Chapter 6: Learning and development
Learning and development can be viewed from the perspective of building organisational capability and in the
context of employee engagement. Agencies need to consider learning and development as an essential part of
their strategic business and workforce planning processes and align learning and development activities to the
business outcomes of the agency. Planning for learning and development requires the same vigour and attention
as any other management task.
A strategic approach to learning and development opportunities is essential in maintaining and building the
capability of employees to meet the increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century. Well managed, learning
and development can deliver the right people with the right skills at the right time to enable agencies to deliver
government objectives and outcomes into the future. This approach is even more important in a tight labour
market, where we can expect to see employees move in and out of the APS with greater frequency, and where
employees may be promoted to higher positions before they have had the opportunity to build their capability
through experience on-the-job.
During 2006, the Commission, on behalf of the Public Service Commissioners’ Conference, drew together views
across jurisdictions and from relevant literature on the early detection of performance issues within agencies. A
range of indicators relevant to learning and development was identified as impacting on agency performance,
including the level of agency investment in learning and development, and the level of take-up of learning and
development opportunities within an organisation. Conversely, the failure to provide, or the failure of employees to
take up, learning and development related to business needs was viewed as one indicator of an underperforming
From the perspective of employees, their access to learning and development opportunities affects how they see
their role and their general satisfaction with working in a particular agency. Access to learning and development
can significantly influence how employees engage with their agency, which is increasingly important as agencies
face competition to recruit and retain employees and to increase employee productivity.
Agencies have focused strongly on learning and development in 2005–06. For example:
Centrelink has delivered a major training programme for its employees in the context of the
implementation of the Welfare to Work reforms
DCITA has implemented a school leavers’ programme which includes internal and external training and
Defence has provided 14,000 places for its employees on financial training courses
DIMA has developed a College of Immigration, delivering consistent training to DIMA employees
in response to the outcomes of its staff survey, PM&C provided increased funding for professional
The Commission, which has a statutory role to coordinate and support learning and development inthe APS,
both complements agencies’ internal learning and development activities and provides an APS-wide focus. The
Commission provides a comprehensive series of learning and development programmes specifically designed to
build the capability of employees at all classifications across the APS.
During 2005–06, there has been considerable refocusing and redevelopment of these programmes to ensure that
they continue to meet the needs of the current and future APS. This includes the expansion of the Integrated
Leadership System (ILS) to APS 1–6 classifications, allowing for the same clear pathway progression as is
currently available to EL and SES employees.
The Commission also maintains a panel of leadership, learning and development consultancy firms which are
able to deliver to agencies a range of development services targeted to their needs, and provides input into these
Many of the changes to the Commission’s programmes have focused on issues related to leadership and whole
of government. These are discussed further in Chapter 7 and Chapter 10. The Commission also works closely
with ANZSOG and APS agencies to ensure that ANZSOG teaching programmes meet the needs of the APS by
building leadership capability and skills sets. The ANZSOG programmes are also discussed in more detail in
The focus on learning and development in Australia is consistent with a strong focus across international
jurisdictions. For example, in the UK, formal qualifications for civil servants have been, or are being, established in
the areas of emergency planning and leadership and management development. In both the UK and the USA
there has been a focus on improving the capability of information technology professionals. Canada has
established a new career-long public service learning and development initiative. In both the USA and NZ there
has been a focus on developing the capacity of potential graduate applicants, with the USA establishing a
programme to develop talented graduates for Federal public service careers and NZ running an internship
programme for honours or postgraduate students.
This chapter relies on information from the employee survey, including in relation to how employees’ learning and
development needs are documented and identified and employees’ views on their access to, their satisfaction
with, and the effectiveness of, learning and development. This year, the agency survey concentrated on issues of
leadership development. These results are discussed in Chapter 7.
Identification of development needs and access to learning and
Learning and development is relevant to job satisfaction and productivity. Nearly one-third of employees identify
opportunities to develop their skills as one of the top workforce influences on their job satisfaction. Nearly one
quarter of employees believe access to effective learning and development helped, or would help, to increase
their productivity in their current job.
This section looks at how employees had their learning and development needs identified, and their satisfaction
with their access to, and the management of, learning and development in their workplace.
Identification of learning and development
There is a strong focus on learning and development across the APS. The large majority of APS employees(75%)
had their learning and development needs identified and agreed with their manager. Around one in five (22%)
employees did not.
The fact that three-quarters of employees have reached formal agreements with their managers on learning and
development is a very positive result and reflects a strong push across the APS for consideration of learning and
development issues in performance management processes. Agencies need to maintain and improve these
Agency size and classification influence the formal identification of learning and development needs. There are
significantly more employees in large agencies who have identified and agreed on their needs with their
managers than in medium or small agencies. In contrast, SES employees (64%) report lower identification of, and
agreement on, learning and development needs than APS 1–6 and EL employees (75% and 74% respectively).
Although SES employees may be expected to take greater responsibility for their own learning, this is still of some
concern given the strong focus on SES capability development in the MAC statement One APS—One SES.
Learning and development needs, when identified and agreed, were generally documented in a formal individual
development plan (88% of relevant employees). SES employees who have had their learning and development
needs identified (72%) were less likely to have their needs documented in a formal plan than APS 1–6 and EL
employees (both 88% of relevant employees). However, documentation does not necessarily mean that plans are
acted upon. Only 41% of employees with formal plans had their agreed learning and development needs fully met
within the agreed timeframe. Employees in small agencies were least likely to have the agreed learning and
development provided in the timeframe.
Those employees whose learning and development had not been provided or only partially provided (56% of
relevant employees) cited a number of reasons why it had not taken place within the agreed timeframe. The most
common reasons were appropriate learning and development opportunities had not occurred (49% of relevant
employees), other things had taken priority (44%), employees had not had the time (28%) and there was no
money in the budget (16%). The most common reason cited by SES employees was that they had not had the
time. Other things were more likely to take priority for EL employees, and appropriate opportunities were more
likely not to occur for APS 1–6 employees.
Some other problems identified by employees affecting delivery of learning and development activities included:
the employee changed jobs or had a new manager or supervisor
senior management or corporate areas overrode agreed learning and development activities
difficulty in access because of geographic location or personal circumstances such as carer
lack of staff to cover absences prevented access and if there was training, the backlog of work on return.
Satisfaction with the management of learning and development
Overall, most employees believed that their agencies place a high priority on learning and development. Just over
half (55%) of APS employees agreed with this statement, with only one in five employees disagreeing.
It is possible to make a number of broad comparisons regarding the APS’s performance on this issue using
survey results from some other Australian jurisdictions. In general, the commitment of agencies to learning and
development appears to be perceived as lower in the APS than in the Tasmanian and Victorian public services.
Sixty-five percent of Tasmanian public sector employees believed that their agency encourages professional
development. Around three-quarters of Victorian employees (76%) agreed that their organisation is committed to
developing its employees. Results were similar though, to WA where 54% of employees agreed that sufficient
training opportunities were available.
The employee survey also asked employees to choose the most important attributes they would like to see in an
immediate supervisor. Although the provision of access to learning and development was not one of the most
commonly selected attributes, one-fifth of employees did consider provision of access to effective learning and
development as one of the five most important attributes in an immediate supervisor. For those employees who
rated this as important, the majority were satisfied that their immediate supervisor had these attributes (59%), with
around 23% dissatisfied.
Employees were also asked to choose the five most important attributes they would like to see in senior leaders.
Twenty-six per cent of employees identified taking a genuine interest and assisting staff to develop through such
actions as coaching, mentoring and career planning as one of the five most important attributes in a senior leader.
However, only one-third of employees who considered these attributes to be important thought that their
agencies’ senior leaders demonstrated these attributes. A larger proportion of employees (40%) were dissatisfied
with their agency’s senior leaders. These results are discussed further in Chapter 7.
The majority of employees were satisfied with their own access to learning and development. Overall, 61% of
employees were satisfied, with 18% expressing dissatisfaction.
Satisfaction with access varies across groups. Women were more satisfied than men. Location and classification
are also important. SES employees had the highest level of satisfaction with access to learning and development,
with APS 1–6 employees more satisfied than EL employees.
Employees in the ACT were significantly more satisfied with access than employees outside the ACT. This may
reflect concerns about the provision of learning and development in particular geographic locations. The level of
satisfaction with access to learning and development also varies depending on the type of work undertaken.
Table 6.1 sets out the level of satisfaction against the type of work.
Table 6.1: Satisfaction with access to learning and development opportunities by type of
work undertaken, 2005–06
Satisfied Neither satisfied nor
Type of Work Dissatisfied %
% dissatisfied %
Policy 62 22 17
Research 70 20 9
Programme design and/or
62 24 14
Service delivery to the general
58 21 20
Table 6.1: Satisfaction with access to learning and development opportunities by type of
work undertaken, 2005–06
Satisfied Neither satisfied nor
Type of Work Dissatisfied %
% dissatisfied %
Exercising regulatory authority 43 27 29
Legal 73 7 21
Corporate services 66 19 15
Administrative support/clerical 64 20 15
Source: Employee survey
Table 6.1 shows that employees involved in legal or research work reported the highest levels of satisfaction with
access to learning and development. Employees exercising regulatory authority showed both the lowest level of
satisfaction and the highest level of dissatisfaction with access to learning and development in their agency.
This result is particularly significant given the concerns about the capability of employees exercising regulatory
authority in DIMIA expressed in the Comrie Report. The Comrie Report was primarily about the behaviour of
public servants who exercise regulatory authority and it supports the conclusion that regulators need to
understand more than just the regulatory provisions they apply. If employees are to understand the nature of their
authority, the broad legislative and constitutional framework from which it derives, its limits, the scope of any
discretion in its application, and how and when it is appropriate to exercise such discretion, targeted learning and
development opportunities are essential. Although the Comrie Report was specific to DIMIA, the employee survey
results suggest that there may be broader implications for the learning and development of APS employees
exercising regulatory authority.
Satisfaction with access to learning and development was also related to satisfaction with the employee
engagement factors identified through factor analysis (see Appendix 4), in particular factors relating to ‘Senior
leaders/culture’, ‘Merit’ and ‘Immediate supervisor’.
Satisfaction with access to learning and development opportunities varied across large agencies from a low of
46% to a high of 83%. ABS and Defence had satisfaction levels significantly above the APS average. A majority
of employees considered that access to learning and development is fair within the work group. Seventy-two
percent of employees agreed that their immediate manager ensured fair access to developmental opportunities
for employees in their work group, with only 11% disagreeing.
The consideration of learning and development needs should be an important part of performance feedback.
Results concerning this issue were generally positive, with nearly two-thirds of employees who reported having
received individual performance feedback agreeing that their learning and development needs were adequately
considered as part of their performance feedback discussion. One in six of these employees disagreed.
Amount of off-the-job learning and development
The amount of off-the-job learning and development reported by employees remains relatively consistent.
In the last 12 months, half of all APS employees participated in either 3–5 days (28%) or 1–2 days, (22%) of off-
the-job learning and development activity. There appears to be a slight increase in the level of formal off-the-job
training in the APS in 2005–06, with the number of employees taking 3–5 days increasing from 25% in 2005 and
a corresponding fall in the proportion for 1–2 days from 24%. However, the proportion of employees taking 1–5
days (50%) has not changed significantly since 2003. A further 16% of employees participated in 6–10 days of
learning and development, and 13% participated in more than 10 days of learning and development activity.
Twenty-two per cent of employees spent no time in off-the-job learning and development during the last 12
months. This proportion has not changed significantly since 2004.
Although an indication of employees’ access to learning and development opportunities, care must be taken when
considering these results. In particular, they do not reflect the amount of on-the-job training received by
employees which, depending on the nature of the work and the experience of the employee, may be a more
appropriate and effective approach to training.
Access to learning and development was related to several factors, including:
age (employees under 25 years were more likely to have more than 10 days learning and development
than other age groups)
sex (more female employees (24%) spent no time in learning and development than male employees
(20%), and more male employees (15%) spent more than 10 days in learning and development than
agency size (employees working in large agencies were more likely to have spent no time in learning
and development than those in small agencies, but when they did undertake training, they were more
likely to have spent more than 10 days)
classification (APS 1–6 employees were both more likely to have spent no time in learning and
development and more than 10 days on learning and development, than EL and SES employees)
type of work undertaken (employees in administrative support/clerical roles and service delivery to the
general public were more likely to have spent no time in training, and employees engaged in research
and corporate services were more likely to have spent more than 10 days in learning and development).
Comments provided by employees reflected recognition of the importance of learning and development but
highlighted the practical difficulties in undertaking it (comments are not necessarily representative of all
I need the training but don’t have the time. Increased productivity means doing the same job with fewer staff in
our agency. Under these circumstances training becomes the victim.
It is difficult to access training when resources are strained, and there is little time to spend on training.
My agency has excellent learning and development programmes, it is just sometimes difficult to fully take
advantage of them due to work pressures.
Effectiveness of learning and development in improving
Employees were positive about how effective they thought the learning and development they had received in the
last 12 months was in helping improve performance. Nearly three-quarters of employees(73%) rated their learning
and development activities as high or moderate in improving their performance and only 18% rated them as low.
A number of factors influenced how employees rated the overall effectiveness of the learning and development
they had received:
classification—EL employees were more likely to rate the effectiveness of learning and development as
low than APS 1–6 employees
sex—while there was no difference between male and female employees who rated the effectiveness of
their learning and development as high, women were more likely to rate overall effectiveness as
moderate and men more likely to rate overall effectiveness as low
agency size—employees in medium agencies were less likely to rate overall effectiveness of their
learning and development as low than employees in large or small agencies
location—employees in the ACT were more likely to rate overall effectiveness of learning and
development as high and less likely to rate it as low
type of work—employees who exercised regulatory authority were more likely to rate overall
effectiveness as low (32%) than employees in other work
amount of time spent on training—the greater the amount of time undertaken in training the more
employees were likely to rate the overall effectiveness of learning and development as high.
Priority development areas
The employee survey asked respondents to consider their learning and development needs in the next 12 months
and to indicate the priority they would place on a number of nominated skills development areas.
Table 6.2: Priority for skills development, 2005–06
High Medium Low
Skills Development Area priority
(%) (%) (%)
(e.g. general leadership development, whole of
43 27 21 9
government approaches, achieving results, shaping
(e.g. writing for government, policy development, 22 29 36 14
(e.g. understanding the organisational setting, agency
25 36 31 9
structure, priorities, key clients, service orientation, APS
and/or agency values, diversity)
(e.g. planning, finance, human resources, project 30 30 30 10
management, record keeping)
Technical, relevant to specific jobs (e.g. knowledge of
57 24 15 5
specialist areas, legislation)
34 29 29 8
(e.g. training in agency specific IT systems)
38 32 24 5
(e.g. communication, conflict resolution, negotiation)
(e.g. time management, learning and personal 40 28 26 6
development, team participation, ethical behaviour)
Source: Employee survey
Table 6.2 shows the priority placed on a range of different skills development areas. Employees were most likely
to place the highest priority on developing technical skills or skills relevant to specific jobs and were least likely to
place a high priority on developing public administration skills. The development of leadership, self-management
and interpersonal skills also rated highly.
Other types of skills development needs identified by employees included completing formal study and continual
professional development, particularly in the legal area, facilitation and presentation skills, public speaking and
There were some minor differences in the priorities placed on learning and development needs depending on the
type of work undertaken in the APS. Technical and leadership skills were identified as the top two priorities by
employees working in policy, research, programme design or delivery, exercising regulatory authority and legal
areas. Technical skills remained the number one priority for the other three identified work areas, but leadership
was replaced by interpersonal skills for those employees involved in service delivery to the general public, by
business skills for corporate employees and by IT skills for those working in administrative support/clerical areas.
Key chapter findings
In 2005–06, there was a strong focus on learning and development across the APS. The majority of APS
employees considered that their agency places a high priority on learning and development, that their learning
and development needs are documented, and that they are satisfied with their access to, and the effectiveness of,
the learning and development they receive.
Nearly three-quarters of employees considered their manager ensures fair access to learning and development
opportunities across their work group. However, there is still a minority of employees who do not receive
significant amounts of formal learning and development, and comparisons with other jurisdictions indicate that
there is some room for improvement.
The fact that most employees have reached formal agreements with their managers on learning and development
and report that they have discussed learning and development during performance feedback are very positive
results, and reflect a strong push across the APS for consideration of learning and development issues in
performance management processes. Nevertheless, some agencies may need to look at increasing their focus on
learning and development within the performance management process for the minority of employees who do not
report these outcomes. A more systematic discussion of learning and development during performance feedback
may help in ensuring that a greater priority is given to implementing learning and development plans, as well as a
more strategic approach to developing plans that identify feasible and achievable learning and development
Access to learning and development appears to be a particular issue for APS employees located outside the
ACT, who report lower levels of access and effectiveness. With two-thirds of APS employees located outside the
ACT, this is particularly important.
Greater attention should be given to identifying and delivering learning and development for employees exercising
regulatory authority. These employees are the most dissatisfied group in relation to both access to learning and
development and its effectiveness. The findings of the Comrie Report indicated how important the capability of
this group of employees was for the operation of DIMIA. All agencies with employees involved in exercising
regulatory authority can learn lessons from the DIMIA experience to ensure that the learning and development
opportunities provided to this group target the technical aspects of the job and the employee’s understanding of
the source of the authority, the scope of any discretion and how to exercise it appropriately. The Commission is
developing new programmes in this area.
Another finding of some concern is that more than one-third of SES employees report that their learning and
development needs have not been identified or agreed on with their manager. Given the strong reinforcement of
the need for SES capability development in MAC’s One APS–One SES statement, this result is disappointing. It is
important that agency leadership and the SES focus as much on the capability development of the senior
leadership group as they do on that of other employees.
A strategic approach to learning and development is a crucial part of improving organisational capability and
overall levels of employee engagement. An agency’s approach to learning and development can be an important
component in positioning it as ‘an employer of choice’, allowing it to retain its skilled employees and to attract new
employees. This is already necessary today with skills shortages apparent in some areas. It will be essential in
the future, given the demographic challenges that are tightening the labour market and the signs that younger
generations of public servants want agencies to invest more in them than was once the case. Agencies will need
to focus increasingly both on overall approaches to learning and development that meet the needs of employees
and targeted initiatives for groups where skills shortages are particularly severe, such as cadetships.
Overall, this year’s results show that learning and development is an area of strength for the APS. However,
agencies need to keep a continuing focus on maintaining and improving their efforts.
1. Learning and development as discussed in this chapter refers to learning activities on-the-job as well as more formal
off -the-job activities. Seminars, conferences, classroom training courses, leadership programmes, academic study,
and in-house programmes are all included.
2. The Australian Public Service Commissioner is required to ‘coordinate and support APS-wide training and career
development opportunities in the APS’ (s.41(1)(i) of the Public Service Act 1999).
3. Management Advisory Committee 2005, Senior Executive Service of the Australian Public Service: One APS—One
SES, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
4. State Service Employee Survey Report 2005, State Services Commissioner, Tasmania.
5. People Matter Survey 2005, State Services Authority, Victoria.
6. Annual Compliance Report 2005–06, Office of the Public Sector Standards Commissioner, Western Australia.
7. Commonwealth Ombudsman, Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Vivian Alvarez Matter, (Report by the
Commonwealth Ombudsman of an inquiry undertaken by Mr Neil Comrie), September 2005,
8. These results also include part day responses.