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Public servants hit career 'bottleneck'

Australian Public Service job levels as a share of the ongoing workforce. Source: APS Statistical Bulletin, 2010-11

Australian Public Service job levels as a share of the ongoing workforce. Source: APS Statistical Bulletin, 2010-11

The growing number of middle managers in the federal bureaucracy has created a career "bottleneck" that drives some staff out of the public service, a research paper says.

The report on workforce trends, written by Public Service Commission staff, draws attention to the burgeoning ranks of executive level 1 officers, which have grown faster than any other level.

The Australian Public Service's workforce expanded by 41 per cent in the 10 years to June 2011, though the number of EL1s grew 112 per cent – almost three times as quickly.

In contrast, the senior executive service's ranks – whose growth regularly attracts the public's ire – increased by just 74 per cent.

EL1 officers, who are nominally employed as supervisors or subject-area specialists, now comprise the largest cohort of Canberra-based staff. Their median base salary is about $102,100.

The paper said the growth in EL1 ranks "has not been matched by the APS6 or EL2 cohorts".

"As demand to replenish the EL1 workforce increases, the demand for talented APS6s may begin to exceed the supply, and dependence on the external labour market may increase,'' it said.

"Furthermore, as the supply of experienced EL1s increases beyond the demand of the EL2 cohort, a bottleneck will be created that may lead to an increase in turnover of EL1s as they pursue career advancement outside the APS."

The research paper also warned that the bureaucracy had become less effective in recent years at retaining its graduates.

It suggested government agencies do more to promote the long-term returns of staying in the public service.

"This could also be done by: increasing the availability of graduate programs and ongoing work outside the ACT; tailoring aspects of the program to suit graduates' individual interests and experience, particularly in relation to assigning rotations; and providing challenging work to keep graduates engaged during and after the program."

Widespread concerns about so-called "classification creep" led to a review in 2010 by former senior mandarin Roger Beale, though his report was limited to senior executives' workloads.

Mr Beale said the SES's growth had been largely justified, though the government agreed to his recommendation to cap its numbers.

The commission said the report on workforce trends, which was the work of six of its staff, did not reflect its formal views.

39 comments

  • As the old saying goes, The poo floats to the top

    Commenter
    jake
    Location
    canberra
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 3:16PM
    • So Jake, whats it like at the top?

      Commenter
      Mickyb
      Location
      Chewy
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 4:04PM
  • And cue the ill-informed people commenting about how they know for sure that only a small portion of these people do any work, and the rest can be fired with no repercussions...

    Commenter
    Ben
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 3:37PM
    • Since you ask why not.

      As a former APS6 I worked to two EL1s. Neither of whom knew how to do what I did but spent a considerable amount of time telling me how to do it.

      They had lots of meetings (at the cafe would you believe?) and would come back to tell me I wasn't working hard enough. When I pointed out to them that I was doing more than both of them and better (at least according to our clients) I got into more trouble.

      So when retrenchments were offered I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Now the whole office consists of EL1s complaining about how hard they work. None of the roles is at an EL1 level but they have somehow managed to convince the right people that they deserve the level.

      Classification creep is rampant and needs to be addressed. Every time a job is vacated and is going to be filled it should be done at one level lower if they can possibly justify keeping the role.

      Commenter
      PH
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 7:17PM
    • I'm with you PH.
      A lot of the EL1s in Public Service would struggle to organise a few beers at a brewery.

      Commenter
      Ben
      Location
      Benville`
      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 7:33AM
    • The answer is simple, make them all go part-time.

      Commenter
      bg
      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 10:34AM
    • PH I don't disagree - that can happen at any workplace, indeed it happened around me in the private sector. But just as your 'superiors' didn't know all what you were doing, you probably don't know all what they were doing. Same goes for those jobs you insist don't have to be EL1. There are 2 sides to every story.

      And don't say I am just sticking up for my cushy EL1 job - I have never been at an EL level.

      And your last sentence is a logic fail because then every job will become an APS1.

      Commenter
      Ben
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 10:40AM
  • Making public service timeserving pay, and having individuals follow that great American tradition of failing their way to the top, has been the capacity building death of this country.

    Recent reports reinforce how tightly the exit doors are being kept locked by the IR mafia and the empire builders

    The whole public service structure now plainly looks like the military brass's degenerate flab.

    Where did all the extra top end work come from for the APS 6's and EL1's? Don't talk to us about quality, we've seen the results of all your boondoggle and subsidy schemes.

    Where is the technology dividend we have seen in private industry?

    We're sick of the Canberra racket, the quango's, and the IR club & judiciary. We know your contempt for working Australians, as evidenced by PM&C's self declaration that they can avoid serving under the public service charter and not be accountable to the public.

    The public service is all that Labor has in terms of popular support and this time we won't let the Libs accommodate you like Howard did.

    Commenter
    archivista
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 4:14PM
    • The "technology dividend" is clearly there, in the shrinking number of low-level staff. Thirty years ago the upper-middle management had underlings to type their reports, now they do it themselves.

      Commenter
      enno
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 4:48PM
  • The "career bottleneck" in the Public Service is probably similar to that in Private Enterprise - there is only 1 MD, and a small number of "Head Of" positions available - so many Senior Managers find that there is no-where for them to go . . . . if you are not one of the favoured few that are aligned to whoever is on a fast ride to the top then your only option is to change employers - or sit tight and wait . . . there are revolving doors at many levels of organisations - and there is no reason why the Publice Service should be any different.

    Commenter
    MST
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 4:39PM

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