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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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