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Appendix 7

Report on Focus Group Consultations for Australian Public Service Commission

Dr Julie West

August 2012

Introduction

Background

In April 2012, Dr Julie West, Principal, Workplace Research Associates was commissioned by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to provide advice and assistance to the Project Team responsible for conducting a review of the non-SES classification structure used across the Australian Public Service (APS).

The classification review was undertaken in response to Recommendation 6.1 which required the APSC to examine the extent to which existing APS classification arrangements and work level standards (WLS) continue to meet the needs of APS agencies and employees.

Its specific aims were to consider the extent to which current classification arrangements:

  • support a united APS;
  • facilitate mobility across the APS;
  • enable the attraction and retention of high performing employees; and
  • provide APS employees with appropriate career paths and opportunities.

This report documents the findings of a series of Focus Groups conducted with senior HR staff from a broad cross-section of agencies. The findings of the broader review are presented in a separate report prepared by the Project Team.

Six Focus Groups were held between 19 April 2012 to 30 April 2012. Four Focus Groups were held in Canberra on 19 April 2012 and 30 April 2012; one Focus Group was conducted in Melbourne on 23 April 2012; and one Focus Group was held in Sydney on 27 April 2012. Expressions of interest in attending Focus group sessions were requested via an all-agency email from the APSC. Some 49 agencies attended the Focus Groups.

Approach

Preliminary research was undertaken by the Project Team to inform the design of the Focus Groups. This work suggested that there were six key areas of focus (Topics):

  1. Classification management: How do agencies currently manage their classification profiles?
  2. ‘Classification creep’: Does it exist or has the APS classification profile simply evolved to respond to increasingly complex work demands?
  3. Broadbanding: Do agencies find it useful and how is it currently managed?
  4. Trainee classifications: Are they being used by agencies and are they useful?
  5. Specialist categories: Do agencies see the need to create additional specialist classifications?
  6. The existing classification structure: Does it meet agencies' needs?

Each Focus Group was conducted over three hours. This time was divided into two discussion blocks. In the first discussion block, Topics 1-3 were addressed and in the second block, Topics 4-6 were covered. At the time of registration to attend, participants were invited to nominate the topics in which they had a particular interest. Each topic was discussed in a small group setting and, therefore, each participant was able to have in-depth input to two of the six topics. However, to ensure that all participants had an opportunity to contribute views on all six topics, each small group provided a report back to the plenary group following the small group discussion and, in this way, all participants had the opportunity to contribute to every topic.

In addressing each topic, participants were asked to discuss the following:

  • What are the issues/practices in each agency?
  • What suggestions for changes/improvements should be considered by the review?

Findings

Classification management

The critical issues raised in relation to classification management were:

  • There is a critical gap in classification management capability in many agencies

There was a strong consensus that the discipline of classification management had dissipated over time. With the devolution of classification management functions to agencies in the late 1990's and the lack of support and oversight from a central agency, the expertise that once existed in the APS in traditional ‘establishments functions’ has been lost in many agencies. Many Human Resources (HR) staff were not trained in classification management and job evaluation and classification practices were commonly delegated to business line managers who typically had little or no expertise in this area.

Note: A few agencies, particularly larger agencies such as the Department of Human Services and the Australian Taxation Office have found it necessary to refocus attention on their classification management practices. They have established more formal classification arrangements supported by contemporary, agency-specific WLS, training in job evaluation for HR staff and a more centralised approach to the exercise of delegations for creating and re-classifying positions.

  • There is no contemporary service-wide framework to support consistent classification management practices

Once responsibility for classification management was devolved to agencies, they were expected to develop their own WLS and develop and administer their classification management practices in accordance with the Public Service Classification Rules 2000.

Participants commented that:

  • There are no contemporary service-wide WLSs for the non-APS classification structure. Although many agencies have put considerable effort into developing their own WLS, there is no service-wide benchmark or standard to which they can align their agency-specific frameworks. The absence of service-wide WLS makes it difficult to ensure that WLS are consistent across agencies and represent descriptions of work value that accord with service-wide expectations.

    Note: Participants commented extremely favourably on the recent work done by the APSC in developing service-wide WLS for the Senior Executive Service (SES) and an accompanying evaluation methodology for HR staff. This work was seen to fill an important gap and be of great assistance to those actively seeking to better manage classification arrangements for SES positions.
  • In addition to the absence of a service-wide framework, participants noted that there is little training available in job evaluation and the application of WLS. It was noted that approximately four times a year the APSC offers a workshop through the APSC Public Calendar Program on Understanding Work Value: Classification principles, Work Level Standards and Broadbanding defined1. However, this was the only APS-specific training currently available. Participants again commented on the value of the recent initiative by the APSC in providing training for HR practitioners on the SES WLS and job evaluation methodology.
  • A number of participants commented on the fact that, not only were there no service-wide WLS, there was no contemporary supporting documentation to guide classification management in the APS. The last publication produced was the Handbook of Australian Public Service Classification Management published by the Department of Finance in 1992.
  • The absence of any reliable tools to assist in evaluating and classifying also hinders effective classification management. HR practitioners would like to have an evaluation tool similar to that developed recently by the APSC for SES positions available to them. At present, in the absence of in-house expertise and reliable evaluation tools, agencies are reliant on external providers to undertake evaluation work. These providers often apply their methodology which is not tailored to the unique requirements of the APS.

    There are a handful of agencies who have invested in developing their own job evaluation approaches and tailored tools. HR staff in these agencies, who have been undertaking evaluations, commented that their managers were sometimes reluctant to support the evaluation work because it was seen as time-consuming and resource intensive.
  • There is no centre of expertise for advice and guidance on classification management

Since the former Department of Employment and Workplace Relations devolved responsibility for classification management to agencies, there has not been a centre of expertise available to APS staff to provide advice, guidance, training and the maintenance of frameworks and supporting documentation. Participants felt that the APSC should take on this role now that it has responsibility of all employment matters.

  • Jobs are not always classified according to their work value

In every session, participants commented that a range of factors other than work value were often used to classify positions. Particularly in the absence of structured classification management arrangements and capability in this area (as mentioned above), it is not uncommon for positions to be classified on the following bases:

  • To attract staff to positions that are difficult to fill or where there is strong external market competition
  • To offer more competitive remuneration than other agencies; this practice was more commonplace in agencies who currently pay at the lower quartiles
  • To retain talented staff who have expertise and experience that agencies value
  • As recognition and reward for staff who are performing highly
  • As a reward for staff who have been in a role for a long period of time
  • To compensate for a high workload/volume
  • To recognise the qualifications of staff e.g. those who have a PhD are offered jobs that are more highly classified than those with lower level qualifications
  • Classification management has moved from an ‘establishment-based’ practice to a ‘budget-based’ approach

Classification management prior to the 1990s was administered through a structured and controlled function know as the establishments function. Delegations for the creation, abolition and re-classification of positions were limited and experienced HR staff applied job analysis and job evaluation methodologies developed by the Department of Finance (and even earlier, by the Public Service Board).

Many participants commented on devolved and often less rigorous approach to classification management that exists in most agencies currently and described it as “budget-based” rather than “establishments-based”. It is not uncommon for managers to consider their budget and design their classification profiles based on what they can afford with secondary consideration being given to business requirements.

HR staff involved in these decisions often feel that they must engage in a negotiation with managers to try to ensure that the ‘work value’ principle is not compromised. More junior HR often find this process difficult and feel that they have too little influence in the discussions

Suggestions for change/improvement

Participants offered the following suggestions:

  • That the APSC develops a set of service-wide WLS and supporting materials such as a job evaluation tool, a recommended methodology and a handbook or guidance document as a resource for HR practitioners
  • That the APSC extends its existing training in this area to provide greater accessibility to HR staff. Participants suggested that the approach to training used for the new SES WLS and role analysis tool was a successful model and one that would be welcomed if it were extended to non-SES levels.
  • That the APSC re-establishes its role as a centre of expertise in the area of classification management and provides a higher level of advice and support to agencies than is currently available.
  • A number of staff suggested that the APSC could provide a higher level of oversight of agencies’ classification management practices to ensure consistency and equity in classification decisions. However, there were varied views about the degree of oversight and control that the APSC should have ranging from a formal auditing role to a less prescriptive advisory role.

‘Classification creep’

The classification profile of the APS has changed significantly over the last 12 years.

The key changes are:

  • A significant decrease in the number of APS 1 and APS 2 level staff
  • A shift in the classifications representing the greatest numbers of staff from the APS 3 level to the APS 4 level
  • A significant increase in the number of staff at the APS 6 level
  • A noticeable increase in the number of staff at the EL 1 level

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this evolution of the classification profile including the changing nature of the work (more automation of lower level functions); the outsourcing of a number of lower level functions; the impact of technology and an increase in the complexity of many roles. However, while participants felt that these factors were behind changes to the classification profile, they felt that poor classification practices had also contributed.

Key views expressed by participants in relation to ‘classification creep’ were:

  • ‘Classification creep’ has occurred at least to some extent

As mentioned above, there has been a tendency to classify some positions on bases other than work value, particular to attract and retain staff. Currently, the APS has the facility to apply mechanisms to provide sought-after staff with additional remuneration and/or benefits which should ameliorate the need to attract staff using inflated classification as a pay mechanism.

However, many reported that alternative mechanisms are not being used effectively and classification is used as the attraction / retention strategy.

  • Competition between agencies has contributed to ‘classification creep’

Participants commented that competition between agencies for talented and skilled staff had contributed to changes in classification profiles. Where particular skills are in short supply, some agencies will raise the classifications of positions to attract staff to their organisation. This trend has been observed with ICT staff, graduates from certain disciplines and other specialist roles. The pay differential between agencies is also a factor behind this trend. Lower paying agencies feel some pressure to increase the classification of certain roles so the remuneration they are offering is attractive. Additionally, the competition for staff in the Canberra labour market was mentioned by a number of participants. Because this labour market is tight, some agencies offer positions at a higher classification level compared to comparable positions on offer in other agencies.

  • Lack of awareness of Work Level Standards has contributed to ‘classification creep’

As discussed above, there is a general lack of understanding and awareness by managers of the existence and appropriate use of WLS in classifying jobs. This lack of awareness has also contributed to classification decisions being made on bases other than work value. A common example provided by participants was the practice of rewarding a high performing staff member by reclassifying their position. This practice was particularly problematic where broadbanding arrangements were in place and therefore, there was no requirement to advertise a vacancy at the higher level and the individual is simply advanced (i.e. effectively promoted to a higher classification level).

Lack of familiarity with WLS combined with an increasingly risk averse culture in many agencies has led to the raising of certain delegations to Senior Executive levels. Effectively, this has meant that jobs, particularly at the EL 1 and EL 2 levels, have lost a level of complexity and accountability that they once had.

Suggestions for change/improvement

Participants offered the following suggestions:

  • Encourage and promote the use of IFAs as a mechanism for attracting and retaining key staff. Allow greater flexibility in advertising the availability of IFAs
  • Agencies should make better use of performance pay arrangements to recognise and reward high performing staff
  • (Over time) Align pay rates across the APS to reduce the need for agencies to use remuneration rather than work value as the basis for classification decisions
  • The APSC should introduce service-wide attraction and retention initiatives in areas of key skill shortage for the APS; individual agencies should be required to address attraction and retention as standard elements of their workforce planning processes
  • The APSC should promote a greater level of understanding of the use of WLS and agencies should engage in more rigorous and robust classification management practices (also see suggestions in previous section Classification Management)
  • The APSC should undertake reviews / audits of agencies’ WLS and classification practices to ensure that there is parity in descriptions of work value at each classification level and that positions are being correctly classified.

Broadbanding

The Public Service Classification Rules 2000 allow for the establishment of broadbands within agency classification structures. Approximately 70% of APS agencies use one or more broadbands to manage their classification structure and their workforce needs.

In discussions with Focus Group participants, the following features of the use of broadbanding in a number of agencies were noted:

  • Broadbanding arrangements, when well managed, offer benefits to the organisation and to staff

A number of participants commented on the benefits of well managed broadbanding arrangements. These benefits include:

  • The provision of clear career paths for staff
  • The value of broadbanded structures as attraction and retention mechanisms because staff see a clear progression within a stream of work
  • Agencies are able to design their broadbands to suit their business needs, this flexibility is key to the most effective use of broadbanding and should be retained.
  • Where there are clear ‘job families’ or career streams, broadbanding provides an avenue for an agency to ‘grow its own’.

    There are efficiencies and savings to be made by being able to advance staff who have gained the job-specific technical/professional/specialist skills needed to undertake roles of greater complexity. If roles were not broadbanded, the agency would be required to advertise all vacancies and conduct a merit selection process; however, the reality may be that only internal staff have the appropriate training and experience to be competitive. This situation occurs in a number of specialised streams

In agencies where broadbanding is appropriately managed and is effectively meeting the agencies business needs, there are two criteria for advancement that are always applied:

  1. There must be an assessment of an individual's capability to perform work at the higher classification level; and
  2. There is a ‘work availability’ test applied to ensure that there is ongoing work at the higher classification level.
  • Broadbanding arrangements, when not well managed, create difficulties, inconsistencies and inequities in classification management

Participants noted the following practices in a number of agencies that were of concern to staff and HR practitioners:

  • Advancement decisions in many agencies are based on a wide range of practices. These practices vary both within an agency and across agencies. For example, some processes may call for expressions of interest, others may require a selection process restricted to internal applicants, in some instances, the agency conducts an open, merit selection process and in other circumstances, individuals are simply “given a tap on the shoulder”. These inconsistencies invariably lead to dissatisfaction among staff and the perception that there may be a lack of transparency in some advancement decisions
  • In agencies where broadbanding has not been well managed, too many staff are advanced to the top of the broadband which results in a significant increase in the staffing budget that may not have been anticipated or intended by management
  • Where some staff are in a broadbanded structure and others are not, there is often a perception that those in the broadband are an ‘elite’ group who have greater access to advancement and career opportunities. A common example cited by participants was graduate staff who are placed in a broadband and receive a comprehensive training program and advancement while other staff at the same level are not able to access these opportunities
  • Some agencies have established overlapping broadbands which potentially allow staff to cross between broadbands and advance several levels without being required to participate in an open, merit competition. This is seen by many as compromising the merit principle
  • While broadbanding can increase attraction, some participants noted that it can also create difficulties when staff expect to be recruited to the highest classification in the broadband simply because it is there.
  • Managers often lack the skills / tools to enable them to make sound advancement decisions

As mentioned above, one of the essential criteria for successfully managing broadbanding is the assessment of an individual's capability to work at a higher classification level. Participants noted that a number of managers do not have the skills or tools to enable a rigorous assessment of capability. Where advancement decisions are less structured and formalised, there is often superficial or little assessment of capability undertaken. Additionally, there is ‘pressure’ on the manager to advance staff automatically, particularly when individuals have been at a level for some time. This situation creates the need for supervisors to manage the expectations of staff.

Suggestions for change/improvement

  • Introduce mandatory criteria to be applied to advancement decisions within broadbands:
    • There must be an assessment of an individual's capability to perform work at the higher classification level; and
    • There must be a ‘work availability’ test applied to ensure that there is ongoing work at the higher classification level
  • There should be a greater requirement for agencies to provide managers with the necessary training and tools to make appropriate assessments of the capability of staff to advance
  • Require that agencies do not establish overlapping broadbands; however, retain the flexibility for agencies to design their own broadbands and retain the requirement to have at least two breaks in a broadbanded structure
  • Agencies should be required to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of their broadbanded structures every 5-6 years and report on their findings to the APSC.

Training classifications

Schedule 2 of the Public Service Classification Rules 2000 provides for the employment of staff in a range of training classifications.

Participants raised the following issues in relation to the use of training classifications in the APS:

  • The application of training classifications across the APS is inconsistent

It was noted that some agencies actively use training classifications while others do not use them at all. For example, a number of agencies employ staff undertaking graduate programs as ‘Graduate APS’ staff while others simply employ them at a particular classification level (from Schedule 1 of the Public Service Classification Rules 2000) and do not assign them to a graduate/trainee classification. Similarly, the central cadetship program offered by the Australian Government Information Management Office differs in terms of the level at which it employs cadets (APS 2) and the terms and conditions offered.

  • The management of graduate employees varies across agencies

In addition to the issue of assignment of a classification to graduate staff mentioned above, participants noted that a wide range of arrangements for the recruitment and advancement/ promotion of graduates were in place across agencies. Some of these practices include:

  • Assignment of graduates to the trainee classification ‘Graduate APS’ and then, on completion of their training program, advancement to a higher classification level within a broadbanded structure
  • Assignment of graduates to an APS classification and then, on completion of their training program, advancement to a higher classification level within a broadbanded structure
  • Assignment of graduates to either a trainee classification or an APS classification and then the opportunity to gain promotion through a competitive merit process
  • The employment/advancement/promotion of graduates to a range of classification levels from APS 3 to APS 6
  • Participants from smaller agencies commented that they do not offer formal graduate programs because they are too costly to administer
  • Many agencies across the APS are competing for the same graduates. In some large agencies, there are several graduate programs within the one agency
  • The categories of training classifications could be simplified

Some participants noted that there are a number of different training classifications provided for the in Public Service Classification Rules 2000 (including two agency-specific classifications). They felt that this structure could be simplified by the adoption of generic labels for the basic categories required, for example:

  • Apprentice
  • Trainee
  • Cadet
  • Graduate

It was felt that the classification levels assigned to these classifications could be standardised and each could be incorporated in a broadbanded structure to enable advancement to a higher classification level on successful completion of training.

Suggestions for change/improvement

Participants offered the following suggestions:

  • That the APSC consider standardising the arrangements used by agencies for the classification of trainees
  • That the Public Service Classification Rules 2000 should be simplified to include just four training classifications: Apprentice; Trainee; Cadet and Graduate
  • That the APSC extends its current arrangements for Indigenous trainees, graduates and cadets and sets up a pool of trainees that agencies could draw from. By introducing a more centralised approach, the APSC could ensure a greater consistency of approach
  • That trainee classifications be better promoted and utilised by agencies as an attraction strategy. They can offer skills acquisition and a career path for staff and the opportunity for the organisation to ‘grow its own’.

Specialist categories

Schedule 1 of the Public Service Classification Rules 2000 provides for the employment of staff in a range of specialist classifications. Most of these classifications are Agency-specific classifications, with the exception of the Medical Officer classification which is found in several agencies and some of them are no longer in use.

In considering the issue of specialist categories, participants noted a number of arguments for and against the existence of and/or increase in the number of specialist classifications as approved classifications (in addition to the APS and EL classifications).

  • The use of specialist classifications facilitates the management of a professional workforce

Participants who had existing specialist classifications commented that the arrangements facilitated a number of aspects of the management of a specialist workforce:

  • Attraction of specialist staff to clearly identifiable roles
  • Retention of staff through both the recognition of their particular skills sets and the provision of clearly identifiable career paths (where these are available in agencies)
  • Enhanced learning and development opportunities that can be specifically tailored to specialist areas. These arrangements vary considerably across agencies and across specialisations. For some professions, a very structured and directed program of professional development is required to gain and maintain qualifications, licences, registration or certification. For these professions, agencies will provide and support this development and will formally recognise these requirements as part of the agency's performance management arrangements. For other specialisations, there may be intermittent or periodic requirements to attend professional conferences or courses to gain new skills or maintain levels of competence.

A number of participants noted that these aspects facilitated an effective response to market pressures that otherwise made it difficult to attract and retain staff with specialist skills. Others also noted, however, that existing mechanisms exist to achieve these outcomes, for example, a number of agencies make effective use of local titles to attract and recognise specialist staff and a number also use Individual Flexibility Agreements (IFAs) to address remuneration needs.

Some professions, either at an agency level or service-wide, have invested in the development of specialist capability frameworks and professional development programs (e.g. the ICT capability framework developed by the Australian Government Information Management Office).

  • The use of specialist classifications mitigates against the effective management of a professional workforce

Just as there were seen to be a number of advantages in employing staff under specialist classifications, participants noted a number of disadvantages that the use of separate categories of specialist staff affords:

  • The use of specialist classifications has created an ‘us/them’ in a number of organisations because identification by staff is with the profession or specialist group rather than the agency and the wider APS. Some participants reported that this has caused staff management issues and, at times, particular difficulties in the enterprise bargaining process
  • In some agencies, specialist classifications have been used to attract staff and these classifications have higher remuneration than the work value of the position, therefore, agencies are paying a premium for these staff
  • A number of existing specialist classifications are no longer in use or do not meet contemporary needs

The specialist classifications that appear in Schedule 1 of the Public Service Classification Rules 2000 have historical/political/industrial antecedents for their inclusion that do not always apply in the contemporary workplace. For example, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) specific classifications are no longer in use.

  • The number and type of specialist classifications is difficult to identify and contain in the APS

In each of the Focus Groups, there was discussion about the definition of ‘specialist’ for classification purposes. There are many professions and areas of specialisation within the APS that could all lay claim to a separate classification. In practice, only a handful of these have a separate classification.

The task of identifying which occupational groups warrant their own classification would be onerous and industrially sensitive. There was strong support by participants to avoid the recreation of a classification structure that had numerous specialisations as had existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed, there was support to further streamline the classification structure to remove as many of the existing specialist classifications as possible.

  • There is a perception that there is a need for specialist classifications at more senior levels

Many participants commented on the widely-held view that there is a need for specialist classifications at the more senior levels (e.g. EL 1 and EL 2) to account for those roles that do require a high level of technical expertise, provide specialist advice and often represent the organisation in a range of technical/specialist forums but do not play a management role. The capacity for these jobs to attract a work value equivalent to that expected at the Executive Level is not well understood.

The supervision and management of staff is only one component of work value but it is the dimension that many focus on when thinking about classification levels. It is possible for these sorts of positions to rate highly on a number of other work value dimensions and therefore equate to Executive Levels. Participants noted that comprehensive service-wide WLS and the development of classification tools and supporting training would address these misconceptions and redirect attention from the need for a ‘classification solution’.

  • The need for specialist classifications is more about perceptions than structural need

A number of participants commented that the need for specialist classifications is founded in perceptions by staff, management and unions that attraction and retention of staff with particular skills is best met through a ‘classification solution’ rather than a ‘management solution’ using existing mechanisms.

As mentioned above, a number of agencies successfully attract and retain specialist staff using the APS classification structure through the use of local titles, IFAs where needed and well developed professional development initiatives.

Suggestions for change/improvement

Participants offered the following suggestions:

  • Further streamline the classification structure to remove as many specialist and agency specific classifications as possible
  • Use existing mechanisms to attract, recognise and retain staff with specialist skills rather than introduce or retain specialist classifications. These mechanisms include more effective use of local titles and payments through Individual Flexibility Agreements
  • Agencies should place greater emphasis on creating meaningful career paths for specialist and should invest in the development of specialist capability frameworks to enhance career progression and capability development of these staff
  • Where appropriate, agencies should identify specialist roles / job families in their general WLS so that the work value expectations at different classification levels are clear. There should not be separate WLS for each specialist group.

Classification structure

In the Focus Group discussions, participants commented on both the appropriateness of the current classification structure and any suggestions they had for a future classification structure.

Current Classification Structure

In relation to the current classification structure, participants made the following observations:

  • The current classification structure generally meets the business needs of agencies and facilitates mobility

The majority of participants commented that the classification structure, when appropriately managed and applied, works well and meets their business needs. They also noted that a strength of having a common structure across the APS was the facilitation of mobility of staff. However, participants did acknowledge that the existence of differing pay rates across agencies was somewhat of an impediment to mobility. There was a strong view that there should be a return to common pay rates to facilitate ‘One APS’.

  • Although there is a common classification structure, there are differing expectations of work value in different agencies

As noted above, there are varying approaches to classification management and classification decisions in agencies and often these processes lack rigour. Participants noted that, although most agencies have WLS, the expectations of the complexity and levels of responsibility required of staff at each classification level can vary across agencies. This observation reinforces the need for the development of service-wide WLS and the development of classification tools and training for staff so that rigour and consistency across agencies is reintroduced.

  • There are not always clear distinctions between classification levels

Many participants commented that, in practice, there is often insufficient distinction between role expectations for some levels. A number of participants suggested that distinctions between the APS 3 and APS 4 levels were often unclear and the APS 5 and APS 6 roles often lack clear differentiation. While this occurs in practice, participants did acknowledge that WLS make clear distinctions between all eight non-SES classification levels and so the issue seems to be one of job design rather than an inherent flaw in the classification structure.

On a related point, some participants felt that the distinction between the APS 6 and EL 1 levels had been diluted over time. It was noted that when the Executive Levels were introduced, there was intended to be a noticeable increase in responsibility levels between the APS and EL classifications. In many agencies, the ‘gap’ between the two seems to have narrowed with EL 1 staff undertaking less complex roles with lower levels of responsibility than they had in the past.

The key contributors to this seem to have been the gradual movement of delegations away from EL staff to the SES levels and the tendency to assign representation roles and stakeholder management to more senior levels. Both of these trends are seen to be in response to a more ‘risk-averse’ operating culture that has developed over the last 5-10 years.

  • The lower levels of the classification structure are under-utilised but should be retained

Participants noted that the lower levels of the classification structure (APS 1 and APS 2) were not utilised as frequently as the higher levels but the consensus was that these levels should be retained for a range of reasons:

  • There is still less complex work to be undertaken in many agencies (basic clerical tasks, call centres, data warehousing, security, technical and non-office roles etc)
  • Work at these less complex levels allows for the recruitment of staff from a more diverse background e.g., school leavers, those who have been out of the workforce for some time, people with certain disabilities
  • Some agencies that have previously moved away from these classifications have found that they are ‘overpaying’ certain staff to undertake this less complex work. A number of participants commented that their agencies were undertaking some job redesign to address this issue
  • The use of ‘differentiated’ EL 2 classifications has practical advantages but is not a necessary classification feature

There was discussion among participants about the current practice by some agencies to identify distinctions between levels within the EL 2 classification e.g. EL 2.1 and EL 2.2 or EL 2 (Lower) or EL 2 (Upper). These agencies have put these distinctions into their Enterprise Agreements and may have even formalised these arrangements in their WLS.

It was noted that, historically there had been three levels that were translated into the EL 1 and EL 2 structure, Senior Officer Grade C (SOG C), Senior Office Grade B (SOG B) and Senior Officer Grade A (SOG A); however, the Senior Officer Grade A level had been created sometime after the SOG B and SOG C levels in recognition of the need to recruit ‘high end’ specialists particularly in the legal, engineering, information technology and other specialist streams. The creation and use of this classification was originally tightly controlled but, over time, came to be used much more widely.

Currently, these positions tend to be used for positions that may have large scale program responsibility, a specialist role or that may supervise other EL 2's in large corporate structures. It was felt by participants that, if these types of roles did not meet the work value requirements for SES Band 1 positions, then there was no need to differentiate within the EL 2 classification; those with added responsibility could be compensate by the payment of an Individual Flexibility Agreement.

Future Classification Structure

  • The viability of the APS 1 classification was questioned but the consensus view was that it should be retained

As mentioned above, some agencies that are not utilising the APS 1 classification level questioned the viability of this level is a future structure. However, those agencies that do use this level argued strongly for its retention and some agencies are in the process of actively increasing their use of APS 1 positions. It was also noted that if this level was removed, there would be cost implications in having to pay at APS 2 salary rates for work that was justifiably classified at the APS 1 level.

  • The viability of the APS 5 classification was questioned but the consensus view was that it should be retained

The graphs of the changes to the classification profile presented above show that there is a ‘dip’ in the number of staff employed at the APS 5 level compared to the APS 4 and APS 6 levels. This feature of the profile begs the question of the ongoing need for this level in a future classification structure. On discussion, however, participants noted that there are historical reasons for having fewer APS 5. One of these reasons is that a number of broadbanded structures have grouped APS 5 and APS 6 roles into the same broadband. Where this has happened, the APS 5 cohort has, over time been advanced to the APS 6 level and not been replaced by staff at the APS 5 level. Additionally, one agency, in translating to their own agency-specific structure a number of years ago, did not include the APS 4 level in their structure because it did not translate to pay relativities already in place and therefore this created a significant gap between the APS 3 and APS 5 levels.

When participants were asked if this level was still viable, particularly given that some agencies do not clearly differentiate between APS 4 / 5 / 6 roles in practice (see above), they maintained that it was still an important classification level and should be retained. They noted that this level is very effectively used as a Team Leader, Case Manager and as a researcher, technical specialist or training role particularly in larger agencies.

  • The titles for the classification levels should be modernised

A number of participants commented that the titles for the APS 1 to APS 6 classifications lacked meaning in the wider, non-APS market and therefore might benefit from ‘rebadging’ to make them more meaningful to external applicants. There was some suggestion that the APS 1- 3 levels could share a common title (but still be separately identified), that the APS 4 level might be identified separately and that the APS 5 and 6 levels might share a common title (but also be separately identified). There was no agreement however, about what these titles might be but there was interest in modernising this approach.

Suggestions for change/improvement

Participants offered the following suggestions:

  • Over time, move back to a common pay scale for all classification levels. This feature of the classification system would not only enhance mobility across agencies but also minimise the current practice of agencies competing with each other to attract key talent by over-classifying positions so they can offer a more attractive salary than their counterparts
  • Retain the lower level classifications (APS 1 and APS 2) but encourage greater use of these classifications by agencies through job redesign and increased emphasis on recruitment campaigns targeting applicants from diverse backgrounds
  • Discourage the use of ‘differentiated’ EL 2 roles by encouraging agencies to classify positions at the EL 2 level only; however, if some of these positions have additional responsibilities, recognise these requirements through the use of Individual Flexibility Agreements
  • Modernise the classification titles for the APS 1 – 6 levels by grouping the APS 1 – 3 levels, separating the APS 4 level and then grouping the APS 5 and 6 levels using common titles for each but still distinguishing between the different classification levels.

1 This workshop is delivered by Workplace Research Associates on behalf of the APSC