Talent Management in the Australian Public Sector


Jessica Booth, senior HR advisor at CSIRO, believes ‘talent management’ is serious business in public sector organisations across Australia, and argues that positive ‘brand experiences’ are the key to attracting and retaining talent.

The notion of “Talent Management” has been bandied around for many years despite the difficulty in precisely defining the concept. A good definition that I like to refer to is that ‘talent management concerns competencies – what employees should know and be able to do, and performance processes – how to leverage those competencies by putting them in the right parts of the organization, and then measuring their impact on real goals’ (Galagan. 2008). More crudely, some say it’s about getting the right people in the right place at the right cost.

What does ‘talent management’, in public sector organisations, entails? At CSIRO, faced with an ageing population, skill shortages and the management of four generations in our workforce, the challenges of ‘talent management’ are many. It can involve strategies around recruitment, leadership development, culture, succession planning, performance management, brand, learning, career development, remuneration, and employee engagement.

The changing demographics of our workforce is one of the biggest challenges we face. We are witnessing a mass exodus of baby boomers (who’ve to date been our ‘lifers’). Bringing in Generation Y to replace them isn’t always the solution either. The skills we seek are sometimes so niche (I need to Google the titles sometimes!) they need to be sourced from around the globe. This creates additional complexity because staff in public sectors are remunerated within particular ‘bands’ rather than what the market is offering. In spite of the recession, redundancies and rising unemployment rates, public sector organisations are still embroiled in the ‘war for talent’.

So, what are we doing about it?

A robust recruitment strategy, no doubt, forms an integral part of any good talent management plan, and developing an ‘employer brand’ plays a massive part in this too. It’s all about how you sell yourself to current and future employees. Companies like McDonalds, SEEK, and Google invest a lot on their employment brand, similarly many public sector organisations in Australia are now putting some serious effort into understanding and communicating their ‘employment brand’. Many are creating positive brand experiences at each of their organisational touch points such as HR processes, internal communications, development opportunities, career management and interactions with the management team.

A study of Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, winner of the ‘Best companies to work for 2008’ award, workplace found the following themes:

  • there is a strong focus on work-life balance
  • there are flexible work practices
  • quality and relationship with co-workers is extremely positive and strong
  • employers feel pride in the work they do
  • senior staff are accessible and approachable

Such positive brand experiences are not uncommon in Government agencies. Most public sector companies genuinely focus on things like flexible work practices, work life balance, and career development for its employees. Communicating these unique brand experiences effectively is important and challenging at the same time.

Progress, however, is encouraging. Many organisations moved from pretty looking glossy brochures to putting videos on the Internet. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has done this. At CSIRO we also developed a video to promote our ‘employment brand’.

In the video we see engaged employees who are encouraged to have a ‘great idea and then go and develop it’. They are empowered, they say they have the resources to do their jobs, they’re excited about tackling the problems, they say it’s a great working environment and overall a great place to be. A convincing and real brand experience is communicated in a short (1 minute 35 seconds) video. Public sector organisations have a long way to go in understanding and communicating their employer brand, but it is going to be absolutely necessary in the near future.

It’s truly about brand experiences that are going to enable public sector organisations to attract and retain talent, and also improve employee engagement across the workforce.  Developing and communicating brand experiences, I believe, is at the crux of ‘talent management’ strategies in public sector organisations.

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