Local government workforce: older, more indigenous workers

By Jason Whittaker

February 16, 2015

2015-02-16_11-59-53Local government employs a significantly higher proportion of indigenous Australians than any other government sector. But its workforce is ageing faster.

The data comes from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government and, according to director Roberta Ryan, confirms local government is “punching about its weight in terms of its contribution to the nation’s economy and social fabric”.

The final Profile of the Local Government Workforce report, released today, shows Australia’s 556 local governments employ almost 200,000 people and spend some $30 billion annually. Councils are the top or one of the top employers in many rural and remote areas.

“The flow on effect from local government employment is significant,” associate professor Ryan said. “It offers opportunities for ongoing training and career development. It enables people and their families to stay being part of the community and contributing to the local economy.”

Among the key findings, more than 4.5% of the local government workforce across Australia are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background — well ahead of state and territory governments (2%), the Commonwealth (1.5%) and the private sector (1.3%). The Council of Australian Governments has set a public sector indigenous employment target of 2.6%.

But the workforce is also older than other government sectors: 37% of local government workers are aged 50 years or over, compared to the Australian labour force average of 29%. The proportion of local government employees aged less than 35 years is also lower than the Australian average.


Ryan says this, along with the high levels of impending retirement and male-dominated senior management ranks, is the key challenge for local government managers. “A greater commitment to workforce planning is the key strategy that can help the sector respond to these issues,” she said.

The gender balance is better among elected officials: around a third of all councillors and a quarter of mayors are women.

“The most interesting thing here is that the proportion of women being elected to these positions is about equal to the proportion being nominated,” Ryan said. “This strongly suggests that, when they stand for local government election, women are successful and the real barrier is getting more women to stand in the first place.

“We need to know why women aren’t putting themselves forward for election and we have a long way to go before we achieve gender equity among elected members.”

With a debate on federalism sparked by a new white paper, Ryan says there’s “no better time for the local government sector to step up, more assertively participate in the debate and seek the support needed for its workforce to have a stronger role in our federation, particularly as it is a key enabler of community well-being”.

The ACELG — based at the University of Technology, Sydney — will undertake further research on the key issues raised in the report.

More at The Mandarin: Local government: Australia’s real economic workhorse?

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