A top-heavy APS? The tide is turning on classification creep

There are fewer chiefs in the public service than there were. But arresting the growth of the SES is dependent on the amount of small-target programs rolled out by the Commonwealth.

Over the past 15 years, the Australian Public Service has grown increasingly top-heavy. The same long-term trend has been reported every six months since 2006, when the APS Commission’s statistical reports started including data from that long ago, but has been in motion since the 1990s.

The commission has also provided the same broad analysis of this trend, year on year: the APS has become an increasingly skilled workforce, performing more complex and difficult roles; technological change has rapidly reduced the need for low-skilled positions while most of the simpler jobs that are still required have been outsourced.

But something else has been going on at the same time — classification creep, where the same jobs are performed by higher-level employees. Following recognition of the problem in the 2010 reform roadmap Ahead of the Game, steps are being taken to address it. There are signs it’s working.

The recent 2013-14 statistical bulletin shows EL1 and EL2 staff declined as a proportion of the whole by a combined 0.4% over the past year — not much, but it’s the first time that’s happened for years. Still, the percentage of federal public servants at the two levels below, APS5 and APS6, continued to increase very slightly.

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  • Andrea Grosvenor

    Classification creep accelerated when centralised control by the old Public Service Board was abolished. All agencies and all recruiting managers, not just agency heads, believe that their work is unique, specialised, and requires a higher level of skill than ‘ordinary’ APS jobs. Too many have never had experience of a range of agencies or subject areas as a comparison. There’s also perceived prestige in having more highly classified staff.