A diverse approach to diversity
The benefits of having a diverse workforce are well documented and recognised. In the APS we can be proud of our efforts when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, leading the way in supporting workers of all identities and backgrounds.
Some agencies take it a step further – for instance, you may have heard of the Department of Finance’s Career Starter Program. It won an Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) award in 2018 in the Susan Ryan Age Diversity category, for its innovative approach to engaging school leavers. The program has since been expanded to other government agencies, with six departments participating in 2019 and a further nine departments on board for the 2020 program. Launched in 2006, the Career Starter Program introduces recent high school graduates (aged 17-20) to the workforce and teaches them the basics of working for the APS while enabling them to complete a Certificate IV in Government qualification.
The award rightly commended the Department of Finance for their commitment to making their workforce more age-diverse. But for the team at Finance it isn’t about checking boxes – it’s about making sure they are bringing in new ideas and a different perspective. It isn’t about diversity of age so much as diversity of thought.
A large number of school-leavers make their way into universities and vocational courses to continue their education. But there is also a big contingent who opt to join the workforce straight out of secondary school. While a lot of things can motivate this choice, many high school graduates choose not to go on to higher education because it doesn’t suit them at that stage of their life. “This is a great alternative way to commence a career,” explained Katherine Jones, the Department of Finance’s Deputy Secretary for Business Enabling Services.
“Some students are keen to enter the workforce immediately rather than pursue higher education. For those students the workforce can be the perfect opportunity to thrive. They can learn through direct experience, with the opportunity to apply learning to real-world situations in the workplace. Career starters can obtain a Certificate IV in Government during the program. And if they continue in the APS, they potentially can be supported to undertake tertiary study, allowing for integrated and applied learning and development to take place.”
The Career Starter Program gives these great options to school leavers, while allowing Finance to tap into a broader – and therefore richer – pool of talent.
“It can be difficult to get a job after school when you don’t have any experience or additional qualifications, and that’s where our Career Starter Program makes a difference,” Katherine said. “We not only want to help these young adults achieve their potential, but also strengthen the Department by welcoming new perspectives and approaches.”
“The Career Starter program is one of the most important elements of our recruitment program. We are consistently impressed by the quality of people who have been through the program. Many have progressed to have highly successful careers in Finance or elsewhere in the service.”
As of 2019, 226 high school graduates have participated in the Career Starter Program with almost all entrants staying on as permanent employees after the conclusion of the program. Participants love having the chance to step into a practical role that suits their skills and way of learning.
‘The Career Starter program provided me with the opportunity to contribute to diverse, challenging and meaningful work’, said 2017 Career Starter Kiana. ‘During the year, I developed new skills and built valuable networks across Finance and the APS through my work.’
Conner, a 2018 Career Starter, also shared praise for the program, stating that ‘the Career Starter Program exceeded my expectations in terms of opportunities, culture and development. I have learned so much about the public sector, and the skills required to enhance my career.’
The Career Starter Program is a fantastic example of the APS attitude towards continual improvement and how we embrace diversity to remain at the forefront of developing talent in the modern workforce.
Applications for the 2021 program are expected to open in the coming months, so if you know someone who might be interested, let them know. Potential applicants can find out more information on the Department of Finance’s website.