Agency job snobs risk missing out on dream promotions

By Harley Dennett

Monday September 19, 2016

Cross-agency merit lists, three-year temp contracts, and more diversity, but merit requirements will stay. Public service commissioner John Lloyd updates Commonwealth recruitment rules for a third time since taking up the role last year.

For HR teams, the new rules coming into effect later this year could mean significant productivity savings.

But for promotion chasers, ignoring job advertisements from lower prestige agencies could set them up for a greater disappointment than they realise.

The Australian Public Service Commission says agencies have a few months to familiarise themselves with the new Commissioner’s Directions before they come into effect on December 1.

“The new rules continue our work to modernise and streamline the APS employment framework and give agency heads greater flexibility in managing their workforce,” the APSC advises.

The highlights of the changes designed to increase flexibility include:

  • Broader measures to assist recruitment of Indigenous Australians and people with disability
  • Scope for agencies to recruit according to their needs with longer non-ongoing contracts
  • Scope for agencies to offer jobs to candidates who have applied in other agencies
  • Streamlined requirements for reporting in the Public Service Gazette

Fewer job ads for common roles

Job seekers who pick which vacancies to apply for based on the agency rather than the role and responsibilities could find themselves missing out on more opportunities than they realise.

A small change in the Commissioner’s Directions could have a big impact on the use of merit lists — the mechanism by which agencies may fill vacancies with candidates who placed highly in earlier recruitment undertakings for a similar role.

Until now, each agency must have advertised a role in the previous 12 months using its own agency name in order to use a merit list. That part of the Directions has been replaced. As long as eligible members of the community were given a reasonable opportunity to apply, vacancy notices will not have to disclose each subsequent agency who may use its merit list.

The implication of the change is simple: APS managers may now fill vacancies using merit lists from other agencies.

The productivity savings from the use of merit lists have long been known, but were often limited to larger agencies and roles with frequent turnover. This benefit will now be available in a wider set of circumstances, particularly for smaller agencies.

Changes to temp contracts

The “casualization” and increase of non-ongoing employees in the public sector has been a cause of concern for unions, but for agencies affords flexibility for changing circumstances. That trend is likely to continue with changes in the Directions that allow agency heads to extend non-ongoing employees’ contracts for up to three years.

The Public Service Act still specifies that the usual basis for engagement is ongoing, advises the APSC. However, if agency heads are satisfied non-ongoing employment is the most appropriate form of engagement in the circumstances, contracts may now start at 18-months long and be extended as often as required to a maximum of three years.

Non-ongoing positions designated exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will no longer need to be advertised in the gazette. This measure is already in place for ongoing positions.

Similarly measures to support the recruitment of people with disabilities, such as RecruitAbility or designated positions, have been broadened to include non-ongoing positions.

Values, merit unchanged

The Australian Public Service values — commitment to service, ethical, respectful, accountable and impartial — continue be the standard and outcomes expected of every APS employee and agency head.

Earlier updates to the Directions during Lloyd’s tenure as public service commissioner focused on the removal of the so-called recruitment freeze of the Abbott government and easing back the number of situations in which agency heads must seek APSC approval for employment decisions. The changes announced last week continue this trend, increasing flexibility and power to agency heads to manage their own recruitment needs.

Many have been expecting more substantial changes to APS merit processes, particularly after the APS workforce management contestability review by Sandra McPhee, titled Unlocking Potential was published earlier this year. Merit doesn’t mean what you think it means, McPhee declared, and set out a vision for reduced obligations that would enable more cross-sector pollination of the APS skills base.

However, Lloyd has kept the changes simple, cutting duplicate merit obligations from the Directions. The obligations for merit-based selection in the Public Service Act remains as the primary source.

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