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Classification in the APS

The following provides a brief synopsis of the purpose and historical progression of classification arrangements in the APS.

Classification management

Classification management is the orderly system for organising, into classes or groups, work to be performed. It is a key element of the HR system that enables efficient matching of employees to jobs.

Principles of classification in the APS

In the APS, the classification system aims to facilitate the recruitment and development of staff by:

  • allowing employees and duties to be classified under a common APS-wide classification system, retaining work value as the basis; and
  • providing the options for mobility within the APS and for the operation of merit-based promotions 2.

Work value and WLS

Since its inception, a central concept in the APS employment framework has been that jobs are classified on the basis of the work to be performed rather than the particular qualities of the individual performing it.

WLS support classification and workforce management by:

  • describing the work requirements/expectations critical for each classification level and the duties to be performed;
  • distinguishing between different work level requirements in classification increments;
  • ensuring equitable treatment of all APS employees; and
  • providing a comprehensive statement of the broad job requirements, key duties and responsibilities, required skills and attributes, operating context and performance characteristics that embody effective performance at a particular work level.

Work value is a longstanding industrial principle and should be considered separately from remuneration and the capabilities or characteristics of the individual doing the job.

2 These principles are consistent with those published in the SES role evaluation methodology produced by the APSC.

Historical progression of the APS classification structure

In 1984, the powers to create, abolish and re-classify positions were devolved to secretaries of departments and agency heads. Agency heads are now largely responsible for determining – within prevailing legal and policy frameworks – how work is defined, organised and rewarded to support agency and Service-wide objectives. Within agencies, there has been a progressive shift to empower managers. Consequently there would be many more public servants with responsibility for classifying APS roles than there would have been under the previous centralised ‘establishment’ cells.

The classification structure itself has been simplified considerably over the past 20-30 years. An explanation of these changes and a diagram showing the transformation of the classification structure over time is provided at Appendix Four and Five.

The current framework

As the principal legislation governing employment matters, the Public Service Act 1999 (PS Act) provides the legislative framework for classification management. Section 23 of the PS Act provides that the “Public Service Minister” (subsequently devolved to the Public Service Commissioner) may make rules about classifications of APS employees. Further, the PS Act requires all agency heads to comply with the Public Service Classification Rules 2000 (the Classification Rules).

The Classification Rules are the legislative instrument that specifies the approved APS-wide classifications enabling employees and duties to be classified under a common APS-wide system. Classification structures contained in agency enterprise agreements (EAs) must be consistent with the Classification Rules.

The Classification Rules require agency heads to allocate an approved classification to each group of duties performed in the agency. They also require an agency head to allocate a classification to each employee. This classification must be based on the work value requirements. Should work value span more than one classification level, agency heads have the flexibility to broadband the classifications. In addition, agency heads must also issue, in writing, work level standards describing the work requirements for each classification in the agency.

Classification structure and One APS

The APS-wide classification system is designed to be flexible to accommodate a wide variety of APS jobs in a diverse range of agencies.

A single APS classification structure provides a basis for mobility within the APS and a mechanism for the operation of the APS merit-based promotion system. It is relevant to most, if not all, APS HR management activities such as agency-level productivity bargaining, performance management, learning and development, recruitment and selection, and workforce planning.

A single APS classification structure creates the sense of a unified and cohesive career-based public service that can help support whole-of-government approaches. In addition it provides a mechanism for maintaining the concept of a cohesive APS while still providing employees with the opportunity to have a wide range of work experiences.

APS classification data

The classification structural arrangements, patterns and practices within the APS (both current and historical) considered in the review were drawn from multiple sources of data on non-SES ongoing employment. The full report on APS classification data is provided at Appendix Six.

The key findings identified from the data include:

  • The classification peak of the APS profile has shifted from APS 3 in 1996 to APS 6 in 2011.
  • The greatest percentage growth in classification levels since 1996 has been the Executive Level (EL) 1 cohort.
  • There has been a declining trend in the presence of lower classification levels (APS 1 and APS 2) across the APS (from 20% of the total non-SES workforce in 1996 to 3% in 2011).
  • Employees with at least five years experience at their current classification level report that the greatest change in the nature of their work is increased complexity and workload.
  • There are legacy classifications that remain in the current classification structure that are no longer being utilised (for example the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry's Bands 1-4).
  • The use of the Graduate APS classification has increased by 72% since 1996. For the same period the use of the other training classifications (e.g. Cadet APS, Trainee APS and Apprentice APS) have shown a decline of 57%.
  • Broadbanding is included in 80 agency EAs (76% of examined EAs) with the most common broadband covering the APS 3-4 levels. There are some broadbands that span APS 1-6 levels with no requirement for an open merit process. There are 29 known broadbands that link operational APS 1-6 classification levels with the management grades at EL 1 and EL 2. It is conceivable that by transferring agencies no more than once or twice, an employee could progress from APS 1 to EL 2 without undertaking an open competitive merit process.
  • The majority of broadbands (81%) span two or three levels while almost half do not document ongoing work availability prior to advancing employees.
  • EL classifications make up 16% of broadbands currently in place.
  • Specialist (local) job titles are used by 46% of agencies these are generally in areas where there is no corresponding skill shortages identified (e.g. Legal and Public Affairs).
  • The use of job classification tools across the APS varies. 38% of agencies undertake no documented analysis to determine the appropriate classification for new roles. The predominant reference point for classification decisions is comparison with similar internal roles.
  • Agency WLS (required under the Classification Rules) vary widely in format and in some cases do not exist at all, or are older than 10 years. In some instances the Integrated Leadership System (ILS) is used as the agency WLS.

Classification arrangements

In order to gain a broad understanding of the current APS classification management practices and how well the classification arrangements met the needs of APS agencies and employees, the review team undertook broad consultation.

Consultation involved:

  • interviews with Corporate/HR executives (at the SES Band 1 and Band 2 levels) and classification practitioners (EL 2 level) from 35 agencies;
  • workshops in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney with HR representatives from 49 agencies;
  • in-depth interviews with 11 agencies regarding the use of training classifications; and
  • meetings with representatives from
    • the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU);
    • the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists & Managers, Australia (APESMA);
    • the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU); and
    • the Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation (ASMOF).

The six key classification areas that consistently emerged through consultations were aligned with those identified in the agency survey in 2010. A full report on the agency consultation workshops is included at Appendix Seven and a report on training classification consultations is provided at Appendix Eight.

The key findings identified from the consultations follows.

  • Many agencies consulted highlighted there is little contemporary APS-wide guidance in place to support agencies in making consistent classification decisions. Employee representative groups felt there is an important role for the APSC in supporting a more consistent application of the classification structure through centralised classification management services and advice.
  • Observations throughout the workshops identified there is a capability gap in job evaluation and classification decision making. Agencies commonly resort to the use of consultants to develop WLS and undertake job evaluations.
  • Comment was made that not all jobs are being classified according to work value. Some classification decisions are being influenced by other factors particularly to meet remuneration and attraction and retention pressures. On the other hand, there is a view that some classification decisions are being made based on affordability as opposed to the outcomes required of a role. Employee representative groups noted it is conceivable that as a consequence of wage dispersion lower paying agencies may feel compelled to fill a position at a higher classification level in order to remain competitive.
  • Many consulted felt that broadbanding arrangements are often used as a retention tool. However, without strict management and supporting processes, employees in a broadband have potential to progress in the absence of ongoing work at the higher classification level, or with the individual not possessing the necessary capability to operate at the higher level. It was a consistent comment that employees have high expectations for progression through a broadband which agencies often have difficulty managing.
  • The use of training classifications across the APS is varied. Agencies report the 1998 guidance is difficult to understand and apply. For increased flexibility it is common for agencies to use the standard APS classifications for training roles, often supported by broadband arrangements, instead of utilising the designated APS training classifications.
  • Consultations highlighted there is little support to reintroduce specialist classifications into the Classification Rules. The number of specialised occupations in the APS would make the potential number of new classifications difficult to contain. In addition, it was also identified in consultations that there is adequate support for attraction and retention of specialists through the use of other measures without incorporating separate structures into the Classification Rules (e.g. remuneration flexibility, local titles and career support).
  • Although there is a common classification structure, it was noted that there is a perception that between agencies there are different expectations of work value at each classification level. Further, some agencies highlighted that within their agency the distinction between some classification levels, particularly APS 6 and EL 1 has become less obvious and often difficult to identify. Agencies commented, where there is not a strong culture of assessing work value or where there is an absence of clear guidance, there is a tendency for managers to apply a higher classification.
  • Although a decline in the use of lower classification levels across the APS is evident, consultations identified that agencies still have meaningful work at these levels and support the continuation of all the lower classifications. Some agencies are looking at increasing the use of these levels and felt that a repository of information incorporating strategies and case studies on the effective use of these lower classification levels would be useful.
Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018