The Professionals Australia group has warned that the Australian public service (APS) cannot continue to deliver high-quality services to the community without an urgent investment in skilled staff.
Dale Beasley, head of the organisation’s Australian government group and ACT branch, said that government failures such as the federal COVIDsafe app and robodebt would continue unless APS technical and professional structures were strengthened. That includes hiring more skilled staff.
The union organiser added that nearly three-quarters of APS agencies reported a ‘critical skills shortage’ with in-house data, digital and ICT capabilities identified as the areas most struggling. Almost half of APS employees also report that ICT is where their workgroup experiences ‘skill and capability gaps’, he said.
“Too often APS leadership see technical skills and workforce as something that can be bought off the shelf. This mindset exists because the structures do not allow them to think otherwise,” Beasley said
“Outsourcing is too often equal parts poor culture and poor structures. The APS fails on both.”
Professionals Australia outlined its concerns in a submission to the review into APS Hierarchy and Classifications, also calling for the formalisation of separate classification structures for technical and specialist skilled staff to apply APS-wide. The review is among about 20 other reviews of the sector in the past 10 years and is part of Scott Morrison’s APS reform agenda Delivering for Australians.
Beasley said that the government was aware that existing APS structures did not foster STEM staff in meeting modern-day challenges, citing David Thodey’s review (which the government’s Delivering for Australians plan attempted to respond to) that recognised this very point.
“Culture and structure [in the APS] must both be reformed. The skills shortages are not a future problem, they are with us in the present, which is why action is so urgent.
“A massive uplift will be required in ICT staff in the coming years and the APS is clearly not tooled up to meet this challenge, given the technical failures we have witnessed,” Beasley said.
If the government chooses to invest in critical APS technical and professional staff resources, Professionals Australia believes that serious taxpayer dollars can be saved.
“We urgently call on the federal government to invest in the APS technical and professional staff to build and maintain much needed capacity and to save taxpayer dollars. We urgently call on the APS leadership to change the culture and thinking to invest deeply in technical and professional staff,” Beasley said.