Australian Public Service to tap talent outside Canberra

By on 28/05/2023 | Updated on 26/05/2023
A map of Australia
Photo by Catarina Sousa via Pexels

The Australian Public Service Commission is developing a strategy that would reduce the need for government employees to work in the capital, as part of its mission to become a model employer.

The focus instead would be on having the “right people in the right places”, a spokesperson for the Commission (APSC) said.

The APS Location Strategy and Action Plan is being worked up by the Future of Work Sub-committee of the Secretaries Board and is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

It comes as the public service faces workforce pressures and challenges attracting and retaining workers. Skills shortages were “particularly acute in the Canberra-based labour market”, and a “limited number” of people were prepared to move to Canberra for work, the spokesperson said.

They added that the APSC would focus on attracting and retaining relevant skills where they are in the jobs market, “rather than managing the workforce location solely on our existing property footprint”, suggesting that remote and hybrid working arrangements would be baked into the strategy.

Read more: Australian Public Service: uncapped remote working on the cards

According to the latest State of the Service report, which was delivered in November 2022 and was informed by the results of that year’s APS Employee Census, 38.8% of APS workers – 60,997 of them – are based in the Australian Capital Territory. Though the majority of government employees are based outside the capital, there are more in Canberra than in any other region.  

The APSC said it would help agencies identify in-demand skills across the service, including an analysis of where those skills are in the jobs market geographically.

The location strategy is also expected to tap into more diverse talent pools. The APSC has said that job location is “particularly important” for First Nations employees, those with a disability, those from diverse cultures and those for whom English is a second language.

Work to become model employer

The APS Location Strategy and Action Plan – which will be principles-based rather than mandatory – is part of a priority of the APS reform plan to become a model employer.

The sub-committee developing it aims to “support agency decisions on the geographic distribution of the workforce to access diverse talent pools, overcome barriers to the APS going where the talent is and strengthen the APS value proposition by supporting flexible ways of working”.

Read more: Minister vows to revive ‘mothballed’ Australian Public Service reform agenda

In a 2022 survey by the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, public servants identified location as the sixth most important job quality of 13 options, behind work-life balance, salary, work satisfaction, superannuation, and other (non-monetary) benefits. Just under half of respondents said location was “very important”.

In the same survey, respondents were asked to indicate how they think the Australian Public Service performs on each job quality when thinking about it as a potential employer. Here, location came eighth of the 13 qualities, though more than 60% rated it “good” or “very good”.

“These insights are being used to develop an APS employee value proposition and an APS-wide approach to flexibility,” the federal government said.

In April, the Chief Operating Officers (COO) Committee said it had considered the first draft of the strategy and action plan and that it would provide advice to the APSC about the operational risks and opportunities involved in implementing it.

Consultation is ongoing in order to identify practical steps “to improve systems and policy settings to support a talent-driven approach to workforce and property planning”.

Flexible working by default

Last month, the APSC announced it would move to a flexible work by default model. In addition, Australian public servants would be able to request an unlimited number of remote work days under new proposals put forward as part of bargaining talks earlier this month. The Australian Public Service Commission has also said it would cautiously consider implementing a four-day work week.

The APSC is, it said, “acting to best position itself for the future of work” and “act quickly to secure talent”.

“This means the APS must continue to hone and refine its employee value proposition and meet employee expectations. How the APS attracts and retains talent over the coming years will directly impact on its ability to best serve all Australians.”  

Read more: Moving mindsets and offices: how to successfully relocate civil servants

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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