1800 467 000
work-based capability assessments in talent mobility programs

Using work-based assessments to assess employee capabilities

By Nicola Vass - 3rd July 2018  |  Government , Mobility , Work-based assessments

How the INS talent mobility program and work-based assessments matched staff into new roles across the NSW public sector.

The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) heralded an exciting period of change across the disability landscape. However, for all its benefits, it also meant almost one-thousand employees of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) were staring down the barrel of redundancy.

Enter the team of INS, Department of Premier and Cabinet, and Treasury NSW. By implementing an innovative inter-agency talent mobility strategy and work-based capability assessments, INS provided a new career path for anxious employees, helped keep talent within the sector, and saved money for NSW.

Work-based assessments identify transferable skills

In the public sector, restructures and reforms are unavoidable. In the case of FACS, additional challenges included multiple concurrent restructures, and competing priorities between local FACS reforms, and broader sector requirements. Finally, the large number of people whose jobs were no longer needed, as well as the staged nature of the NDIS implementation posed significant logistical challenges, as people’s roles completed at different times.

Thanks to INS’s carefully-managed Mobility Pathway and system of work-based assessments, FACS was able to move staff to where they were needed and adapt to the changes faster.

“We’re measuring what they are capable of doing and identifying where those capabilities could best be utilised. In terms of human resources, it’s a whole new way of looking at things.” – Lauren Swersky, INS Assessor & Facilitator

One of the first steps towards successful placement was thorough work-based capability assessments to verify employees’ transferable skills. It is rare that the same job is available in another agency. So identifying capabilities common to many public sector roles is important. Agency context can be learnt quickly but capabilities take time to develop.

According to INS Assessor & Facilitator, Lauren Swersky, “The great thing about capability-based assessment is that we’re not measuring how well people perform in their current job. Instead, we’re measuring what they are capable of doing and identifying where those capabilities could best be utilised. In terms of human resources, it’s a whole new way of looking at things.”

A common capability framework facilitates the talent mobility

There are barriers to transferring staff between agencies: departments and agencies have different role descriptions for the same type of role, and recruitment and assessment processes differ. To remove these sorts of barriers in NSW, the Public Sector Commission introduced the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework.

A Capability Framework defines the behaviours, skills and knowledge that an organisation and people need to succeed. It establishes a common language, so HR managers can communicate easily across diverse teams — including across agencies — and expresses a workplace’s (or a whole sector’s) culture, expectations and values.

The NSW state government framework includes 16 capabilities across four core groups: personal attributes, relationships, results, and business enablers. The NSW Government Services Employment Act 2013 contains mechanisms for transferring staff between agencies, including the capability framework.

Designing the best work-based assessment process

Focusing on capabilities rather than experience was pivotal to finding roles that matched the FACS candidates’ profiles.

To develop the battery of assessments needed to support hundreds of people across almost as many roles, INS sourced typical candidate role descriptions from FACS and other agencies to distinguish between common and non-common roles. According to Maria Frangeskou, INS Program Director, the aim was to form a strong understanding of the similarities and differences of how role descriptions are applied across the sector. INS then used this understanding to build relevant work-based assessments and match staff to appropriate roles.

Work-based assessments provide a realistic scenario for candidates to demonstrate any standardised capability. Candidates are given real-life problems and asked how they would solve them. “We base these tasks on actual role descriptions pertinent to an industry or field,” says Lauren. “We use topics the employees are likely to be familiar with.”

Work-based assessments provide a realistic scenario for candidates to demonstrate any standardised capability.

Each assessment designed by INS was developed for a specific role type and level, using the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework. These assessments are practical tasks, lasting between 30-90 minutes, with the ability to measure multiple capabilities at once.

An organisational psychologist ensured that all assessments and criteria for observable behaviours were both valid and reliable. At the end of the assessment process, individualised reports were provided to hiring managers indicating the capabilities of candidates put forward for roles. Candidates also used these reports as feedback regarding capabilities they may want to further develop.

Assessment Centre experience that relieves employee anxiety and recognises diversity

During the FACS Talent Mobility Project pilot phase, INS identified a significant amount of employee insecurity, agitation and uncertainty about the assessment process.

“By the time they finish, they frequently say that they feel so much better and more prepared. They can be more confident going into the new role.”

“I often see people come into this process feeling nervous, frustrated or even reluctant,” says Lauren. “They just don’t know what to expect. The beautiful thing is we have highly supportive assessors who can reassure them by giving them practice assessments, support, feedback, and giving them as much time as they need to get through the task. By the time they finish, they frequently say that they feel so much better and more prepared. They can be more confident going into the new role.”

INS specifically designed their Assessment Centre experience to allow for diverse employee backgrounds, styles and approaches. “The work-based assessment process is very accessible,” says Lauren. “If people prefer a lot of structure or want help finding the right way to best express their responses, we have the systems and attitudes in place to be really flexible.”

Hiring managers end up embracing work-based assessments

One of the challenges of Hiring Managers is feeling confident that people can perform well in a role. “A lot of the candidates had been in the same role for many years,” says Lauren, “They were used to one perspective and approach, and hadn’t much exposure to different workplace or divisional cultures. Our job at INS was to help them overcome their anxiety, relieve stress and open them up to be positive about working in different roles and agencies. We gave them the tools they needed to step out of their FACS mindset and thrive in a new environment.”

Initially hiring managers were sceptical of the pre-vetted candidates. After understanding that INS provided standardised, objectively measured assessments, they soon embraced the process.


Work-based assessments have proven to be a highly reliable recruitment method. They save hiring agencies time and money, while preparing candidates for new roles.

To find out more, register to download our Work-Based Assessments Guide. The guide contains a sample work-based assessment, role description, and assessment report.

Career tips and freebies. Delivered to your Inbox.

Get all of the latest content first.

Give it a try. It only takes a click to unsubscribe.
Recent Articles

Managing Organisational Change

Many government agencies are currently dealing with workforce issues around transition, outplacement and mobility. How do you take these changes in your stride and make sure that everyone involved is along for the ride? And what of your duty of care to your people? If you are about to embark on transition activities within your…

Read more >

Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2019

Please find the Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2019from the World Economic Forum here. Sophia Symeou CEO and Founder INS

Read more >

INS develops and implements an innovative alternative to large-scale redundancies

INS is proud to present this case study outlining its success working with the NSW Government to develop and implement a tailored Talent Mobility Pathway. The pathway provided an innovative alternative to large-scale redundancies of employees impacted by the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme within NSW. The implementation of the Talent Mobility Pathway reinforced the economic and operational feasibility of…

Read more >
  • Pages

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Join our community of public sector HR specialists and subscribe to INS's Blog to receive great content delivered right to your inbox.

    The INS Blog covers everything you need to become a public sector talent guru. Topics include talent mobility, capability frameworks, career transition, outplacement, work-based assessments, and more.