There are some big opportunities just around the corner for the public service. A serendipitous coming together of environmental factors and innovation means that the Holy Grail of HR might soon be within reach.
The global financial crisis won't be all bad news. In fact, it has been prompting some long overdue reflection about how organisations manage their human resources in times of financial constraint, increased scrutiny and uncertainty.
While the shift from paper based recruitment methods to smarter electronic systems has served the public sector well in the past, the drive for productivity, innovation and internal credibility is encouraging HR practitioners to seek out what has been described as the Holy Grail of HR - a technology platform that links all aspects of HR responsibilities and core functions.
This platform would deliver unprecedented control over information, superior reporting abilities and deeper insights into the workforce starting from workplace planning through to recruitment, performance management, succession planning, career management, compensation management and learning and development.
This evolution of information management may finally propel the HR function out of the overheads column and into the organisation's appreciable assets.
That might sound like a peculiar mix of nebulous and zealous, but, as the CEO of a company in an industry racing to provide that Grail, we can see that the need clearly exists and the current conditions might offer the incentive to make it happen.
The Australian public service has a relatively dominant standing in the world of HR. Most government departments or agencies enjoy a strong employer brand and are established enough to have trialled and tested different techniques over a lengthy period of time. The sector has also shown a willingness to be early adopters of new technology, and in the case of electronic recruitment systems, more so than their counterparts in the UK and US.
Despite these positive attributes, government HR professionals are no less exposed to the pressure being exerted on the profession to evolve. As one industry observer noted, HR is often the province of duplication and waste, "turning every minor transaction into a forest of paperwork and using uniformity as the vehicle for equity".
Take that, and add the extra pressure from the executive for greater "justification" and "visibility" and you have, well, something missing.
The APS and e-recruitment
Electronic recruitment was a big step forward for the public and private sectors alike. It has made a vast improvement in the cost and time spent on recruitment.
We have seen this first hand as a provider of e-recruitment solutions to government organisations with workforces ranging from 750 to tens of thousands. For example, one State Government department was able to reduce its time to hire from 80 to 14 days over a nine-month period. Considering that an unfilled standard position in an organisation can cost that organisation up to $25,000 per month for every month that the position remains unfilled, that's a massive saving.
It was also a lesson in handling information in a different way.
A centralised information store, with decentralised administrative capabilities, meant that those "time-wasting manual processes" could be eliminated and credible figures easily produced to show how many candidates were managed, how long it took and how much it cost. It also provided a tactical advantage for the department in its 'war for talent', by reaching and attracting more candidates using a more accessible process.
In the current environment, e-recruitment technology is still proving its worth.
Our intelligence shows that Australian Government applications are on the rise. NGA.NET data reveals that the number of completed applications received is up over 60% year on year. At the same time, the total number of new jobs advertised is down 37% year on year. New opportunities are down and there are more people going for them.
As the volume of applications received by the public service increases, and the burden on recruiters becomes heavier, the ability to manage the process efficiently will be paramount.
As the technology performs and delivers the benefits through this period -- as it has for the last decade -- I believe that there will be a clear case to say it was the e-recruitment tools that were integral to the improvement of this HR function.
However, this solution has only addressed one part of the HR mix.
The Holy Grail of HR is an idea or a vision at present, although we are starting to figure out how it will work.
We know that it must achieve four things:
- Help get the right people on board
- Help manage talent effectively
- Provide an accurate picture of the workforce
- Deliver business metrics that underpin better decision-making
Underpinning these four key areas must be a central 'platform' or storage point that is accessible and useful for those who run the business based on the information.
So, if any member of the executive team wants to log in and see who the top 10 performers are in the business, according to the last review, they can. Going further, they can then see what internal openings candidates are suited for, what learning and development programs may suit them and also where they were recruited from.
This kind of 'true' centralisation, with all of the elements that go with it (like learning and development, succession planning and performance management add ons) is still a way off but there is mounting pressure on our industry to offer a consolidated solution sooner.
Recruitment freezes mean that organisations are looking for better ways to manage the talent they have and are demanding a clear picture of their workforce to make important decisions about where to place people and what capabilities they possess or lack.
The current environment has exposed a need for an all-encompassing platform and software applications to deliver increased efficiency and credibility. With a history of early adoption, the public service is ready for the next development in HR software.
As the pressure mounts on public sector HR departments, our industry may find our deadline for delivering the Holy Grail has come sooner than expected.
About the author
Mike Giuffrida is the CEO of NGA.NET