From 11 cadets in 1959, the ABS celebrates 60 years of grads

An 18-year-old female cadet starting at what was then the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics in 1959 would earn £516 for the year, while her male counterpart would earn £584.

The gender pay gap closed slightly when it came to the living allowance though, with 18-year-old women provided with £129 a year instead of the £119 for men of the same age - it's more expensive to be a woman after all.

Australian Statistician, David Kalisch, welcomes 60th cohort of Australian Bureau of Statistics graduates among them are Alice Batcheldor, Conor Farne Sang, Eleanor Beavan and William Palmer.  Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Australian Statistician, David Kalisch, welcomes 60th cohort of Australian Bureau of Statistics graduates among them are Alice Batcheldor, Conor Farne Sang, Eleanor Beavan and William Palmer. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

The 19 women starting as graduates at the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week will be paid the same APS3 level wage as their 24 male colleagues - about $57,000.

A lot changes in 60 years, and it was what has changed, as well as what has stayed the same, that was celebrated as the bureau marked the milestone for the graduate program on Thursday.

As he prepared to welcome the new recruits, Australian Statistician David Kalisch reflected on his own experience as a graduate 37 years ago, in what was then known as the Bureau of Labour Market Research.

"What I remember from that is actually doing some research on the labour market - actually doing some real work. Not a huge amount of training went into that, it was very much on the job training. But I also remember a lot of photocopying," he said.

Salaries for cadets at the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, produced 1959. Photo: Supplied

Salaries for cadets at the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, produced 1959. Photo: Supplied

It's unlikely that today's graduates, all with at least an undergraduate degree and often more, will be asked to do the photocopying or fetch tea.

The ABS believes its program was the first large-scale graduate recruitment scheme to run within the public service, but it has changed significantly from 1959, when all participants signed up out of high school, and completed an economics degree with honours over four years.

"Now we've got the opportunity to pick from some of the best and the brightest. People who have not just done bachelor's degrees but increasingly also double degrees, post-graduate qualifications, people that have had other work experience as well," Mr Kalisch said.

"In 1959 it was a lot of people doing an economics degree where as now we're also drawing in people with not just the maths, stats and economics [skills] but also other areas such as psychology, social sciences, humanities, demography and also ICT and other corporate skills such as HR and finance."

Unlike many other government graduate programs, the bureau's new stats fans are based in every capital city around the country, with just 18 based in Canberra.

Being the Bureau of Statistics, graduates were given all the numbers about just where they sit in the workforce, and the wider public service.

Of the 375,400 university graduates in 2017, there were 955 graduates employed across the federal public service in 2017-18. That's around one in 400 graduates ending up in the public service.

While there's been disruption in the world of work and today's graduates are less likely to be bureau-lifers than generations before them, Mr Kalisch said the graduate program is still relevant.

"We place a high premium on professional skills, the graduate program has just as much if not greater importance for the ABS," Mr Kalisch said.

"We're seeing higher premium for people with data skills, data literacy, data analytics. So what I'm going to be saying to the graduates who are coming to the ABS, they've got an opportunity to really set themselves up for a future career."

This story From 11 cadets in 1959, the ABS celebrates 60 years of grads first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.