Making the Elephant Dance – One VPS and the Jobs and Skills Exchange

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It’s times like these that demonstrate the importance of a flexible, capable and responsive public service. We take a look at the One VPS and Jobs and Skills Exchange initiatives, which are designed to help the Victorian Government carry out its role as effectively as possible.

It seems like there has long been a drumbeat of opinion by some that small government is good and big government is simply there for red tape and taxes.

However, it’s during times like these that we look to the leadership and capability of governments to guide us through as safely and securely as possible. Whether that involves an effective public health policy, the treatment available in the health system, the financial support provided to workers and businesses, the delivery of supporting programs, or the clarity of the advice that we all depend on.

We also need our governments to respond to events like COVID-19 in both a timely and considered manner.

A good and effective government certainly matters. As does a responsive government.

So, what are governments doing to keep improving what they do and the way they do it? And how do such programs enhance their responsiveness?

In Victoria, the government has for some time recognised that the old-fashioned siloed approach of each department acting mainly in their own area of responsibility is, simply, nuts. It’s now understood that if departments all operate in a more connected, integrated and intelligent way, that focuses on the needs of citizens, then so much more can be achieved.

For example, the family violence initiatives recently put in place depend on information and responsibility sharing across and within organisational boundaries. This is a step-change improvement in government capability that was enabled through leadership, culture and technology changes.

Another obvious example is the Victorian and federal governments’ combined response to the pandemic threat. Many government agencies have roles to play in a coordinated response, where sharing the same data and insights across organisational boundaries is critical.

So, what is the Victorian Government’s strategic focus to ensure we have the capability and processes that are needed? That is, a modern, responsive, fit-for-purpose public sector that operates as efficiently as possible…

How to make the elephant dance. The answer in Victoria is the One VPS initiative and its cousin, the Jobs and Skills Exchange initiative.

One VPS and JSE

One VPS

One VPS (One Victorian Public Service) is described as a whole-of-government initiative intended to facilitate easier cross-agency work through technology and culture changes that encourage mobility, collaboration and innovation.

Interestingly, One VPS is being managed by a talented small team within the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) that doesn’t appear to have significant funding. Rather, it is attempting to stitch together a range of existing and proposed projects, each with their own business case and priority within their funding agency. The team may be small, but it reports through to the Victorian Secretary’s Board, so it has strong executive backing.

In an interview that Carolyn DeGois, the leader of the One VPS team, gave to FST Media in July last year, she stated: “One VPS activities will produce best practice, common solutions for common needs. It will sponsor excellence by reforming foundations, like human resources. It will also create ‘centres of excellence’ to focus on improving the way we deal with high-volume, low-cost transactions, such as procurement, payroll, and accounts payable and receivable.”

Current One VPS projects include a common Human Capital Management solution, common HR processes, and a centralised Grants Hub. One VPS is also focusing on the culture change required and is developing a range of projects to facilitate greater innovation and collaboration across the sector. A further focus is strengthening procurement expertise and administration across government, as well as accelerating technology projects such as a unique staff identifier and single vic.gov.au email.

With the consideration of centres of excellence, it looks like the concept of government shared services, whilst never going away, is coming back into vogue, even if under another name.

One of the major priorities of One VPS is to enable greater flexibility and staff movement across the VPS. The objectives here are to plug capability gaps, develop better career paths and make best use of the staff available, whether to meet short-term needs and secondments, or for more permanent moves. As part of this, One VPS provides support to the Jobs and Skills Exchange that was established in July 2019.

The Jobs and Skills Exchange

The Jobs and Skills Exchange (JSE) is essentially an internal platform where all VPS jobs (permanent, temporary and secondments) are advertised to enable priority access within the VPS, before they are advertised externally. The intent is to make it easier for staff to find internal opportunities, and for hiring managers to find the most appropriate talent within the VPS.

What makes the JSE a little unusual is that, while it is managed by a dedicated unit within DPC, its work is overseen by a committee that includes the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU). The reason for this can be traced back to an election commitment Victorian Labor gave before the 2018 election, when it announced that “a re-elected Andrews Labor Government will cut waste by reducing the public service spend on labour hire and consultancies, while also promoting secure employment opportunities for Victorian workers”.

Clearly the Victorian Government sees the JSE as a mechanism to reduce spending, while also driving greater mobility across the VPS. See the article written by Mia last year on the issues relating to the proposed reduction in labour hire and consultancies.

Interestingly, at the time of the pre-election statement, Victorian Labor referred to the exchange as being a tool to fill temporary vacancies, not permanents, to replace the use of external labour hire firms (which presumably provided non-union labour). So the scope of the JSE has grown considerably since its inception.

Equipped for challenges

So, back to the starting premise of this article, which is the role of government and its ability to carry out that role as effectively as possible. Together, One VPS and JSE are aiming to give us a more flexible, capable and responsive public service and we should applaud that. No doubt the One VPS initiative, with its aim of significantly changing culture, has the tougher task. But, with the overwhelming challenges of climate change and bushfires, a slowing world economy and now a pandemic virus, its work is more important than ever.

We trust that the government’s commitment to One VPS is rock solid. However, while the One VPS team reports to the Victorian Secretary’s Board, where is the mandate? It doesn’t necessarily mean that government departments and agencies will implement its work. Without a strong commitment from Cabinet, it is difficult to see any significant reform in how the Victorian Government works.

We need the elephant that is our government to be as well trained and as nimble as possible.

For, while the primary focus of the Victorian Government is dealing with the unprecedented threat and impact on the lives of all Victorians, it is also attempting to ensure the state’s largest workforce is safe and able to continue carrying out its role in conditions never before encountered.

The current situation hopefully provides even greater urgency to the work of One VPS and the JSE. The outcome would be a win for all Victorians by virtue of achieving a modern, responsive, fit-for-purpose public sector equipped to deal with the greatest of challenges.

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