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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.x

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 ageing workforce and skills shortages, should be predictable, but instead have taken the public sector by surprise. Governments undertake extensive planning of services and infrastructure that are essential to the functioning of society, but this planning often neglects any consideration of public service capacity to deliver. Any disruption to the continuity of service delivery and policy capacity – such as ward closures due to shortages of nurses and doctors, or shortages of engineers to plan and undertake major infrastructure projects – can create significant political fallout. While workforce planning has been advocated in the strategic human resource (HR) literature for several decades (Bechet and Maki 1987; Ceriello and Freeman 1991; Wood and Jones 1993), it was overlooked in public services preoccupied with personnel reforms that potentially blurred responsibility for strategic HR activities. It is only recently, as new workforce problems emerge,

that the need for workforce planning in public service organisations has gained widespread acceptance (ANAO 2005; Anderson 2004; Helton and Soubik 2004; MAC 2005; OECD 2007; Pynes 2004). Workforce planning is part of a bundle of strategic HR initiatives to enhance productive capacity within organisations. Workforce planning is about ‘aligning an organisation’s human capital – its people – with its business plan to achieve its mission. It helps ensure that the organisation has the right people with the right skills in the right job at the right time’ (Cotten 2007:4). Workforce planning can elevate HR activities into a more strategic domain and ensure its relevance, by providing greater awareness and control over staff numbers and costs, and better understanding of the required skills mix to ensure effectively targeted HR strategies (Marchington and Wilkinson 2002). To achieve this, organisations need to understand their employees’ competence and commitment, how

C 2010 The Authors Journal compilation C 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia

and how this has changed in recent decades. and limited agency HR skills or capacity. O’Faircheallaigh. First. regulated employment into a largely internal labour market. and how employees can be productively and cost-effectively utilised (Wood and Jones 1993:27). assess future workforce needs. Gardner 1993). regardless of their centralist or devolutionist preferences for the role of the central personnel agency. The literature identifies that many organisations struggle to undertake effective workforce planning. should maintain central workforce information and provide support to agencies to facilitate informed decisions about public service workforces. Peters and Pierre 2004). Bechet and Maki 1987. identify gaps in the required numbers and capability. We argue that governments of all political persuasions. 1996) on the demise of public service boards. All models for workforce planning are based on largely similar elements: define the organisation’s strategic direction. the lack of appreciation for the value of comprehensive central workforce data. such as Public Service Boards. Many organisations do not have sufficient information on workforce numbers. skills. The institutions that governed public sector employment were weakened through the abolition of strong central personnel agencies and horizontal and vertical distribution of their responsibilities (Alford 1993).Colley and Price employees’ goals align with those of the organisation. Our study explores how a lack of workforce planning has allowed largely predictable workforce problems to occur in public services. thereby extending earlier work by Alford (1993) and Nethercote (1989. where employees were recruited at base grade level and promoted through an internal classification structure (Caiden 1965. this does not mean they will retire (Daniel 2005). Davis 1998. The study confirms the findings in the literature that there was inadequate workforce data to support workforce planning and thereby identify and mitigate workforce risks. Northcote and Trevelyan 1854). We examine the capacity of central personnel agencies to predict workforce risks and support workforce planning activities across government. Public Sector Human Resource Context Public sector employment relations have traditionally been different from those in the private sector. Weller 1996) led to changes to the traditional career service model through the introduction of private sector techniques (Corbett 1992. understand the current workforce. Ceriello and Freeman 1991). we provide a generic outline of the public sector employment environment. with central tenets of administration by an independent personnel agency. strong central personnel agencies. and to trace this over time. Wanna and Weller 1999. Standards Australia 2008). we explore its capacity to plan its human resources by examining the availability. scan the internal and external environments. standardised employment conditions. ANAO 2002. Cotten 2007. while most HR information systems (HRIS) can generate statistics on the number of employees who are of retirement age. tenure and recruitment and promotion based on merit (Colley 2005. Broader reforms to public management (see Pollitt 1990. quality and use of HR data over time. and monitor the effectiveness of strategies and revise as required (Anderson 2004. develop and implement strategies to close the gaps. Our contribution is to link this lack of workforce data to specific factors in the public sector enviJournal compilation C 203 ronment. The career service model was developed more than 150 years ago. We identify that the factors underpinning inadequate workforce data include: changes in the direction of the central personnel agency capacity (often as a result of changes in government). competencies and roles to support workforce planning analysis and strategy development (Anderson 2004. HR professionals often lack the skills or the organisational support to actively engage in workforce planning and decision-making (Pynes 2004). using the Queensland public service (QPS) as a revelatory study. Under this traditional model. Even with adequate data. Rhodes 1997. For example. Supporters of these reforms considered devolution of HR decisions to agencies as a step towards improving HR performance C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . Then.

These contextual factors make workforce planning more complex within the public sector.204 Where Have All The Workers Gone? June 2010 (Teo and Rodwell 2007). and government control over priorities. resources and machinery of government structure (Coggburn 2001. Handley 2007. As foreshadowed by Alford (1993) and Nethercote (1989. Stubbings and Scott 2004). There were also changes to most procedural and substantive aspects of employment relations (Colley 2005). Peters and Pierre 2004). Managerial reforms sought to break down the traditional differences by importing private sector HR practices: traditional recruitment to base grade levels was replaced with recruitment to all levels. while workforce planning needs to identify the skills of existing employees (Anderson 2004. the demise of public service boards has led to issues with coordination. These institutional and procedural reforms had profound implications for managing HR in the already complex public service environment (Renfrow 1992). an associated APS audit report indicates that only 24 agencies of the 86 surveyed had an established workforce planning process and most only recorded demographic information on their workforces (ANAO 2005). Pynes 2004. Ring and Perry 1985. in the fast reforming public service employment environment. Harris. For example. capacity and C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . While some planning can be undertaken across a whole public service. with nobody responsible for central databases to monitor service-wide trends or the quality. Public sector organisations in many countries struggle to accurately assess the nature and composition of their workforces (OECD 2007. 1996). Marchington and Wilkinson 2002. Further. hence. Doughty and Kirk 2002. MAC 2005). including the incumbent government. Embedded within the reforms was an assumption that HR could provide strategic rather than operational support to an organisation (Brown 2008. Given the ‘unprecedented levels of autonomy’ that public service agencies currently have (MAC 2005). A recent report on the Australian Public Service (APS) identified the need for ‘systematic workforce planning to identify emerging trends and challenges in relation to the recruitment. Stone and StoneRomero 1999). development. there is a lack of commitment to workforce planning. Workforce planning is not an exact science and is made more complex by the size and diversity of the public service. the devolution of HR functions to departments has reduced the impetus to collect and analyse workforce information. tenure was diminished in favour of contract and less permanent forms of employment. 1996). the capacity for more strategic HR is constrained by: the complex and sometimes contradictory environment. it is also beneficial to target those positions that are the most difficult to hire or train for (Anderson 2004. regulation to eliminate corruption and partisan abuses which creates inefficient and cumbersome processes. However. This review of the literature has identified that. Yet. skills and competencies required for a job is often tenuous and the nature of jobs varies over Journal compilation C time (Adams. recruitment activities were devolved to agencies. which limits its appeal to an incumbent government focused on short term budget and election cycles. it tends to be neglected in favour of more immediate HR concerns (Helton and Soubik 2004). Pynes 2004). Truss 2008). Helton and Soubik 2004. the link between the education. advancement and succession of their employees’ as a result of challenges in attracting and retaining skilled employees (MAC 2005:xiii). and standardised conditions were fragmented and/or supplemented with merit pay (Corbett 1992. Others have identified how the reforms can lead to coordination and accountability problems between central agencies and departments (Alford 1993). the greater accountability to a wider range of stakeholders than the private sector. Rogers and Naeve 1989). Middleton and Ziderman 1992). electronic data storage raises additional challenges of data integrity and privacy issues (Eddy. Truss 2008). However. and their low level of attention to workforce planning. There is general agreement in the public service HR literature that the ideal is a centralised whole-of-service database to meet the common workforce planning needs of agencies (Anderson 2004. cost and productivity of labour (Nethercote 1989. establishing such databases is time consuming and costly.

public service personnel agency annual reports. 1980. 1980. and began to delegate HR functions to departments (Hughes 1980). 1982). However. and public service legislation. PSME Act 1988). in 1978. This revelatory approach to our research questions will support tentative conclusions. The PSC maintained meticulous centralised paper-based records of employee demographic details and service records (Colley 2005). if any. but its mandate to support the ‘traditionalist’ career service conventions of merit. Traditional Approaches in the Queensland Public Service The Public Service Commission (PSC) of 1922 was the first relatively independent central personnel agency in Queensland. Colley 2005. there was little need for central or agency level data capability to monitor workforce skills or labour markets. the Bjelke-Petersen government replaced the PSC with a Public Service Board (PSB) that focused more on efficiency. The nature of this first electronic data system was influenced by two priorities at that time: containment of staff numbers and wages during the economic downturn (PSB 1979. 1981). New technology provided new Journal compilation C opportunities for personnel data capture and. 1987–1989 Deregulation of HR and a Central Data Void In the late 1980s. We employ an historicalcomparative approach and mix of evidence to provide a longitudinal perspective (Neumann 2000. Queensland faced a series of dramatic changes including three changes of premier and establishment of a major corruption inquiry. This documentary evidence is triangulated through discussions with past and present central personnel agency representatives. In an C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . Our study extends their research by asking the following research questions: • 205 • What has been the capacity of subsequent central personnel agencies to predict workforce risks and support workforce planning activities? How has this capacity changed in recent decades and in what circumstances? Method Using the QPS as a revelatory study. and no data was required to support this type of development activity (Brennan 2004. we explore its capacity to plan its human resources by examining the availability. Given that seniority remained a strong consideration in promotions within the largely internal labour market. In 1968. and better allocation of resources against departmental priorities through program management (PSB 1980). Ministers and chief executives were empowered to manage personnel functions within broad policy and budget constraints (QPD 1988. New legislation in 1988 replaced the PSB with the minimalist Office of Public Service Personnel Management (OPSPM). data needs were simple. Annual reports confirm that demographic information was collected. This period saw a major focus on development activities. PSB 1979. Nutter 2004. 1987). the PSB compiled a computerised data system of personnel and establishment records to meet its role in staffing (PSB 1979. which are potentially generalisable across Australian and other public services. Mobility between agencies remained an elusive goal. In this context. analysis of that data to identify the early signs of an ageing workforce or forecast potential skills gaps. quality and use of HR data over time. but no attempt to link this information to the workforce data set. Savage 1987).Colley and Price accountability for strategic HR. Patmore 1998). tenure and political neutrality was at the expense of permanent heads’ control of their own workforces. 1986). whose charter was to develop HR guidelines and provide advice to departments as required (Ahern 1988. Information is drawn from primary documents including: HR policies. such as length of service and experience in previous positions. it seems that there was little. The low sophistication of HR activities resulted in only basic forms of information being stored (PSB 1975.

Merit reforms revitalised recruitment and selection processes. Wiltshire (1992) suggested that the PSMC was perceived as a means of instituting the Australian Labor Party’s political agenda and were resented for politicising personnel decisions. as the incoming government knew nothing about the public service it was inheriting and there was a ‘general view that the public service had gotten out of control since the abolition of the PSB’ (Davis 2004). but the consequences for individuals such as redundancy and removal of seniority processes. There was significant organisational restructuring and downsizing during this period. including monitoring the SES profile and movements (PSMC 1995). A survey of senior officers provided information about demographics. as part of a ‘triumvirate’ of agencies to monitor and review electoral. with hindsight. experience or performance. administrative and criminal matters (Goss 1989). The PSMCs tight control. The Goss government established the Public Sector Management Commission (PSMC). Coaldrake (2004) and Davis (2004). The PSMCs functions included: setting human resource management (HRM) standards and reviewing the HR practices. 1990 – Three Steps Forward Under the Public Sector Management Commission The turmoil of the late 1980s led to a change of government and a watershed for public employment. and ensuring merit-based appointment processes and fair treatment processes (PSMC Act 1990). Many other Goss reforms were about reestablishing standards and principles to ensure departments managed their people more effectively. The PSMC Commissioners. responsible for the overall management of the public sector. decisions regarding which employees to remove from the service were made on subjective local knowledge. managers and employees. Alternatively. but such activities required only limited information.206 Where Have All The Workers Gone? June 2010 environment where budgets reigned. The PSMCs far-reaching reform agenda was not dependent upon workforce data. as the internal labour market was replaced with open opportunity to compete for positions (Coaldrake 1991. Nonetheless. PSMC 1991). The scope for external applicants and the requirement for internal applicants to apply for positions removed any pressure for a comprehensive internal database of existing SES skill sets. The implementation of this devolution was sudden and. The Journal compilation C PSMC was unpopular with many public sector unions. there was little incentive for departmental heads to invest in long term workforce planning. the database included more than demographic information: it was C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . and did not instruct agencies that they should do so (Colley 2005). In the absence of data on workforce skills. Due to the government philosophy of agency autonomy and minimal central intervention. Davis (1995) considered that the resentment was not due to the objectives of the reforms. establishing the Senior Executive Service. Roberts 2004). the OPSPM no longer collected workforce information. caused ‘grief’ for chief executives who were unable to create new positions (Davis 1995). Goss also created a Senior Executive Service (SES) and Chief Executive Service (CES) to attract and retain highly skilled senior executives for deployment across the sector (Public Sector Legislative Amendment Act 1991). These reforms were important in terms of reinstating Westminster principles. The PSMC established a separate HR information database to manage this elite group. argued that central control was warranted at least in the short term. assessing adherence to equal employment opportunity principles. The PSMCs HR reforms provided a unified set of policies and ‘standards’ for personnel activities. especially over the size of the public sector. reporting to the minister and parliament on public sector management. and recentralised many of the HR powers that the OPSPM had devolved to chief executives in 1988 (Davis 1993. There was little inclination to establish a HR information system in order to remove people from the service. considered ineffective (Merrell 2004. qualifications and recent positions held (Hede and Renfrow 1990). but the assessment of skills at the point of recruitment did not require the support of a sophisticated data system. PSMC Act 1990).

but there were ongoing delays in its implementation due to changing policy and classification frameworks (DEVETIR 1991. Davis (2004) suggests that more systematic monitoring of the HR reform agenda was overshadowed by the compressed timetable to implement reforms and the general buzz of activity. The comprehensive PSMC Standards were replaced with minimalist directives containing brief principles (OPS 1996). Chief executives gained control over the number and classification level of employees. and the Goss government’s political philosophy of strong central guidance on policy and planning matters. There were also plans to develop an HRM framework for the sector. to assist agencies in their strategic planning activities. The new Public Service Act 1996 reduced the powers of the central personnel agency to a supporting role. The 1992 Equal Opportunity in Public Employment Act mandated that agencies report on target groups and develop plans to increase target group membership. location. including professional development’ (PSMC 1995:11–12). age. 1992). advisory services. The Minimum Obligatory Human Resource Information (MOHRI) dataset collected EEO and workforce management baseline data. appointments and promotion rates. and secondments within or between departments (QPD 25 July 1996). However. 1994). C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . let alone what percentage were women. allowing analysis of sector wide trends in classifications. forecasting capacities and integration with strategic planning were consistent with the recommendations in the literature. these plans were unseated by a change of government. Wright Consultancy 1996). salary. length of service. and a 1996 by-election allowed Borbidge to form a minority conservative government. The PSMC was replaced with the new Office of the Public Service (OPS). the government required agencies to report quarterly to the PSMC on the size and composition of their workforce against estimated agency profiles and program deliverables (PSMC 1995). to better integrate HRM within corporate management. training. The PSMC established a HR development unit. This decision heralded a new era of workforce information and the intention for more sophisticated data collection. and to develop data and workforce planning models (PSMC 1995). 1996 – Two Steps Back Under the Borbidge Government The Goss government had unsettled the public service. and could have provided a model for a broader QPS workforce database. From 1995. The PSMC commenced planning around the abolition of compulsory retirement at age 65 (PSMC 1994). 1992. The equity reforms were a driver for better workforce information when the new Premier realised that he could not tell how many people worked in the QPS. The PSMC had many successes in developing HR standards. this was due to the lack of effective information systems.Colley and Price used for workforce planning. given the cessation of central data collection by the OPSPM. To some extent. The PSMC actively provided advice and assistance to agencies on EEO planning and benchmarking (PSMC 1995). PSMC 1993). 1993. resource kits and networks (PSMC 1990. and a HR development database was mooted. appointments. The 1994 evaluation of the PSMC provided the impetus for better workforce data collection. separation. The SES database was expanded to ‘allow greater Journal compilation C 207 statistical analysis of trends. These plans for more sophisticated workforce datasets. and agencies began regular collection of data on elementary workforce demographics. An Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) census gathered initial data as at June 1994. The OPS continued and consolidated the quarterly collection of data from agencies that had been established by the PSMC. but an evaluation of its activities in 1994 found that it had failed to meet its legislative obligation to monitor and audit processes other than for EEO initiatives (Hede 1993. The industrial relations department had begun developing an integrated HR system. which had a mandate to remove the perceived process burden of the PSMC standards and restore workforce discretion to CEOs (QPD 28 March 1996. and streamlined data collection at agency level (OPS 1996.

nursing and medical occupations and that the whole QPS workforce was ageing. A centrally developed organisational climate and morale survey was embraced by agencies from 1998. This led to confusion for central agencies and departments. they recommended repositioning of the HRM function away from processing roles to value-added roles. 1997. EEO remained one of the few well-embedded areas of data analysis. The new Office of the Public Service Commissioner (OPSC) operated for two years until August 2000 (QPD 10 Nov 2000) when HR functions were split between the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). rather than understanding the workforce and linking workforce information to broader organisational information. reporting and planning.208 Where Have All The Workers Gone? June 2010 1997. C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . The collection of workforce skills information for planning purposes may Journal compilation C have appeared unnecessarily complex and expensive. but unfortunately identified the potential function from a cost perspective (OPS 1997). rejecting some of the Borbidge government initiatives. with the later optional inclusion of qualification or course of study. The OPSC identified the collection and analysis of workforce data as a key workforce priority. tenure. but its efforts were towards improvements to the quality of the elementary MOHRI data. despite the sweeping statements in each OPS annual report. 2000. but not prepared to restore the Goss government reforms. A small OPSC team assisted agencies to implement the surveys. when external consultants undertook a HRM benchmarking study. Henneken 2004). However. and development of a new application for benchmarking across government and across Australian states (OPSC 1999. and gender issues for EEO reporting (OPS 1996. There seemed to be little understanding of the benefits of incorporating broader types of information from emerging OPS activities such as organisational climate and morale survey findings. The OPS dedicated few resources towards the workforce planning process (OPS 1996). In 1996. there appeared to be little use of the data to support workforce planning (OPS 1996. let alone the broader strategic direction of agencies or the sector. The elementary nature of the data set. and the loss of any strategic HR agenda (Colley 2005. Other sections of the OPSC began collection of other forms of workforce data. and combine the various data sources – organisation climate and morale. Reporting of the central data seemed to be focused primarily on internal clients. and indeed the government’s HR agenda. due to its legal mandate. strategise to address the findings. The intention to provide a statistical research service to agencies seemed to be limited to staffing numbers. MOHRI. the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC). 2006b). or the renewed focus on leadership and development. So by 1998. or with a trial of workforce planning amongst four agencies (OPS 1998). such as the Public Service Commissioner and Premier. and focused on limited benchmarking of elementary data (such as age and absence rates). The data collection was not integrated with other OPS areas of workforce policy or practice. and a new Office of Public Service Merit and Equity (OPSME). In this environment. rather than strategic. 1997. data collection and reporting focused on elementary workforce demographics. 1998). and it is unclear whether they proceeded with intended workshops for agencies to encourage them to adopt ‘best practice’ (OPS 1997). rather than departments. resulted in limited strategic analysis and response and limited support to agencies (OPSC 2006a). It recognised the difficulties caused by the lack of effective data systems. 1998). 1998 Onwards – Beattie and Bligh Labor Governments The Beattie government came to power in May 1998 and took a middle road. The name of the workforce data set – Minimum Obligatory Human Resource Information – reflected the government’s broader desire for the OPS to take a minimalist role in HR. there was only anecdotal evidence of the emerging skills shortages in the information technology. 1998). the major focus seemed to be on the technical issues around collection and distribution of the data and. The subsequent OPS toolkit (OPS 1998) was similarly cost-centred.

The PSMC implemented data reporting and systems to capture basic demographic information for the general workforce and marginally more sophisticated information on its SES workforce. in line with the simple needs of the largely internal labour market. The OPSC stated that its workforce priorities were to develop flexible work practices. the responsible central agency highlighted the emerging problem of the ageing workforce. and job evaluations (OPSC 2006a). so it could tell you how many people were employed in an occupation. But in practice it developed best practice frameworks and hoped that agencies would adopt them. with the release of Towards Q2:Vision for 2020 (Queensland Government 2008). The PSB’s centralist approach was replaced by the minimalist OPSPM. job evaluation data. or any agency-based data on positions. The Borbidge government’s OPS pursued a decentralist agenda. 2000). but following the departure of Public Service Commissioner Brian Head. the subsequent split of responsibility for HR functions C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . shared service providers (SSPs) were created to manage operational HR activities and this fragmented HR responsibilities and records. The use of different databases meant that this data could not be linked to the broader MOHRI database. but abandoned the PSMC’s plans for more sophisticated data collection and integration. SSPs developed separate databases to record their activities in advertising vacancies. The OPSC has been reshaped into a new Public Service Commission. which was little interested in strategic HR (Colley 2005. it erred by failing to appreciate the value of workforce information or to monitor departmental activities. and provided support through guidelines.Colley and Price HR benchmarking and other organisational measures – to analyse organisational performance and to inform planning (OPSC 1999. which had a political mandate for reform through strong central control. Workforce planning continued to be an aside. shortsighted middle and senior OPSC managers stifled the project. Throughout this period. with no effort to integrate all HR activities undertaken across the OPSC and DIR. Under the Beattie government. This limited the capacity to link MOHRI data to the SSP recruitment data. While the OPSC did not have the regulatory powers of previous central personnel agencies (OPSC 1999). the PSB used emerging technology to store elementary workforce data. The MOHRI database was person-based rather than position-based. Since Anna Bligh became Premier in 2007. there has been a renewed focus on strategic planning and performance in the QPS. let alone link this to the strategic direction of government or departments. This vision identifies some of the generic skills required of public servants in the future. but not how many vacancies there were in that occupation. which proceeded to devolve all HR activity without the compensatory step of a central HR database to monitor developments – a pattern that Nethercote (1996) noted occurred across Australia. integration and linkage to strategic direction. The institutional split of HR functions led to the transfer of the workforce data function to DIR. These initiatives were not integrated into a broader Journal compilation C 209 workforce planning framework. This survey had the potential to elevate HR to a more strategic level. applicant pools. but did not get to implement these plans due to the 1996 change of government. Discussion This historical review has traced the capacity of central personnel agencies to support workforce planning through centralised workforce information. payroll data. review attraction and retention of staff and collect and analyse workforce data. DEIR 2005). awareness sessions and pilot initiatives (DIR 2002. In its early years. The Goss government replaced the OPSPM with the centralist PSMC. which remains a fledgling institution at the time of writing. OPSC 2006a). but shows no immediate signs of addressing the sophistication or integration of workforce databases. In line with the managerial quest for efficiency. under which it maintained existing minimal workforce information collection. The PSMC had planned for more sophisticated data collection. but did lead the OPSC to address the data analysis skills of HR personnel in departments.

Most governments did not understand the importance of sophisticated and comprehensive personnel information systems. technological possibilities were not the driver of the nature of the datasets. such as ageing and skills shortages. subsequent central agencies failed to identify or value the need for an integrated data set Journal compilation C that combined the MOHRI data with other internal sources of workforce information (such as organisational climate surveys. The OPSC did not consider it had the responsibility to lead workforce planning by facilitating this data integration. led to coordination and accountability problems. Anecdotal evidence suggests that departments would have benefited from leadership from the central agency on contemporary HR skills. As noted elsewhere. decentralisation of decision-making does not necessitate decentralisation of data collection and forecasting (Coggburn 2005). monitoring and culture change. agencies should be mandated to access the service-wide database and report on their workforce planning. Changes in government led to changes in the central personnel agency. and proper embedding of a skill set. Conclusion This article examined the capacity of central personnel agencies to predict workforce risks and support workforce planning activities. in line with their integrated approach to HR. A comprehensive. C 2010 The Authors 2010 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia . Ideally. Given more time. the decentralisation of HR functions also meant that agencies were under greater pressure to find a sufficient number of experienced strategic HR practitioners (Coggburn 2005). avoided duplication across the sector. that the OPSC took a lead in raising the general skills of HR staff in data analysis and then only to a minor extent. the PSMC would have established more sophisticated and integrated data systems. the central personnel agencies would have approached workforce planning in the same way that the PSMC approached EEO reforms. and central personnel agencies not only missed an opportunity. but has left the QPS exposed on staffing issues under current labour market conditions. which reflected each government’s philosophy regarding the importance of central guidance or workforce data collection.210 Where Have All The Workers Gone? June 2010 across DIR and the OPSC/OPSME resulted in a lack of a clear strategic HR agenda and no extension to the existing datasets. Devolution of HR functions to departments was unnecessarily combined with limited central oversight. 1996). recruitment and applicant pools. skills and development) and external data (such as Australian Bureau of Statistics data and university enrolments). and provided agencies with an information base for workforce planning. The resulting information void has allowed contemporary workforce challenges. Decentralisation seemed to work moderately well in earlier times. The MOHRI dataset remains inadequate due to its person rather than position focus. policy development. This historical review confirmed that the QPS did not maintain adequate workforce datasets to support workforce planning and thereby identify and mitigate workforce risks. as Helton and Soubik (2004) recommended in the case of the Pennsylvania public service. However. but shirked their responsibility to monitor service-wide trends and to engage agencies in addressing these findings. as flagged by Alford (1993) and Nethercote (1989. to increase the professionalism of agency HR units. as a response to the ageing workforce issue. The approach to data systems was generally affected by institutional factors. We identified that changes of government often led to changes in the direction of the central personnel agency and its subsequent approach to HR activities including workforce planning and data collection. Ideally. It is only in very recent times. As identified in the literature. which were a strong example of the combination of data analysis. Some governments preferred limited central intervention and emphasised agency autonomy in managing their own HR which. such as workforce planning and data analysis. centralised dataset would have created economies of scale. While technology made more sophisticated data systems possible in each of the time periods studied. This was exacerbated by lack of appreciation for the value of comprehensive central workforce data and limited agency HR skills or capacity.

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