APS recruitment reminders: share merit lists and don’t favour the in-crowd

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday April 4, 2017

The Australian Public Service Commission has issued a couple of reminders about Commonwealth recruitment rules both old and new.

A recent change makes it easier for federal agencies to consider candidates whose application for a similar role elsewhere in the the public service was highly regarded, but HR teams must still be getting used to it — the commission has included it in this month’s APS News under the heading: “Did you know?”

Agencies have been allowed to share their orders of merit with each other since a change to the commissioner’s directions that took effect in December. The APSC explains:

“The APSjobs website has been upgraded to provide a central place where agencies can share merit lists. APS agency recruitment teams can now search vacancies from other agencies to find suitable orders of merit.”

The job must be at the same grade, in a similar location, and with similar duties to the first one the candidate missed out on. They also need to consent to having their resume and other personal information shared with other agencies, so agencies were advised to update privacy policies accordingly when the new directions were explained last year.

This means any merit lists created before December 1 can still be shared but the candidates listed would need to be given a chance to opt out of having their details shared. If they opt out, the list can be shared without them on it, but the rankings of the original have to stay the same — there is no re-ordering of orders of merit allowed.

Merit lists for SES positions and centrally managed recruitment programs for entry-level jobs, like Indigenous Pathways, have to be shared. “Access to merit lists for other vacancies is at the discretion of the agency and by agreement with individual candidates,” according to a set of FAQs that also came out last October.

Obviously, the more agencies that come to the party and share their orders of merit so others can save time and money, the better.

Complaints rise about “security clearance required” jobs

The central HR body has also received “a number of complaints” lately about jobs being advertised “with the requirement for applicants to have a current security clearance” so it sent out a reminder that discrimination against the un-cleared is unacceptable in APS employment:

“Agencies need to ensure that their own recruitment ads — or those run for them by recruitment firms — do not give the impression that an existing security clearance is required.”

The rules are very clear, but the situation in the public sector jobs market is not.

If the successful candidate will be directly employed in the public service, a pre-existing security clearance cannot be a requirement. But if they are to be employed by a labour-hire company, which has a contract to provide staff to the agency, that company can put in place whatever requirements they like.

It’s a common rant heard around Canberra: someone who aspires to their first APS job will find a lot of ads from recruiting firms that appear to be for roles in the massive federal bureaucracy, and say a particular security clearance is “required” for the job.

Ads for the jobs with labour-hire companies often refer to an unnamed “federal department” and quote specific APS classification levels, so it can be hard for jobseekers to tell them apart from the roles that are directly employed by the APS.

Some of these roles are only temporary, for six months or less, and the agency needs someone to start immediately, so it makes sense to get staff from Canberra’s pool of pre-vetted temps and specialist contractors.

The only way to get a security clearance is to get a long-term APS job at some point, so getting into that pool can seem like a catch-22 for jobseekers who don’t have one, and feel excluded from the huge number of “security clearance required” jobs advertised every week.

Other firms provide staff to work alongside public servants in blended teams for long stretches, especially in ICT jobs or the massive Defence industry. These blur the line between public and private sector jobs and raise many legitimate questions, including whether outsourcing has the potential to undermine merit-based public sector employment.

Finally, some ads for genuine APS roles do “give the impression” that un-vetted applicants need not apply. Words to the effect of “security clearance required” can be ambiguous and it should be made clear that this doesn’t mean candidates need one before they apply.

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