Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott has announced Jacqui Curtis as the new Head of Human Resources Profession, in what is a symbol of more to come in the sector.
Ms Curtis takes on the role on top of her day job as chief operating officer of the Australian Taxation Office, a move which is part of a wider strategy to use strategic human resources to build and maintain capability in the public service workforce.
The introduction of a HR profession stream follows on from similar systems in place in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Singapore.
Mr Woolcott signalled further professional streams, including in areas like digital and procurement are in the pipeline.
The interim report from the independent review of the APS had recommended a "professions model" with senior officers appointed to lead each profession and create career pathways to keep talent in the public service.
"Several reviews of the APS over recent years have highlighted capability gaps across a number of professions, including strategic human resources management," Mr Woolcott said.
"A formalised professions model has the advantage of being able to help define and support career paths for both generalists and specialists, providing opportunities that value expertise and management capability."
While keeping mum on what the yet-to-be-released final report by David Thodey says on professions, Mr Woolcott said Monday's announcement didn't stray from its overall recommendations.
The strategy involves setting up a HR professional network, implementing a HR mobility program, developing a workforce strategy for HR professionals and improving the recruitment of HR specialists to the public service.
"It's about having a strategic vision of your organisation, how you're recruiting in a competitive market, but particularly how you develop that talent," Mr Woolcott said
"It's about developing that capability, having a vision of what the organisation needs and the people it needs to meet the outcomes the government and the APS leadership want from that organisation."
It will also involve a streamlined HR graduate recruitment process, where agencies can opt in to recruit graduates wanting to specialise in HR together.
In what is also a signal of things to come, Mr Woolcott said the Public Service Commission was working to develop a model that would centralise graduate recruitment for the whole public sector, removing the need for prospective public servants to undertake multiple similar application processes for different departments.
Departments would still have control over who they hire, but Mr Woolcott believes the talent pool will be widened, but wouldn't be in place until the year after next.
Ms Curtis said she hoped to change the stereotype of HR workers as a group of helpful women in a back office somewhere, and instead show the value strategic HR added to public sector departments where specialists managed talent and succession in a workforce.
She pointed to wins at the tax office where the Comcare premium was reduced from $50 million a year to less than $3 million a year, putting $47 million back into the agency.
"What we have tended to do in the past is to look at our little piece, to get a great recruitment process or we get our terrific grad program or a really great unplanned leave strategy. We don't connect it all up and explain in simple terms to the organisation how that provides benefits and I think that's something that we need to get a lot better at," Ms Curtis said.
While not in a position to direct agency heads, Ms Curtis will be able to advise secretaries on recruitment and other strategies to make the most of the people in their departments.
Ms Curtis will be in the role for two years, and it is expected it will be rotated between relevant senior executives.
Mr Woolcott said he expected Ms Curtis and her successors would represent the Public Service Commission on recruitment boards for senior executive service roles.
Monday's announcement comes after a series of changes within HR practices, driven by Mr Woolcott, including changes to how merit lists are shared and consulted, and performance management.