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Managing "Specialists"

The Australian Public Service (APS) classification structure is able to accommodate a wide variety of APS jobs that includes specialist occupations.

The single APS classification structure

In 1998 a common APS classification structure was introduced replacing 13 structures and 81 classification levels below the SES, providing a mechanism for maintaining the concept of a cohesive APS.  While the common structure facilitates mobility across the APS, it is also flexible as employees are able to specialise in occupation-based career paths.  The common structure also readily allows employees to have a diverse career across different career streams.

Managing specialist occupations

There are a number of arrangements that can support managing a specialist workforce, enabling:

  • the attraction of specialist employees to clearly identifiable roles
  • the retention of employees through both the recognition of their particular skills set 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.

Agencies can use particular mechanisms to attract, develop and retain employees with specialist skills, as described below.

Work level standards

The APS classification structure provides a common basis to identify and compare work value across agencies and job types. This is primarily achieved through the APS work level standards.

There is a misconception that it is difficult to attribute work value to roles which require a high level of technical expertise and which may not play a management role. The supervision and management of employees is only one component of work value, yet is a characteristic that many focus on when considering classification levels. The APS work level standards identify work value in a way that is meaningful across a range of specialisations, and demonstrates that jobs with a high level of specialist complexity can be assigned a work value weighting (and hence a classification level) equivalent to roles with a broader managerial focus.

Agencies can adapt the APS work level standards to provide a more comprehensive picture of employment groups for that agency. Enhancing the agency's work level standards by including unique and specialised roles can provide

  • clarity to roles that may not otherwise fit easily into the APS functional streams, and
  • the agency context for specialised roles.

Local titles

A number of agencies use local titles in addition to the approved classification. This approach allows jobs to be labelled in a way that is most relevant to both the job and agency, and can assist with attracting and recognising specialist employees.

Local titles are informal labels (not classifications), and allows an agency to segment their workforce and better describe a particular functional stream or occupation. Local titles may also reflect qualification requirements for a job. The use of a local title is underpinned by the relevant work level standards for the APS classification level allocated.

Local titles can also be used in job advertisements to help attract a more appropriate field of applicants, as a classification level as a title can often be meaningless to people outside the APS. The use of a local title can also be effective in enabling 'specialist' groups to relate to others in the specialist occupation.

When using local titles, the equivalent APS classification level must appear next to the reference to the local title in all advertising material and agency enterprise agreements. This requirement provides a common language to identify and compare roles across agencies and job types, and supports employee mobility across the APS.

In support of standardising local titles across the APS, agencies are encouraged to align local titles to the APS Job Family Model.

Career paths

The APS classification framework facilitates career paths by providing a common basis for identifying and comparing roles across the APS. By aggregating a wide range of roles across all agencies, the common APS-wide classification structure supports employees looking to move between agencies and job types in order to gain a diverse range of career experiences.

Assisting an employee to identify a career path and other mobility opportunities also depend on other initiatives, such as:

  • effective workforce planning by agencies and the APS as a whole
  • frameworks that identify opportunities and pathways for employees to move within and between agencies
  • articulating core and specialist knowledge, skills and capabilities required for APS roles
  • a sustained investment of time and money in employee learning and development

In order to create meaningful career paths for specialists, agencies are encouraged to develop specialist frameworks that enhance capability development and support career progression. The identification of professional/technical/specialist capability frameworks will assist in making career pathways clearer.

Remuneration and other flexible work arrangements for specialists

Remuneration, varied terms and conditions, or flexible work practices can be provided through an individual flexibility arrangement (IFA). IFAs allow for variations to an agency's enterprise agreement in order to meet the genuine needs of the agency and individual employee, while ensuring that minimum terms and conditions are not undermined. IFAs may help to attract and retain skilled and valuable employees, while ensuring the duties of role are appropriately classified based on work value.

Better Practice Case Study - DEEWR

The Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations Information Technology (IT) Specialist

The Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) introduced an IT Specialist equivalent to the Executive Level 1 (EL1) classification through the DEEWR Enterprise Agreement 2012-14.

The IT Specialist addressed a specific need, identified through DEEWR's ICT strategic workforce planning, to attract and retain IT employees with highly specialised skills and expertise in a tight labour market.

The IT Specialist local title is only available in limited circumstances, with a clear expectation that no more than 40 employees will be eligible at any point in time. This local title is used in those circumstances where the Department determines that there is a requirement for highly specialised skills and expertise to support the delivery of important or critical business applications, projects or services. The following strict eligibility requirements must be met in order to be assigned this local title:

  • a degree in ICT from an Australian tertiary institution or a comparable qualification which is appropriate to the duties of the classification;
  • qualifications in an associated discipline;
  • highly specialised IT skills and expertise that will support the delivery of important or critical business applications, projects or services as determined by the relevant IT Group Manager; and
  • holding a level of IT Specialist expertise that is directly relevant to the Department's requirements.

The local title of IT Specialist sits alongside the current EL1 and Executive Level 2 classifications, ensuring that the Department is able to offer competitive remuneration while maintaining an appropriate management structure.

The introduction of the local title also provides a career pathway for employees who are seeking to remain a specialist, and to build their capabilities and expertise in a specialist area, while at the same time providing flexibility within existing classification structures for the Department to be able to meet critical business needs. Importantly, the arrangements provide transparency for all parties when compared with the approach used more broadly in the public sector of individual flexibility agreements to address ICT sector labour market needs.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018