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Efficiency dividend continues to impact APS numbers

by Staff Writers •
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The one-off, 2 per cent efficiency dividend that took effect for the last four months of 2007–08 continued to impact Australian Public Sector (APS) staff numbers during the 2008-09 financial year.

The 2008-09 State of the Service report shows that the rate of growth (1.4%) continued, but was much slower than in recent years.

This report is a valuable resource for any companies doing business with Federal Government. With an overview of the structure and organisation of the workforce and key areas of focus, it will assist suppliers understand their clients: key drivers, the nature of people with whom they deal, and future areas of opportunity.

In her overview to the report, then Acting Public Service Commissioner, Carmel McGregor, said 2008-09 was a "challenging year for the APS". Pressure on the Public Sector came from two main sources: the global financial crisis and the Government’s reform agenda.

Growth in staff numbers was concentrated in agencies involved in addressing global issues (Centrelink, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), and Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). On the other hand, many smaller agencies were hard hit by cutbacks continuing to flow from the increased efficiency dividend.

Release of this report follows a number of recent speeches and announcements on public sector reform. In a speech on 20 November 2009, Kevin Rudd urged the APS to do more to ensure that it provides the highest-quality service delivery to Australians. In particular, he emphasised the role of the Public Service in delivering the highest-quality policy advice. He also noted that in order to strengthen the quality of its workforce, the APS needed to attract and retain the best employees.

An Advisory Group (led by Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Terry Moran) established to help meet the Government’s objective to make the APS ‘the best public service in the world’, is due to release an APS reform blueprint in early 2010 to achieve this goal.

Last month, the Government released a report Benchmarking Australian Government Administration Performance based on commissioned KPMG research. The report was designed to provide input to the Advisory Group, and compared performance of the APS against leading public services around the world. It found that "on most comparisons … the APS performs soundly", but also identified a number of areas in which the APS performs relatively poorly.

The comparative research found the APS to be a high performer (top third) in areas including independence, responsiveness to changes in the economy and proportion of women in the workforce. It was ranked medium in developing skills and leadership capabilities, an in performance-based budgeting of government programs. However, it rated poorly (bottom third) in areas including capability for coordinated, informed and strategic policy.

In relation to the provision of online access to government information and services:

  • Australian Government was assessed as "medium" in its ability to engage with citizens using ICT; and
  • Functionality of Australia’s online portals was ranked as "medium".

A number of trends are evident in the 2008-09 State of The Service report:

  • Aging workforce – the median age is now 42 years, and over one-quarter of APS are now aged 55 years and over;
  • Higher classification profile - the number of EL and SES positions grew by 5.7% and 5.4% respectively;
  • More feminised – the number of women increased at a higher rate (1.8%) than men (0.8%). Women now represent nearly 58% of all APS;
  • Increasing representation of women in the SES - now 37% overall, however women are concentrated in lower levels of the SES;
  • Higher levels of education – almost 54% of APS now have degree qualifications;
  • Fewer young people – APS aged less than 25 years fell for the second year in a row and this group now accounts for only 4.6% of APS; and
  • Reduced mobility - APS employees in 2009 have worked in fewer agencies than their counterparts in 2000. Even amongst SES staff, the proportion who have worked in only one agency grew from 37.4% in 2000 to 45.4% in 2009.

A typical APS employee is a 42-year-old female APS6 with graduate qualifications working in service delivery outside Canberra. A typical new starter is a 32-year-old female at APS3 level.

The Report outlines three key challenges faced by agencies in building APS workforce capability:

  • Increasing the capacity to manage organisational change or changes to functions and workloads;
  • Improving the ability to attract and retain appropriately skilled employees; and
  • Developing capable leaders, managing succession, and knowledge management.
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