Entry pathways and pilot programs combat APS’s data and digital shortages

By Jackson Graham

February 9, 2022

black woman with data over the back part of her head
APS agencies are experiencing a shortage of expertise in technical data and digital skills. (metamorworks/Adobe)

Nearly three-quarters of APS agencies are experiencing a shortage of expertise in technical data and digital skills, with most wrestling with gaps in Canberra’s labour market. 

To address the problem, agencies are now looking to diversify approaches to attracting staff, according to the Australian Public Service Commission. 

The data, which is the most up-to-date and delivered to federal agency heads as part of the APS Workforce Strategy 2025 last year, shows 70% of agencies have gaps in data and digital skills, while 85% of the shortages were in the ACT. 

“We are focusing on developing these capabilities in-house, through a variety of entry programs and pathways,” a spokesperson for the APSC said. 

The Mandarin reported last week that some agencies experiencing shortages in data and expertise had between 30 and 40 roles to fill, with the pandemic labour market putting further stress on existing skill shortages nationwide. 

“Vacancies in these areas are not unique to the APS. An increase in demand has impacted the broader Australian and global labour markets as well,” the APSC spokesperson said. 

The commission said some of the solutions included focusing on specialist data and digital streams as part of graduate programs. A digital profession apprenticeship and cadetship program in 2021 welcomed 108 new staff in 2021. 

The sector is also piloting programs to upskill public servants to fill emerging data and digital roles. 

“These are small scale pilots at the moment, but we will be working closely with APS senior leadership to scale up in the future,” the APSC’s spokesperson said. 

Public service minister Ben Morton said last year that options were under consideration to boost in-house skills in digital, ICT and data areas, which could see changes to the controversial APS staffing cap. 

The cap, which limits APS numbers based on headcount rather than wage expenses, has been criticised for disincentivising agencies from hiring junior staff, who could be perceived as adding less value than workers at higher levels. 

But the APSC said in its most recent survey, just 16 of more than 100 agencies had raised the average staffing level cap as the reason for needing to source data and digital talent externally.


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