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From a system perspective, mobilising people across the APS as and where required is an important means to building collective capability. Mobility can foster diversity of thinking, contestability of ideas and assist in capability development, lifting overall APS capability, not just individual capability.

In his first speech to the APS, the Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance and the Public Service, tasked the APSC to look at ways to rotate public servants through state and territory governments, private sector companies and the community sector. Such rotations are a way of building understanding and familiarity across sectors of the economy.

The APS has experience in providing such rotations. The Jawun APS secondment program is a successful example of the benefits of short-term mobility opportunities for APS employees outside the APS.

… how can we be confident that we are providing well-informed and integrated advice to government on Australia’s place in the world, or the transformation of the Australian economy, if the bulk of the APS has only worked in one department?

Dr Heather Smith PSM, Secretary, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science71




Degree of APS mobility

The headline mobility rate, measuring the proportion of employees who have moved between agencies in a year, is 2.5 per cent. This number has remained constant over the past 15 years.

Data is not consistently captured to allow reporting of internal agency movements because agencies often have difficulty in recording and reporting on this data. If internal mobility was included, it is likely that mobility would be significantly higher than the reported 2.5 per cent.

Most APS employees, 72 per cent, have only worked for one agency (Figure 49).

Figure 49: APS employees by number of agencies worked in

Source: APSED

When viewing these numbers, it is easy to conclude there is little mobility in the APS. There is, however, more detail to this story and, to an extent, it is a story of two regions: the ACT and non-ACT.

Mobility within the ACT is significantly higher than it is in other jurisdictions. In 2017–18, 79 per cent of total movements were attributed to the ACT. Higher mobility in the ACT contrasts with most APS employees (62 per cent) working outside the territory.

The greatest proportion of the ongoing workforce is at the APS 1-6 classifications (Figure 49). These roles are primarily based outside the ACT, and most of these employees are in service delivery. From the EL 1 classification upwards, employees are more likely to be located in the ACT where mobility occurs.

Figure 50: Location of ongoing APS employees by classification

Source: APSED

Policy agencies attract the most movements between agencies. In 2017–18, 45 per cent of all transfers were into agencies focused on policy development (Figure 51). Most of these are primarily located in Canberra. This is consistent with the majority of movements between agencies being reported in the ACT.

Figure 51: Proportion of transfers of ongoing employees into an agency by type

Source: APSED

APS employees that belong to more technical or specialised job families are more likely to only work for one agency. Those belonging to the organisational leadership and strategic policy job families are most likely to have worked for multiple agencies (Figure 52).

These two most mobile job families are also primarily based in the ACT, with 59 per cent of organisational leadership and 89 per cent of strategic policy roles being based in the territory.

While promotions also provide opportunity for mobility, they are far more likely in an employee’s current agency than into a different agency. Of the 9,564 promotions reported for ongoing APS employees in 2017–18, 90 per cent were in an employee’s current agency.

The 2018 APS employee census sought feedback from employees on whether internal mobility was encouraged. Fifty-two per cent of respondents agreed their agency provided opportunities for mobility within the agency. Slightly less, 50 per cent, reported their supervisor actively supported opportunities for mobility. Less again, 32 per cent, agreed their agency provided opportunities for mobility outside their agency.

When agencies were asked about how they give visibility to their mobility initiatives, the most common responses were through expressions of interest, intranet-based job boards and mobility registers. Some agencies reported they use internal mobility to deliver project work by matching required capabilities with project needs. Agencies tended to express a preference towards using internal expertise before looking externally.

Figure 52: Number of agencies worked by an APS employee by job family

Source: APSED


71 IPAA, 22 March 2018.

Last reviewed: 
30 November 2018