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The Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 69, no. 2, pp. 202–213 doi:10.1111/j.1467-8500.2010.00676.

RESEARCH AND EVALUATION

Where Have All The Workers Gone? Exploring Public


Sector Workforce Planning

Linda Colley
University of Queensland

Robin Price
Queensland University of Technology

Governments undertake extensive planning of many services and functions, but tend to
neglect planning of public service workforces. Disruptions to public service delivery, such as
shortages of nurses and doctors, have rejuvenated interest in workforce planning, but many
organisations struggle to do it effectively. This historical study examines the capacity of
central personnel agencies to predict workforce risks and support workforce planning, using
a study of the Queensland public service. It identifies lack of workforce data as a barrier
to effective workforce planning, as a result of factors such as changes in the direction of
the central personnel agency, lack of appreciation for the value of comprehensive central
workforce data, and limited agency human resource (HR) skills or capacity.

Key words: public sector, human resources, HR planning

Contemporary workforce problems, such as an that the need for workforce planning in pub-
ageing workforce and skills shortages, should lic service organisations has gained widespread
be predictable, but instead have taken the public acceptance (ANAO 2005; Anderson 2004;
sector by surprise. Governments undertake ex- Helton and Soubik 2004; MAC 2005; OECD
tensive planning of services and infrastructure 2007; Pynes 2004).
that are essential to the functioning of society, Workforce planning is part of a bundle of
but this planning often neglects any considera- strategic HR initiatives to enhance productive
tion of public service capacity to deliver. Any capacity within organisations. Workforce plan-
disruption to the continuity of service deliv- ning is about ‘aligning an organisation’s human
ery and policy capacity – such as ward clo- capital – its people – with its business plan to
sures due to shortages of nurses and doctors, achieve its mission. It helps ensure that the or-
or shortages of engineers to plan and under- ganisation has the right people with the right
take major infrastructure projects – can create skills in the right job at the right time’ (Cotten
significant political fallout. While workforce 2007:4). Workforce planning can elevate HR
planning has been advocated in the strate- activities into a more strategic domain and en-
gic human resource (HR) literature for several sure its relevance, by providing greater aware-
decades (Bechet and Maki 1987; Ceriello and ness and control over staff numbers and costs,
Freeman 1991; Wood and Jones 1993), it was and better understanding of the required skills
overlooked in public services preoccupied with mix to ensure effectively targeted HR strategies
personnel reforms that potentially blurred re- (Marchington and Wilkinson 2002). To achieve
sponsibility for strategic HR activities. It is only this, organisations need to understand their em-
recently, as new workforce problems emerge, ployees’ competence and commitment, how


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employees’ goals align with those of the organ- ronment, and to trace this over time, thereby
isation, and how employees can be productively extending earlier work by Alford (1993) and
and cost-effectively utilised (Wood and Jones Nethercote (1989, 1996) on the demise of pub-
1993:27). All models for workforce planning lic service boards. We identify that the fac-
are based on largely similar elements: define tors underpinning inadequate workforce data
the organisation’s strategic direction; scan the include: changes in the direction of the central
internal and external environments; understand personnel agency capacity (often as a result of
the current workforce; assess future workforce changes in government); the lack of appreci-
needs; identify gaps in the required numbers ation for the value of comprehensive central
and capability; develop and implement strate- workforce data; and limited agency HR skills
gies to close the gaps; and monitor the effec- or capacity. We argue that governments of all
tiveness of strategies and revise as required political persuasions, regardless of their cen-
(Anderson 2004; ANAO 2002; Bechet and tralist or devolutionist preferences for the role
Maki 1987; Cotten 2007; Standards Australia of the central personnel agency, should main-
2008). tain central workforce information and provide
The literature identifies that many organi- support to agencies to facilitate informed deci-
sations struggle to undertake effective work- sions about public service workforces.
force planning. Many organisations do not have
sufficient information on workforce numbers,
skills, competencies and roles to support work- Public Sector Human Resource Context
force planning analysis and strategy develop-
ment (Anderson 2004; Ceriello and Freeman Public sector employment relations have tradi-
1991). For example, while most HR informa- tionally been different from those in the private
tion systems (HRIS) can generate statistics on sector. The career service model was devel-
the number of employees who are of retirement oped more than 150 years ago, with central
age, this does not mean they will retire (Daniel tenets of administration by an independent per-
2005). Even with adequate data, HR profes- sonnel agency, standardised employment con-
sionals often lack the skills or the organisa- ditions, tenure and recruitment and promotion
tional support to actively engage in workforce based on merit (Colley 2005; Northcote and
planning and decision-making (Pynes 2004). Trevelyan 1854). Under this traditional model,
Our study explores how a lack of workforce strong central personnel agencies, such as Pub-
planning has allowed largely predictable work- lic Service Boards, regulated employment into
force problems to occur in public services. a largely internal labour market, where em-
We examine the capacity of central personnel ployees were recruited at base grade level and
agencies to predict workforce risks and sup- promoted through an internal classification
port workforce planning activities across gov- structure (Caiden 1965; Gardner 1993).
ernment, and how this has changed in recent Broader reforms to public management (see
decades. First, we provide a generic outline Pollitt 1990; Rhodes 1997; Weller 1996) led
of the public sector employment environment. to changes to the traditional career service
Then, using the Queensland public service model through the introduction of private sec-
(QPS) as a revelatory study, we explore its ca- tor techniques (Corbett 1992; Davis 1998;
pacity to plan its human resources by examin- O’Faircheallaigh, Wanna and Weller 1999;
ing the availability, quality and use of HR data Peters and Pierre 2004). The institutions that
over time. governed public sector employment were weak-
The study confirms the findings in the litera- ened through the abolition of strong central
ture that there was inadequate workforce data to personnel agencies and horizontal and verti-
support workforce planning and thereby iden- cal distribution of their responsibilities (Alford
tify and mitigate workforce risks. Our contri- 1993). Supporters of these reforms consid-
bution is to link this lack of workforce data ered devolution of HR decisions to agencies
to specific factors in the public sector envi- as a step towards improving HR performance
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(Teo and Rodwell 2007). Others have identi- time (Adams, Middleton and Ziderman 1992).
fied how the reforms can lead to coordination While some planning can be undertaken across
and accountability problems between central a whole public service, it is also beneficial to
agencies and departments (Alford 1993), with target those positions that are the most difficult
nobody responsible for central databases to to hire or train for (Anderson 2004; Stubbings
monitor service-wide trends or the quality, cost and Scott 2004).
and productivity of labour (Nethercote 1989, Public sector organisations in many coun-
1996). There were also changes to most pro- tries struggle to accurately assess the nature
cedural and substantive aspects of employ- and composition of their workforces (OECD
ment relations (Colley 2005). Managerial re- 2007; Pynes 2004; Rogers and Naeve 1989).
forms sought to break down the traditional A recent report on the Australian Public Ser-
differences by importing private sector HR vice (APS) identified the need for ‘systematic
practices: traditional recruitment to base grade workforce planning to identify emerging trends
levels was replaced with recruitment to all and challenges in relation to the recruitment,
levels; recruitment activities were devolved to development, advancement and succession of
agencies; tenure was diminished in favour of their employees’ as a result of challenges in at-
contract and less permanent forms of employ- tracting and retaining skilled employees (MAC
ment; and standardised conditions were frag- 2005:xiii). Yet, an associated APS audit report
mented and/or supplemented with merit pay indicates that only 24 agencies of the 86 sur-
(Corbett 1992; Peters and Pierre 2004). veyed had an established workforce planning
These institutional and procedural reforms process and most only recorded demographic
had profound implications for managing HR information on their workforces (ANAO 2005).
in the already complex public service environ- There is general agreement in the public ser-
ment (Renfrow 1992). Embedded within the vice HR literature that the ideal is a centralised
reforms was an assumption that HR could pro- whole-of-service database to meet the common
vide strategic rather than operational support workforce planning needs of agencies (Ander-
to an organisation (Brown 2008; Marching- son 2004; Handley 2007; Helton and Soubik
ton and Wilkinson 2002; Truss 2008). How- 2004; MAC 2005). However, establishing such
ever, the capacity for more strategic HR is databases is time consuming and costly, which
constrained by: the complex and sometimes limits its appeal to an incumbent government
contradictory environment; the greater ac- focused on short term budget and election cy-
countability to a wider range of stakehold- cles; hence, it tends to be neglected in favour
ers than the private sector, including the in- of more immediate HR concerns (Helton and
cumbent government; regulation to eliminate Soubik 2004). Further, electronic data storage
corruption and partisan abuses which creates raises additional challenges of data integrity
inefficient and cumbersome processes; and and privacy issues (Eddy, Stone and Stone-
government control over priorities, resources Romero 1999). Given the ‘unprecedented lev-
and machinery of government structure els of autonomy’ that public service agencies
(Coggburn 2001; Harris, Doughty and Kirk currently have (MAC 2005), and their low level
2002; Ring and Perry 1985; Truss 2008). These of attention to workforce planning, the devolu-
contextual factors make workforce planning tion of HR functions to departments has re-
more complex within the public sector. duced the impetus to collect and analyse work-
Workforce planning is not an exact science force information.
and is made more complex by the size and This review of the literature has identified
diversity of the public service. For example, that, in the fast reforming public service em-
while workforce planning needs to identify the ployment environment, there is a lack of com-
skills of existing employees (Anderson 2004; mitment to workforce planning. As foreshad-
Pynes 2004), the link between the education, owed by Alford (1993) and Nethercote (1989,
skills and competencies required for a job is 1996), the demise of public service boards has
often tenuous and the nature of jobs varies over led to issues with coordination, capacity and
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accountability for strategic HR. Our study ex- opportunities for personnel data capture and, in
tends their research by asking the following 1978, the PSB compiled a computerised data
research questions: system of personnel and establishment records
to meet its role in staffing (PSB 1979, 1980,
• What has been the capacity of subse- 1986). The low sophistication of HR activi-
quent central personnel agencies to pre- ties resulted in only basic forms of information
dict workforce risks and support workforce being stored (PSB 1975, 1987). Given that se-
planning activities? niority remained a strong consideration in pro-
• How has this capacity changed in recent motions within the largely internal labour mar-
decades and in what circumstances? ket, data needs were simple, such as length of
service and experience in previous positions.
In this context, there was little need for cen-
Method
tral or agency level data capability to monitor
workforce skills or labour markets. This period
Using the QPS as a revelatory study, we ex-
saw a major focus on development activities,
plore its capacity to plan its human resources
but no attempt to link this information to the
by examining the availability, quality and use
workforce data set. Mobility between agencies
of HR data over time. We employ an historical-
remained an elusive goal, and no data was re-
comparative approach and mix of evidence to
quired to support this type of development ac-
provide a longitudinal perspective (Neumann
tivity (Brennan 2004; PSB 1979, 1981).
2000; Patmore 1998). Information is drawn
The nature of this first electronic data sys-
from primary documents including: HR poli-
tem was influenced by two priorities at that
cies; public service personnel agency annual
time: containment of staff numbers and wages
reports; and public service legislation. This
during the economic downturn (PSB 1979,
documentary evidence is triangulated through
1980, 1982); and better allocation of resources
discussions with past and present central per-
against departmental priorities through pro-
sonnel agency representatives. This revelatory
gram management (PSB 1980). Annual reports
approach to our research questions will sup-
confirm that demographic information was col-
port tentative conclusions, which are poten-
lected. However, it seems that there was little,
tially generalisable across Australian and other
if any, analysis of that data to identify the early
public services.
signs of an ageing workforce or forecast poten-
tial skills gaps.
Traditional Approaches in the Queensland
Public Service
1987–1989 Deregulation of HR and a
The Public Service Commission (PSC) of 1922 Central Data Void
was the first relatively independent central per-
sonnel agency in Queensland, but its mandate In the late 1980s, Queensland faced a series
to support the ‘traditionalist’ career service of dramatic changes including three changes of
conventions of merit, tenure and political neu- premier and establishment of a major corrup-
trality was at the expense of permanent heads’ tion inquiry. New legislation in 1988 replaced
control of their own workforces. The PSC the PSB with the minimalist Office of Pub-
maintained meticulous centralised paper-based lic Service Personnel Management (OPSPM),
records of employee demographic details and whose charter was to develop HR guide-
service records (Colley 2005). lines and provide advice to departments as
In 1968, the Bjelke-Petersen government re- required (Ahern 1988; Colley 2005; Nutter
placed the PSC with a Public Service Board 2004; PSME Act 1988). Ministers and chief
(PSB) that focused more on efficiency, and be- executives were empowered to manage person-
gan to delegate HR functions to departments nel functions within broad policy and budget
(Hughes 1980). New technology provided new constraints (QPD 1988; Savage 1987). In an
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environment where budgets reigned, there was PSMC was unpopular with many public sec-
little incentive for departmental heads to invest tor unions, managers and employees. Wiltshire
in long term workforce planning. The imple- (1992) suggested that the PSMC was perceived
mentation of this devolution was sudden and, as a means of instituting the Australian Labor
with hindsight, considered ineffective (Merrell Party’s political agenda and were resented for
2004; Roberts 2004). Due to the government politicising personnel decisions. Alternatively,
philosophy of agency autonomy and minimal Davis (1995) considered that the resentment
central intervention, the OPSPM no longer col- was not due to the objectives of the reforms,
lected workforce information, and did not in- but the consequences for individuals such as
struct agencies that they should do so (Colley redundancy and removal of seniority processes.
2005). The PSMCs far-reaching reform agenda was
not dependent upon workforce data. Merit
reforms revitalised recruitment and selection
1990 – Three Steps Forward Under the processes, as the internal labour market was
Public Sector Management Commission replaced with open opportunity to compete
for positions (Coaldrake 1991; PSMC 1991).
The turmoil of the late 1980s led to a change These reforms were important in terms of rein-
of government and a watershed for public em- stating Westminster principles, but the assess-
ployment. The Goss government established ment of skills at the point of recruitment did not
the Public Sector Management Commission require the support of a sophisticated data sys-
(PSMC), responsible for the overall manage- tem. Many other Goss reforms were about re-
ment of the public sector, as part of a ‘tri- establishing standards and principles to ensure
umvirate’ of agencies to monitor and review departments managed their people more effec-
electoral, administrative and criminal mat- tively, but such activities required only limited
ters (Goss 1989). The PSMCs functions in- information. There was significant organisa-
cluded: setting human resource management tional restructuring and downsizing during this
(HRM) standards and reviewing the HR prac- period. In the absence of data on workforce
tices; reporting to the minister and parlia- skills, experience or performance, decisions re-
ment on public sector management; establish- garding which employees to remove from the
ing the Senior Executive Service; assessing service were made on subjective local knowl-
adherence to equal employment opportunity edge. There was little inclination to establish
principles; and ensuring merit-based appoint- a HR information system in order to remove
ment processes and fair treatment processes people from the service.
(PSMC Act 1990). The PSMCs HR reforms Goss also created a Senior Executive Service
provided a unified set of policies and (SES) and Chief Executive Service (CES) to at-
‘standards’ for personnel activities, and re- tract and retain highly skilled senior executives
centralised many of the HR powers that the for deployment across the sector (Public Sector
OPSPM had devolved to chief executives in Legislative Amendment Act 1991). A survey of
1988 (Davis 1993; PSMC Act 1990). senior officers provided information about de-
The PSMCs tight control, especially over the mographics, qualifications and recent positions
size of the public sector, caused ‘grief’ for chief held (Hede and Renfrow 1990). The PSMC es-
executives who were unable to create new po- tablished a separate HR information database
sitions (Davis 1995). The PSMC Commission- to manage this elite group, including monitor-
ers, Coaldrake (2004) and Davis (2004), argued ing the SES profile and movements (PSMC
that central control was warranted at least in the 1995). The scope for external applicants and
short term, as the incoming government knew the requirement for internal applicants to apply
nothing about the public service it was inher- for positions removed any pressure for a com-
iting and there was a ‘general view that the prehensive internal database of existing SES
public service had gotten out of control since skill sets. Nonetheless, the database included
the abolition of the PSB’ (Davis 2004). The more than demographic information: it was
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used for workforce planning, and could have statistical analysis of trends, including pro-
provided a model for a broader QPS workforce fessional development’ (PSMC 1995:11–12).
database. The PSMC established a HR development unit,
The equity reforms were a driver for better and a HR development database was mooted.
workforce information when the new Premier The PSMC commenced planning around the
realised that he could not tell how many people abolition of compulsory retirement at age 65
worked in the QPS, let alone what percentage (PSMC 1994). There were also plans to develop
were women. The 1992 Equal Opportunity in an HRM framework for the sector, to better
Public Employment Act mandated that agen- integrate HRM within corporate management,
cies report on target groups and develop plans to assist agencies in their strategic planning
to increase target group membership. An Equal activities, and to develop data and workforce
Employment Opportunity (EEO) census gath- planning models (PSMC 1995). These plans
ered initial data as at June 1994, allowing anal- for more sophisticated workforce datasets,
ysis of sector wide trends in classifications, forecasting capacities and integration with
salary, age, length of service, location, sepa- strategic planning were consistent with the rec-
ration, appointments and promotion rates. The ommendations in the literature, and the Goss
PSMC actively provided advice and assistance government’s political philosophy of strong
to agencies on EEO planning and benchmark- central guidance on policy and planning mat-
ing (PSMC 1995), and agencies began regular ters. However, these plans were unseated by a
collection of data on elementary workforce de- change of government.
mographics.
The PSMC had many successes in develop-
ing HR standards, advisory services, training, 1996 – Two Steps Back Under the
resource kits and networks (PSMC 1990, 1992, Borbidge Government
1993, 1994), but an evaluation of its activi-
ties in 1994 found that it had failed to meet The Goss government had unsettled the public
its legislative obligation to monitor and audit service, and a 1996 by-election allowed Bor-
processes other than for EEO initiatives (Hede bidge to form a minority conservative gov-
1993; PSMC 1993). To some extent, this was ernment. The PSMC was replaced with the
due to the lack of effective information sys- new Office of the Public Service (OPS), which
tems, given the cessation of central data collec- had a mandate to remove the perceived pro-
tion by the OPSPM. Davis (2004) suggests that cess burden of the PSMC standards and re-
more systematic monitoring of the HR reform store workforce discretion to CEOs (QPD
agenda was overshadowed by the compressed 28 March 1996; Wright Consultancy 1996).
timetable to implement reforms and the general The new Public Service Act 1996 reduced the
buzz of activity. The industrial relations depart- powers of the central personnel agency to a
ment had begun developing an integrated HR supporting role. Chief executives gained con-
system, but there were ongoing delays in its im- trol over the number and classification level
plementation due to changing policy and classi- of employees, appointments, and secondments
fication frameworks (DEVETIR 1991, 1992). within or between departments (QPD 25 July
The 1994 evaluation of the PSMC provided 1996). The comprehensive PSMC Standards
the impetus for better workforce data col- were replaced with minimalist directives con-
lection. From 1995, the government required taining brief principles (OPS 1996).
agencies to report quarterly to the PSMC on the The OPS continued and consolidated the
size and composition of their workforce against quarterly collection of data from agencies that
estimated agency profiles and program deliv- had been established by the PSMC. The Mini-
erables (PSMC 1995). This decision heralded a mum Obligatory Human Resource Information
new era of workforce information and the inten- (MOHRI) dataset collected EEO and work-
tion for more sophisticated data collection. The force management baseline data, and stream-
SES database was expanded to ‘allow greater lined data collection at agency level (OPS 1996,
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1997, 1998). However, the major focus seemed have appeared unnecessarily complex and ex-
to be on the technical issues around collec- pensive. So by 1998, there was only anecdotal
tion and distribution of the data and, despite evidence of the emerging skills shortages in the
the sweeping statements in each OPS annual information technology, nursing and medical
report, there appeared to be little use of the occupations and that the whole QPS workforce
data to support workforce planning (OPS 1996, was ageing. The elementary nature of the data
1997, 1998). The intention to provide a statis- set, and indeed the government’s HR agenda,
tical research service to agencies seemed to be resulted in limited strategic analysis and re-
limited to staffing numbers, tenure, and gen- sponse and limited support to agencies (OPSC
der issues for EEO reporting (OPS 1996, 1997, 2006a).
1998). The data collection was not integrated
with other OPS areas of workforce policy or 1998 Onwards – Beattie and Bligh Labor
practice, let alone the broader strategic direc- Governments
tion of agencies or the sector.
In 1996, when external consultants under- The Beattie government came to power in May
took a HRM benchmarking study, they rec- 1998 and took a middle road, rejecting some
ommended repositioning of the HRM func- of the Borbidge government initiatives, but not
tion away from processing roles to value-added prepared to restore the Goss government re-
roles, but unfortunately identified the potential forms. The new Office of the Public Service
function from a cost perspective (OPS 1997). Commissioner (OPSC) operated for two years
The subsequent OPS toolkit (OPS 1998) was until August 2000 (QPD 10 Nov 2000) when
similarly cost-centred, rather than strategic, and HR functions were split between the Depart-
focused on limited benchmarking of elemen- ment of Industrial Relations (DIR), the De-
tary data (such as age and absence rates), rather partment of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), and
than understanding the workforce and link- a new Office of Public Service Merit and Eq-
ing workforce information to broader organi- uity (OPSME). This led to confusion for central
sational information. The OPS dedicated few agencies and departments, and the loss of any
resources towards the workforce planning pro- strategic HR agenda (Colley 2005; Henneken
cess (OPS 1996), and it is unclear whether they 2004).
proceeded with intended workshops for agen- The OPSC identified the collection and anal-
cies to encourage them to adopt ‘best practice’ ysis of workforce data as a key workforce pri-
(OPS 1997), or with a trial of workforce plan- ority. It recognised the difficulties caused by
ning amongst four agencies (OPS 1998). the lack of effective data systems, but its ef-
In this environment, data collection and re- forts were towards improvements to the quality
porting focused on elementary workforce de- of the elementary MOHRI data, and develop-
mographics, with the later optional inclusion ment of a new application for benchmarking
of qualification or course of study. EEO re- across government and across Australian states
mained one of the few well-embedded areas of (OPSC 1999, 2000, 2006b). Reporting of the
data analysis, reporting and planning, due to its central data seemed to be focused primarily
legal mandate. The name of the workforce data on internal clients, such as the Public Service
set – Minimum Obligatory Human Resource In- Commissioner and Premier, rather than depart-
formation – reflected the government’s broader ments.
desire for the OPS to take a minimalist role in Other sections of the OPSC began collection
HR. There seemed to be little understanding of of other forms of workforce data. A centrally
the benefits of incorporating broader types of developed organisational climate and morale
information from emerging OPS activities such survey was embraced by agencies from 1998.
as organisational climate and morale survey A small OPSC team assisted agencies to im-
findings, or the renewed focus on leadership plement the surveys, strategise to address the
and development. The collection of workforce findings, and combine the various data sources
skills information for planning purposes may – organisation climate and morale, MOHRI,
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HR benchmarking and other organisational workforce planning framework, but did lead
measures – to analyse organisational perfor- the OPSC to address the data analysis skills of
mance and to inform planning (OPSC 1999, HR personnel in departments.
2000). This survey had the potential to ele- Since Anna Bligh became Premier in 2007,
vate HR to a more strategic level, but fol- there has been a renewed focus on strategic
lowing the departure of Public Service Com- planning and performance in the QPS, with
missioner Brian Head, shortsighted middle and the release of Towards Q2:Vision for 2020
senior OPSC managers stifled the project. The (Queensland Government 2008). This vision
institutional split of HR functions led to the identifies some of the generic skills required
transfer of the workforce data function to DIR, of public servants in the future. The OPSC has
which was little interested in strategic HR been reshaped into a new Public Service Com-
(Colley 2005; OPSC 2006a). mission, which remains a fledgling institution
The OPSC stated that its workforce prior- at the time of writing, but shows no immediate
ities were to develop flexible work practices, signs of addressing the sophistication or inte-
review attraction and retention of staff and col- gration of workforce databases.
lect and analyse workforce data. But in prac-
tice it developed best practice frameworks and
hoped that agencies would adopt them. Work- Discussion
force planning continued to be an aside, with
no effort to integrate all HR activities under- This historical review has traced the capacity
taken across the OPSC and DIR, let alone link of central personnel agencies to support work-
this to the strategic direction of government or force planning through centralised workforce
departments. While the OPSC did not have the information. In its early years, the PSB used
regulatory powers of previous central person- emerging technology to store elementary work-
nel agencies (OPSC 1999), it erred by failing to force data, in line with the simple needs of
appreciate the value of workforce information the largely internal labour market. The PSB’s
or to monitor departmental activities. centralist approach was replaced by the min-
In line with the managerial quest for effi- imalist OPSPM, which proceeded to devolve
ciency, shared service providers (SSPs) were all HR activity without the compensatory step
created to manage operational HR activities of a central HR database to monitor develop-
and this fragmented HR responsibilities and ments – a pattern that Nethercote (1996) noted
records. SSPs developed separate databases to occurred across Australia. The Goss govern-
record their activities in advertising vacancies, ment replaced the OPSPM with the centralist
applicant pools, and job evaluations (OPSC PSMC, which had a political mandate for re-
2006a). The use of different databases meant form through strong central control. The PSMC
that this data could not be linked to the broader implemented data reporting and systems to
MOHRI database. The MOHRI database was capture basic demographic information for the
person-based rather than position-based, so it general workforce and marginally more sophis-
could tell you how many people were employed ticated information on its SES workforce. The
in an occupation, but not how many vacancies PSMC had planned for more sophisticated data
there were in that occupation. This limited the collection, integration and linkage to strategic
capacity to link MOHRI data to the SSP recruit- direction, but did not get to implement these
ment data, job evaluation data, payroll data, or plans due to the 1996 change of government.
any agency-based data on positions. The Borbidge government’s OPS pursued a de-
Throughout this period, the responsible cen- centralist agenda, under which it maintained
tral agency highlighted the emerging problem existing minimal workforce information col-
of the ageing workforce, and provided support lection, but abandoned the PSMC’s plans for
through guidelines, awareness sessions and pi- more sophisticated data collection and integra-
lot initiatives (DIR 2002; DEIR 2005). These tion. Under the Beattie government, the subse-
initiatives were not integrated into a broader quent split of responsibility for HR functions
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across DIR and the OPSC/OPSME resulted in that combined the MOHRI data with other in-
a lack of a clear strategic HR agenda and no ternal sources of workforce information (such
extension to the existing datasets. as organisational climate surveys, recruitment
This historical review confirmed that the and applicant pools, skills and development)
QPS did not maintain adequate workforce and external data (such as Australian Bureau
datasets to support workforce planning and of Statistics data and university enrolments).
thereby identify and mitigate workforce risks. The MOHRI dataset remains inadequate due to
While technology made more sophisticated its person rather than position focus. A compre-
data systems possible in each of the time peri- hensive, centralised dataset would have created
ods studied, technological possibilities were not economies of scale, avoided duplication across
the driver of the nature of the datasets. The ap- the sector, and provided agencies with an infor-
proach to data systems was generally affected mation base for workforce planning. The OPSC
by institutional factors. Changes in government did not consider it had the responsibility to lead
led to changes in the central personnel agency, workforce planning by facilitating this data in-
which reflected each government’s philosophy tegration. Ideally, as Helton and Soubik (2004)
regarding the importance of central guidance or recommended in the case of the Pennsylvania
workforce data collection. Some governments public service, agencies should be mandated to
preferred limited central intervention and em- access the service-wide database and report on
phasised agency autonomy in managing their their workforce planning.
own HR which, as flagged by Alford (1993) As identified in the literature, the decentrali-
and Nethercote (1989, 1996), led to coordina- sation of HR functions also meant that agencies
tion and accountability problems. were under greater pressure to find a sufficient
Devolution of HR functions to departments number of experienced strategic HR practition-
was unnecessarily combined with limited cen- ers (Coggburn 2005). Anecdotal evidence sug-
tral oversight, and central personnel agencies gests that departments would have benefited
not only missed an opportunity, but shirked from leadership from the central agency on con-
their responsibility to monitor service-wide temporary HR skills, such as workforce plan-
trends and to engage agencies in addressing ning and data analysis, to increase the profes-
these findings. As noted elsewhere, decentrali- sionalism of agency HR units. It is only in very
sation of decision-making does not necessitate recent times, as a response to the ageing work-
decentralisation of data collection and forecast- force issue, that the OPSC took a lead in raising
ing (Coggburn 2005). Decentralisation seemed the general skills of HR staff in data analysis
to work moderately well in earlier times, but and then only to a minor extent.
has left the QPS exposed on staffing issues
under current labour market conditions. Ide-
ally, the central personnel agencies would have Conclusion
approached workforce planning in the same
way that the PSMC approached EEO reforms, This article examined the capacity of central
which were a strong example of the combina- personnel agencies to predict workforce risks
tion of data analysis, policy development, mon- and support workforce planning activities. We
itoring and culture change, and proper embed- identified that changes of government often led
ding of a skill set. to changes in the direction of the central per-
Most governments did not understand the im- sonnel agency and its subsequent approach to
portance of sophisticated and comprehensive HR activities including workforce planning and
personnel information systems. Given more data collection. This was exacerbated by lack
time, the PSMC would have established more of appreciation for the value of comprehen-
sophisticated and integrated data systems, in sive central workforce data and limited agency
line with their integrated approach to HR. How- HR skills or capacity. The resulting informa-
ever, subsequent central agencies failed to iden- tion void has allowed contemporary workforce
tify or value the need for an integrated data set challenges, such as ageing and skills shortages,
C 2010 The Authors
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C 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia
Colley and Price 211

to emerge. Comprehensive central workforce Coggburn, J.D. 2001. ‘Personnel De-Regulation: Ex-
data is critical to identify gaps between future ploring Differences in the American States.’ Jour-
organisational direction and capability require- nal of Public Administration Research and Theory
ments, to support the apolitical and enduring 11(2):223–244.
need to profile and plan for the future work- Coggburn, J.D. 2005. ‘The Benefits of Human Re-
source Centralization: Insights from a Survey of
force and to elevate the HR function to a more
Human Resource Directors in a Decentralized
strategic level.
State.’ Public Administration Review 65(4):424–
435.
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