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More skills, leaner admin: AFP set workforce goals

In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Thursday night, Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin outlined a plan for a more adaptive, innovative workforce that by the end of the decade includes 50% women and more specialist skills.

Generalists may have trouble finding work at Defence too, with yesterday’s release of the 2016 Defence white paper planning for thousands of cyber warfare, intelligence and aerospace specialists, squeezing out the number of available positions for traditional support roles.

Colvin has been laying the groundwork for a significant shift in AFP workforce, earlier this month telling the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement that the raised national security threat level, expanding coordination role domestically as well as increasing offshore demands on the AFP have forced his hand. He added that while he was able to shift resources to meet the demands for now, that may not be the case for too much longer without significant changes:

“The operational environment is not going to change for the AFP, nor probably for police around this country. The tempo is high and that poses challenges for us in being able to deliver across what is a very broad range of priorities and remit that the AFP is responsible for.”

Internal reforms have already begun, as well as a research initiative, the Future Directions project, which will be published as a “road map” paper later this year. It will cover what skill sets are required, capability gaps as well as anything that can be gleaned about the future operating environment.

“To the extent that anyone can predict the future, we need to try to set ourselves up for that. To continue to operate effectively in this environment, what we know is that we need to be flexible, we need to engage our partners and we need to be innovative.”

It’s not just technical skills either, police diplomacy played an important part of their international work. Tomorrow’s officers will need even more skills, Colvin said.

‘It’s not just about more police’

Colvin is pushing for more specialists, once they figure out exactly how many they need and in what areas. For now he has a general idea.

“While no commissioner will ever say they do not want more police, I am not going to be the first to say I would not like more police. Having more police helps me address the sheer volume of operational requirements that we have, but the focus of the AFP going forward is also on our capabilities. It is not just about more police; it is about police with the right skills and the right capabilities to do the job.

“While this is a shift in focus away from purely looking at our organisation through the numbers of police we have, I am shifting our focus to more about capacity and adversity and making sure those skills fit the current environment and the future environment. Establishing those core capabilities across our portfolios will allow me and my officers at the table today to have a more adaptable workforce with the flexibility and diversity across all the priorities that we have responsibility for.”

There is also a push for more women in those ranks. Currently less than 20% of sworn AFP officers are women. That number falls below 18% among the senior leadership. Colvin said this situation was embarrassing.

During the speech to ASPI, Colvin acknowledged it would take time to make significant shifts in the workforce makeup, and he expected resistance.

“This will be uncomfortable at times, but it’s important work. Real reform, real change is uncomfortable.”

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.