that it's not just the process that is being evaluated. Whatever the commission decides to do, the evaluation must go beyond asking, 'did this process work?'. Many processes work well in themselves, but don't necessarily give us the outcomes we want," she said.
And while increased visibility of merit lists and increasing mobility around the public service was a positive, she said, capability must always be considered in addition to someone's desire and passion for a role.
"Capability at level can be mapped against desire and capability for specific jobs in order to support high performance across the APS," she said.
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