APS recruitment drive turning into scramble to fill vacancies

By Chris Johnson

Tuesday October 12, 2021

The APS situation is said to be desperate
The APS situation is said to be desperate. (gstockstudio/Adobe)

A massive recruitment drive is underway across the Australian Public Service, with more vacancies in Canberra than there are applicants, and agencies struggling to fill roles with suitably qualified people.

Recruitment firms are scrambling to fill the void, often resulting in unsuitable candidates being recommended to departmental bosses — and a high percentage of those candidates getting the job.

With recruiters not always being able to fill vacancies, consultancy firms are being turned to increasingly more.

Additionally, large consultancy firms have, between them, close to a billion dollars in government contracts for management advisory and to fill on-the-ground positions across the sector.   

The situation is also resulting in relatively junior staff being catapulted into senior roles for which they are not prepared.

“Consultancies are sucking anyone up right now and they are hiring literally anyone to fill a government contract,” one well-placed source told The Mandarin.

“The client is not being well-served at all. The APS is suffering because of it. And it’s not just contracts. Permanent, ongoing roles are being filled by remarkably unqualified applicants. 

“Advice that some consultancies are giving the client is little more than cut-and-paste dot points lifted from the internet — or worse, from a year 7 scrapbook.”

Part of the problem, however, is created by the APS agencies themselves demanding vacancies be filled quickly, even though roles have long been budgeted for.

“We have a situation where the APS and the recruiters they use are actually competing with consultancies to fill the same vacancies,” the source said.

“But it’s the APS driving this behaviour, with high demands and short timeframes.” 

While vast numbers of vacancies exist across most government departments, the greater needs — for staff and other consultancy engagement — appear to be with Finance; Defence; DFAT; Services Australia; Veterans’ Affairs; Agriculture, Water and the Environment; the ATO, and Health.

In a bid aimed at streamlining the process, some consultancies are working jointly with other firms on certain parts of some projects, but the environment is such that no one trusts anyone else.

“Behind the warm handshakes, smiles and coffees, it’s war,” the source said.

‘It’s rare that consultancies cooperate for the client’s good. If they do, everyone needs to be cautious.

“There is a lot of poaching going on. If information is shared in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill, it is often the case that one party to that information will use it against the other just so they can get the next piece of work.”

With recruiting firms, commissions are involved. 

“Firms are just getting applicants out into a job so they can very soon afterwards go and poach them back again for another vacancy — which means another commission,” another source said. 

“Tell me how that is in any client’s interest. It’s not in the interests of the APS at all.”

One APS human resources manager told The Mandarin the situation was desperate and that agency hands were largely tied.

There was a high level of dissatisfaction with how consultancies were servicing the sector.

“Advice is poor and we are not getting the right people presented to us for the levels we need to fill,” the HR manager said.

“But we have to fill these roles and sometimes it’s that need and the urgency that overrides everything else. We know we are filling vacancies at less than optimum, but we need to fill them.”

Another public service manager said interest in job advertisements at their agency had decreased dramatically this year.

“That is probably correlating with the unemployment rate, but we are finding it very hard to fill vacancies,” they said.


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