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Nature of current job role

This chapter examines the main type of work Indigenous employees are performing and aspects of their current position.

Main type of work

Indigenous employees were most likely to be involved in service delivery to the public (41%), with the next most common types of work being program design and/or management (15%) and corporate services (12%).

The type of work that Indigenous employees were involved in varied considerably from the profile of all APS employees (see Figure 5). Compared with all APS employees, Indigenous employees were:

  • twice as likely to be involved in service delivery (41% compared with 20%) and slightly more likely to be involved in program design and/or management (15% compared with 11%)
  • less likely to be involved in:
    • corporate services (12% compared with 21%)
    • exercising regulatory authority (6% compared with 11%)
    • research (2% compared with 6%)
    • policy development (7% compared with 12%).

These results may in part:

  • reflect the lower classification profile of the APS Indigenous staff compared with that of the APS-wide workforce
  • emphasise the fact that Indigenous employees are less likely than employees APS-wide to hold graduate qualifications
  • indicate a failure to attract high quality and/or well-qualified Indigenous employees into a broad range of roles across the APS
  • highlight that a much higher percentage of Indigenous employees are located outside of the ACT.

Figure 5: Main type of work—Indigenous employees compared to employees APS-wide

Base: All respondents

Indigenous census APS average
Service delivery to the general public 41.07 20.31
Program design and/or management 14.79 11.48
Corporate services 11.75 21.46
Administrative support/clerical 8.08 9.49
Policy 6.69 11.95
Exercising regulatory authority 5.65 11.11
Research 2.01 6.36
Legal 1.25 3.02
Other 8.72 4.82

There were considerable differences in the main type of work performed by Indigenous employees by classification level. The highest representation of Indigenous employees in service delivery roles was amongst those at lower classifications, while higher level staff were more likely to be involved in program design and/or management and policy roles. Figure 6 shows that:

  • over half of Indigenous employees at the APS 1–2 (52%) and APS 3–4 (58%) were involved in service delivery roles compared with less than 10% of those at the EL1 level and above
  • the proportion of Indigenous employees involved in program design and/or management ranged from less than 10% of those at the APS 3–4 level and below to 44% for EL2/SES employees
  • the proportion of employees involved in policy roles ranged from 0% of APS 1–2 staff to 21% of EL2/SES employees.

These differences based on classification are consistent with those found APS-wide.

Figure 6: Main type of work by classification

Base: All respondents

Chart shows how different types of work vary by classification

Policy Program design and/or management Service delivery to the general public Exercising regulatory authority Corporate/ Legal Administrative support/ clerical Other
Training classifications 21.82 3.90 26.09 4.06 18.04 8.14 17.95
APS 1-2 0.42 4.12 52.28 9.91 3.79 22.15 7.34
APS 3-4 3.07 5.74 57.70 4.78 11.46 9.47 7.77
APS 5-6 9.77 24.14 26.94 6.14 15.14 2.42 15.45
EL 1 12.70 34.00 8.97 4.90 27.90 4.61 6.92
EL 2/SES 20.89 44.17 6.76 0 6.97 2.18 19.02

The type of work performed by Indigenous staff also varied considerably by location, gender and educational attainment:

  • Those located outside the ACT were much more likely to be involved in service delivery to the general public (51% compared with 7% of those located in the ACT). In contrast, they were less likely than those inside the ACT to be involved in policy (3% compared with 20%), corporate services/legal (8% compared with 24%) and program design and/ or management (12% compared with 24%).
  • Women were more likely to be involved in service delivery (46% compared with 31% of men), and less likely to be involved in exercising regulatory authority (3% compared with 10% of men).
  • Employees with graduate qualifications were more likely than those without graduate qualifications to be involved in policy (14% compared with 4%) or program design/ management (24% compared with 12%). In contrast, they were less likely to be involved in service delivery roles (21% compared with 47%).

Aspects of Indigenous employees’ current position

Approximately two-thirds (65%) of Indigenous employees were in a role that involved interaction with Indigenous people and communities. About one-third (34%) were involved in the development of policies or programs relating to Indigenous people (see Figure 7).

One-third (36%) of Indigenous employees reported that they were in an identified position.12 This is slightly lower than the proportion of Indigenous employees who stated that they were in an identified position13 in 2005 (43%).

Figure 7: Aspects of Indigenous employees’ current position

Base: All respondents

Chart shows aspects of employment

Yes No
Current role involves interaction with Indigenous people/communities 64.69 35.31
Current position is an identified position 36.19 63.81
Current role involves development of policies of programs for Indigenous people 33.80 66.20

Employees were more likely to be in a role that involved interaction with Indigenous people and communities if they:

  • were located outside the ACT (69% compared with 51% of those inside the ACT)
  • did not have graduate qualifications (67% compared with 57% of those with graduate qualifications).

Employees were more likely to be in a role that involved the development of policies or programs relating to Indigenous people if they were:

  • at the EL2/SES classification levels (69% compared with 49% of EL1s; 47% of trainees/ apprentices/graduates/cadets; and 40% of APS 5–6 staff)
  • located in the ACT (41% compared with 32% of those outside the ACT).

Employees were more likely to report that their current position was an identified position if they:

  • were at lower classification levels (53% of APS 1–2 employees compared with around one-quarter of EL1 and EL2/SES employees)
  • were located outside the ACT (40% compared with 25% of those inside the ACT)
  • did not have graduate qualifications (40% compared with 22% of those with graduate qualifications).

Some of the comments provided about the nature of work include:

I am based in a region—implementation of program and policy. My position gives me the ability to influence policy and program but it is difficult to find a clear pathway to do this within the department.

I was placed in the Indigenous space—I did not actively seek out Indigenous work.

I feel that the level of service delivery to Aboriginal people has been eroded by the watering down and subsequent eradication of the identified position criteria in the Australian public service.

Through my career I have actively sought out development opportunities, these have provided the required skills and capabilities to do each of my roles effectively and efficiently.

Key chapter findings

The main type of work that Indigenous employees are typically involved in varies considerably from that of other APS employees. Compared with employees APS-wide, Indigenous employees were more likely to be involved in service delivery to the general public and slightly more likely to be involved in program design and/or management than other APS employees. However, they were less likely to be involved in corporate services, exercising regulatory authority, research and policy development:

  • The high representation of Indigenous employees in service delivery roles was concentrated amongst those at lower levels.
  • Employees at higher levels were more likely to be involved in program design and/or management and policy roles.
  • Differences in the type of work Indigenous staff performed based on classification were consistent with those found APS-wide.

Around one-third of Indigenous employees were involved in the development of policy or programs relating to Indigenous people and two-thirds had work that involved interacting with Indigenous people/communities. Although staff located outside the ACT were more likely to have roles that involved interaction with Indigenous people/communities, they were less likely than employees in the ACT to be involved in the development of policies or programs relating to Indigenous Australians.

Just over one-third of Indigenous employees said that their current position was an identified position. Employees at lower classification levels, located outside the ACT or without graduate qualifications were more likely to be in an identified position than other staff.

These results demonstrate that Indigenous employees are still primarily working in service delivery roles and also on work that involves interacting with Indigenous Australians and communities. It is important to Indigenous staff to work in a range of job roles, not just those where all or most of the tasks involve the development and/or delivery of policies, programs and services that impact on Indigenous Australians and/or require interaction with Indigenous communities or their representatives.

An important part of broadening the opportunities for Indigenous employees across all job roles will be developing strategies for equipping them with the professional skills and confidence to work in a wider range of fields.


12 Agencies can designate a position as an identified position if the work has an Indigenous-specific focus. This means that Indigenous or non-Indigenous staff in such positions have to have:

  • a demonstrated knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies and cultures; and
  • a demonstrated ability to communicate sensitively and effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

13 The definition of an ‘identified position’ in 2005 was different from the definition of a ‘formally designated identified position’ in 2009. The 2005 definition was as follows: ‘An identified position is one in which part or all of the duties involve the development of policy or programmes [sic] relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and/or involve interaction with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including service delivery. In order to perform these duties efficiently and effectively, you would have addressed selection criteria showing a demonstrated knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies and cultures; and a demonstrated ability to communicate sensitively and effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’