Programme Manager, Corporate Services, Department of Corrections
Uarnie More has held several roles over her 14 years at the Department of Corrections including policy manager, private secretary to an associate minister and an operational role as manager Maori services, Lower North region, and during this time graduated with an Executive Master in Public Administration. Following project management of the Department’s Maori Focus Unit Improvement Project, Uarnie is responsible for managing the Frontline Futures programme.
Prior to 2012, the organisational structure of Corrections was based on prisons, probation, rehabilitation, and offender employment as separate operating units. Core human resource systems and processes such as attracting, selecting and training our frontline staff were largely developed and delivered within each separate part of the business. This resulted in little or no movement between roles and limited our ability to achieve Corrections-wide goals particularly where joint co-ordination or collaboration was required.
Following a restructure in 2012, all ‘offender-facing’ services were grouped together under one operational arm – Corrections Services. This provided an opportunity to realign systems and processes to a ‘one team’ approach, and provide a platform to launch the Frontline Futures programme of work. Based firmly on offender management skills that are common across a range of frontline roles, this programme aims to enhance the way Corrections attracts, selects and develops its frontline workforce. In addition, this programme seeks to expose staff to the justice and public sectors earlier in their development to provide an understanding of how their work at Corrections fits into the wider context.
Frontline Futures represents a significant investment in our frontline staff, particularly those in the following five core frontline roles:
- Corrections officer
- Probation officer
- Case manager
- Offender employment instructor
- Programme facilitator.
Attracting high quality candidates to our frontline
Employee value proposition and employer brand
An employee value proposition (EVP) is the foundation upon which effective organisations attract and retain the best people. At its core EVP represents the attributes of Corrections and the benefits an employee will receive in return for their contribution, and is usually prominent in how an employer sells itself to attract the right people. It informs the employer brand, answering the (often unspoken) question in a potential candidates’ mind: ‘What’s on offer at Corrections, and why should I apply for a role with them?’
At workshops in Auckland and Wellington, Corrections staff were invited to express what attracted them to apply for a frontline role at Corrections, as well as the benefits received as a result of their work. The findings of these workshops were tested against the existing EVP concept, and were assessed against the internationally used five key attribute categories highlighted below.
Our Corrections employer brand therefore answers the unspoken question in a potential candidates’ mind, by emphasising their potential to positively influence offenders and help to make a difference.
Our new employer brand tagline – ‘Change Lives, Shape Futures’ – highlights change as an overarching theme representing day-to-day life at Corrections. By joining Corrections, candidates get the best out of their career – they can change their life, their job and their purpose, by working with a team of supportive and encouraging people who ultimately make New Zealand a safer place. A significant difference in the new approach to attracting potential candidates will be through all year round advertising rather than as vacancies arise.
The previous selection process
The Department had typically used assessment centres to assess the suitability of candidates for one specific frontline role type only. Candidates progressed through a number of assessments designed to bring about the specific skills and responses required for the role. Assessment centres required the support of actors to provide real life scenarios and assessors to moderate the responses of candidates. In some cases, assessment centres were used to assess a small number of candidates, questioning the efficiency of this approach.
An anaylsis of job documentation and competency frameworks for the core frontline roles was undertaken to determine common and specific role requirements. These requirements were then shaped and tested with regional recruitment advisers and frontline staff. Striking yet unsurprising similarities across the core frontline roles were found. The following are examples of the requirements found to be common across the core frontline roles:
- Safety and situational awareness
- A high level of resilience
- Sound judgement, decision making, problem solving
- Communication (oral and written); and
- Teamwork and relationships.
These common requirements have been used to develop selection tools and processes and this is most evident in the use of Frontline Assessment Centres.
Frontline Assessment Centres
Identifying common requirements across core frontline roles has led to the development of a range of situational and skills-based assessments. Assessments range from basic computer skills, comprehension and verbal communication through to role plays and group exercises. Critically, Frontline Assessment Centres are assessing candidates for all five core frontline roles, rather than for one role type only.
Frontline Assessment Centres have now been delivered in Auckland, Palmerston North, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Taumarunui. From a total of 164 candidates who participated, 87 were deemed eligible to be considered for a frontline role. These 87 candidates have either been placed successfully into a frontline role or have moved to the next stages of the selection process. Feedback from recruitment advisers, assessors, hiring managers and participants has been highly positive.
Frontline Futures provided an opportunity to review and standardise the use of psychometric assessments in the selection process, based on an understanding of the common role requirements. The following assessment tools were identified as being suitable for use in the selection process for core frontline roles:
- A personality assessment;
- An emotional intelligence assessment; and
- Cognitive ability tests.
A range of criteria were used to identify assessment tools, including reliability, validity, cost and the ability to assess behaviours relevant to the role requirements. For the same current cost of assessing three frontline roles, all five core frontline roles can now use the same tests as part of the selection process.
Role specific assessments
In addition to comprehensive behavioural based interviews, the shadowing of staff on the floor (known as ‘specific career opportunities in a prison environment’, or SCOPE) has been extended from corrections officer roles to all core frontline roles. This ensures that candidates are given a realistic job preview, particularly for those who have not previously visited a prison or community corrections site. To complete the selection process, reference checking is undertaken by recruitment advisers before an offer of employment is sent to successful candidates. The start date for any new core frontline staff member is day one of the next intake for the Frontline Start programme as described in the following section.
During development work for Frontline Futures, an examination of our ‘learning pathways’ for each of the core frontline roles found a misalignment to recruitment processes and the reinforcing of silos between operational services. In some cases, the former led to extensive delays in preparing new staff for their roles. Common areas were not covered in some pathways, or were not covered adequately, and information about offenders was only ever ‘tacked on’ to the end of any learning, meaning new staff had little opportunity to empathise with offenders.
An innovative approach to revising these pathways began with frontline staff creating ‘user stories’ to reflect learning outcomes within a range of contexts (e.g. as a Corrections employee, a member of the justice sector and as a public servant). These stories were then used to develop a learning pathway architecture comprising three elements:
- One unified and common start for core frontline roles
- On-job learning; and
- Specific learning pathways.
Frontline Start Programme
Week one of the three week Frontline Start programme represents a unified start for all frontline roles. The week begins with an introduction to Corrections, the justice sector and public sector and is delivered every month. New staff learn about Corrections, who we work with internally and externally, and gain some offender management skills and some understanding of safety within their work environment.
The experience is immersive and interactive as staff are exposed to the most senior managers including the Chief Executive, the State Services Commission and Executive Leadership Team. Regional Commissioners, leaders of practice such as the Chief Probation Officer and Chief Custodial Officer and exemplar frontline staff also have a key role in setting expectations and providing real life situations. New staff learn more about their role as part of the justice sector through engagements with the New Zealand Police and the District Courts.
“Overall a great week; what stood out for me was the high level of commitment and clarity of message from the Executive Leadership
“Watching how Corrections and the justice sector work together was really inspirational.”
- Recent participants of the Frontline Start programme
In week two of the Frontline Start programme, staff return to their workplace for on-the-job learning. This includes the gathering of information and observation of up to eight key situations they will be expected to face on the job. Week three reunites the staff in Wellington to begin their specific learning pathways where the majority of learning is applicable to all. Examples include key legislation and professional decision making, an introduction to reports (e.g. provision of advice to courts) and offender plans, understanding gangs and family violence. Week three concludes the shared learning programme with staff continuing their development through role specific learning pathways such as the Probation Officer Curriculum.
Following a review of career development frameworks used in other organisations, a review of best practice and a stocktake of information and resources currently used in Corrections, a number of observations emerged. Corrections has a large and untapped internal labour market. Frontline staff are in fact aware of the potential transferability of their skills, knowledge and attributes, but these are sometimes overlooked by hiring managers. Up to 67% of transitions are within a job ‘family’, in comparison to 14% of transitions into other job ‘families’.
Highlighting potential career pathways
A career hub page is now available on the Corrections intranet. The career hub includes a wide range of information from our career philosophy, role profiles and tips on development through to career conversation advice for hiring managers. Information also includes video clips from staff who have successfully transitioned from one job family to another.
Many candidates who successfully progress from Frontline Assessment Centres are unaware of the range of frontline roles available at Corrections. This has presented an opportunity for recruitment advisers to highlight the full range of roles and to seek the interest of candidates in pursuing a role they hadn’t considered but that their skills may be more suited to.
Week one of the Frontline Start Programme includes a session on ‘Careers at Corrections’. This session provides an overview of frontline job families, and the skills that are transferable from one role to another. Staff who have successfully made transitions into other job families attend the session to share their experiences on why and how they moved and the benefits arising from that move. Initial findings from the Frontline Start programme show an increase in the number of frontline staff who would consider changing their role at some point in their career.
Frontline Futures has been successful largely for two reasons. Firstly, the vision and high levels of support and engagement by a number of key senior leaders and staff including the Executive Leadership Team, the State Services Commission, Regional Commissioners, leaders of practice, role exemplars and our justice sector partners. Secondly, the efforts and fortitude of those involved in leading and directly contributing to the development and delivery of these significant changes to our core human resource processes and practices.
Contributing to our goal of reducing re-offending by 25% by 2017 requires Corrections to attract and grow the right people to work on our frontline. Through Frontline Futures we are providing opportunities for our people to gain experience and grow their capability across a range of frontline roles and into first line management. This makes Corrections, and therefore the justice sector and wider public service, a more attractive and rewarding place to work.