APS occupational skills shortages

The 2005 Australian National Audit Office report, Workforce Planning, identified more than half of the responding agencies (45 of the 86) in the audit reported shortages in skilled occupations10:

Most common amongst those mentioned were accounting professionals, legal officers, economists, project managers and information technology (IT) professionals.

A number of these occupations continue to be reported as workforce risks in 2013.

To build a common set of data on the occupational groups in the APS and to support workforce planning across the APS, the Commission worked in partnership with 58 agencies over the latter half of 2011 to develop the APS Job Family (occupational group) model.11
The two key aims were to provide agencies with a data model that:

  • accommodates a large proportion of, if not all, job roles performed in the APS
  • provides links between the APS occupational groups and the Australian labour market.

In 2013, agencies were asked to indicate whether they used the APS Job Family Model in the conduct of formal analysis of occupational groups—23% of agencies (covering 55% of the APS workforce) reported they had adopted the APS Job Family Model, 9% used another job family model and 68% (covering 22% of the APS workforce) had not conducted any formal analysis of occupational groups.

Agencies were asked to indicate the extent of skill shortages they had experienced in 2012–13 using the APS Job Family Model. Table 6.3 shows that the occupational groups identified as experiencing the greatest skill shortage were engineering and technical, information and communications technology (ICT), and accounting and finance. However, the large proportion of agencies that have not conducted an analysis of occupations would suggest that critical skill shortages are not well understood at an agency level and projecting APS-wide shortages from workforce plans is likely to underestimate or misrepresent the situation.

Table 6.3 Extent of skill shortages experienced by agencies, 2012–13
Job Family Limited Moderate Severe
Agencies (%)
Source: Agency survey
Accounting and finance 36 19 1
Administration 10 4  
Communications and marketing 30 8 3
Compliance and regulation 23 11  
Engineering and technical 31 26 3
ICT 34 30 5
Information and knowledge management 31 11 3
Intelligence 27 17 3
Legal and parliamentary 24 10 1
Monitoring and audit 17 8 2
Organisational leadership 21 13  
People (human resources) 42 14  
Science and health 37 19  
Service delivery 21    
Strategic policy, research, project and program 42 13  
Trades and labour 13 13  

Table 6.4 shows a summary of the skill and knowledge gaps reported by those agencies that indicated they had a documented workforce plan in 2012–13. As can be seen, there is some overlap in the assessment of skill shortages.

Table 6.4 Documented workforce gaps from agency workforce plans, 2012–13
Workforce gaps
Source: Agency survey
Accountants and auditors
Change management and leadership
Economists
Engineers
ICT professionals
Intelligence analysts
Legal
Policy developers
Project and program management
Statistics, data modelling and analysis
Specialist investigators and examiners

Understanding recurring skill shortages

For the past 10 years, the Commission has asked agencies to report on key capabilities and skills areas where they have had difficulties recruiting and/or retaining or where they are experiencing skills shortages. Over this period agencies reported they have experienced difficulties across the occupational groups of ICT, accounting and finance, high-level policy/research and human resources.

Over the past three years, the predominant occupational groups where skill shortages have been reported were ICT, accounting and finance and people occupations. To gain a better understanding of the nature of the shortages in these three occupations, agencies were asked to identify in more detail the nature of the shortages they experienced in 2012–13 with reference to specific job roles. While the people occupation was not rated as an area with high skill shortages this year, it was included in the collection of further information due to the assessments in previous years.

Table 6.5 shows that the accounting and finance job roles identified as experiencing the greatest skill shortages (moderate and severe) were in budgeting, financial accounting or reporting, finance analyst functions and management accounting.

Table 6.5 Extent of skill shortages experienced by agencies in accounting and finance, 2012–13
Job Family Limited Moderate Severe
Agencies (%)
Source: Agency survey
Accounts processing 44 12  
Budgeting 29 41 2
Financial accounting or reporting 33 36 2
Finance analyst 32 39  
General finance 49 15  
Management accounting 40 31 2
Performance/output reporting 39 24  
Tax accounting 32 15 2
Non-executive manager 32 2 2
Executive manager 29 5 2

In the main, accounting and finance skills shortages reported by agencies reflect the broader labour market, where accountants12 (accountant general, management accountant and taxation accountant) were included on the 2013 Skilled Occupation List published by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. This list is informed by research undertaken by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency.

Table 6.6 shows the people job roles identified as experiencing the greatest skill shortages (moderate and severe) were in occupational health and safety, workforce planning and payroll.

Table 6.6 Extent of skill shortages experienced by agencies in people (human resources), 2012–13
Job Family Limited Moderate Severe
Agencies (%)
Source: Agency survey
Human resources generalist 18 18 3
Learning and development 37 16  
Occupational health and safety 32 37 5
Payroll 30 25 5
Performance management 35 22 3
Recruitment 24 8 5
Talent management 28 13 5
Worker's compensation 26 26  
Workforce planning 38 31 10
Workplace relations 42 18  
Non-executive manager 22 5  
Executive manager 18 5 3

Similar to the skill shortages identified by agencies, Occupational Health and Safety advisors13 were included on the Skilled Occupation List. Importantly, workforce planning is a key skill shortage for agencies alongside the more transactional job roles such as payroll. The issues for the people occupation are diverse, running from high-end workforce management skills through to transactional roles central to important agency processes.

Table 6.7 shows that the ICT job roles identified as experiencing the greatest skill shortage (moderate and severe) were in program-project management, business process analysis/design, development and programming, and security.

Table 6.7 Extent of skill shortages experienced by agencies in ICT, 2012–13
ICT job roles Limited Moderate Severe
Agencies (%)
Source: Agency survey
Strategic leadership 37 17  
Procurement and vendor relations 34 9 4
Quality assurance 33 4  
Program-project management 37 33 4
Business process analysis/design 33 28 7
Systems analysis/design 35 26 2
Development and programming 43 26 7
Web and multimedia content development 34 11 4
Testing 41 11 2
Systems integration and deployment 41 20 4
Service management 37 20  
Systems administration 43 9 7
Security 33 20 9
Networks and telecommunications 30 15 4
Databases 39 17 2
Infrastructure and facilities 40 11  
Information/knowledge management 46 13  
Helpdesk/support 32 11  
Training and development 22 9 2

Key ICT skills shortages reported by agencies are reflected in the broader labour market, where ICT business and systems analysts14 and software and applications programmers15 were included on the Skilled Occupation List.

Tables 6.5 to 6.7 show the importance of understanding the top-line occupational shortages experienced by agencies and the character of the shortages in the component job roles. Targeted strategies to address critical skills shortages should focus on job roles rather than generic occupational descriptions. However, as noted earlier, 68% of agencies report they had not conducted formal analysis of occupational groups. This type of information is a critical input to workforce planning processes if agencies are to successfully shape their workforce to meet changing business requirements.

The attitudes and opinions of critical skills groups

The APS Job Family Model can also provide a structure for understanding the attitudes, opinions and intentions of employees in critical skills groups. Over the past two years, the employee census has asked APS employees to identify their current occupations according to the APS Job Family Model. This approach has some limitations because the work employees undertake may cross a number of occupational groups. As such, it may be difficult for some employees to identify a primary, or single, occupational group that corresponds with their role. This is particularly relevant for generalist positions. However, the approach offers the opportunity to explore differences in the behaviour of occupational groups that may provide insights that support workforce planning and strategy development.

In 2013, about 6% of non-SES employees who responded to the employee census indicated they were a part of the accounting and finance occupation, 9% identified into ICT and 5% into people occupations. Of these employees, about one in five indicated they intended to leave their agency within the next 12 months. Figure 6.4 shows there were no differences in the intention to leave for all three occupations and they did not differ substantially from other APS employees.

Figure 6.4 Intention to leave in critical occupational groups, 2013

Figure 6.4 is a bar chart showing the intention to leave of the three critical occupational groups (accounting and finance, ICT and people) compared against the APS overall. There was little difference in intention to leave between the groups. ICT employees were the least likely to report they intended to stay with their agency for the next 3 years.

Source: Employee census

 

When employees who reported they were planning to leave their agency in the next 12 months were asked what they intended to be doing, some differences between occupations emerged. Figure 6.5 shows four categories of likely destination for all three occupations and compares these to the APS overall.

Most employees in the accounting and finance, ICT and people occupations who reported they intended to leave their current agency in the next 12 months also indicated they intend to continue to work in the APS. Indeed, employees in all three occupations were more likely to report they intended to continue working in the APS than APS employees overall. There are also distinct differences between the occupations that may reflect wider market conditions. Accounting and finance employees were more likely to indicate they intend working for another Commonwealth government agency and ICT employees were more likely to indicate they intend to be employed in the private sector in 12 months' time.

Figure 6.5 Career intentions for accounting and finance, people and ICT employees, 2013

Figure 6.5 is a bar chart showing that for those employees who reported they were planning to leave their agency in the next 12 months, employees in the people occupation group were most likely to indicate they intend to be working in another APS agency. Accounting and finance employees were most likely to indicate they intend to be working in another Commonwealth Government agency, while ICT employees were most likely to indicate they intend to be working in the private sector.

Source: Employee census

 

In relation to what is influencing employees' intention to leave within the next 12 months, Figure 6.6 shows the three top drivers are lack of career opportunities, perceived quality of senior leadership and a desire to try a different type of work or seek a career change. Broadly, the accounting and finance and people occupations are more alike than ICT. Employees in the ICT job family are more likely to cite the perceived quality of their senior leaders, lack of respect for employees and inadequate remuneration as reasons to consider leaving their agency.

Figure 6.6 Reasons for accounting and finance, people and ICT employees to leave their agency, 2013

Figure 6.6 is a bar chart showing the most common reasons influencing intention to leave from the three critical occupational groups was lack of career opportunities, similar to the APS overall. ICT employees were more likely than other employees to report poor quality of senior leadership as a reason influencing their intentions. Accounting and finance and people employees were more likely than other employees to report lack of recognition as a reason.

Source: Employee census

 

The development of effective workforce strategies to address workforce shortages requires an understanding of the composition of the workforce (either by classification or occupation) and the attitudes and opinions of those who make up the occupational groups. It would seem that a proportion of employees from the accounting and finance, ICT and people occupational groups intend to move from their current agency to pursue career opportunities within the wider APS. From an APS perspective the risk posed does not seem to be great since the skills and capabilities of these employees will be retained in the broader service. For agencies, the perspective is different. Workforce planning and management strategies that are informed by understanding the drivers of behaviours within a workforce group are more likely to be successful in addressing agency risks. The Commission intends to examine the attitudes and opinions of APS employees working in these three occupational groups more closely in the coming 12 months.


Footnotes

10 Australian National Audit Office, Workforce Planning, Performance Audit Report no.55, 2004–05, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2005), p. 36.

11 For more information: http://www.apsc.gov.au.

12 Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, ANZSCO: 2211 Accountants, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2013).

13 Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, ANZSCO: 2513 Occupational and Environmental Health Professionals, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2013).

14 Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, ANZSCO: 2611 ICT Business and Systems Analysts, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2013).

15 Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, ANZSCO: 2613 Software and Applications Programmers, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2013).