October 7, 2022
The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) will "consult further" on ways to value the skills of IT and digital specialists, without tying them to unattractive pay-grade rules. The commission released an independent review [pdf] of the Australian Public Service (APS) hierarchy and classification system late last month that - among other issues - tried to…

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) will “consult further” on ways to value the skills of IT and digital specialists, without tying them to unattractive pay-grade rules.

The commission released an independent review [pdf] of the Australian Public Service (APS) hierarchy and classification system late last month that – among other issues – tried to find new ways for government agencies to recruit specialist technologists.

The review found 71 percent of 95 agencies that responded to a 2021 survey have “critical skills shortages across emerging specialist roles, including 70 percent in data and digital, and 50 percent in ICT.”

The roles are in many cases seen as crucial to revamping existing – and delivering new – government services for citizens.

But, the review found, agencies may find it hard to pay market rates for specialists because pay grades in government are tied to having certain skills, such as an ability to manage staff – something a technology specialist may not be that excited about.

“The [review] panel heard of the need for the APS to accommodate roles for senior specialists who do not manage people,” the review states.

“There is a current tendency to over-emphasise ‘people leadership’ as a requirement for senior roles. 

“This has been problematic in situations where an employee is needed to perform roles of a high work value, but does not have the aspiration or experience to manage large teams. 

“Requiring such individuals to manage people is an ineffective use of expertise and does not result in a positive team experience.”

The review indicated that tech specialists may be “misclassified” – “assigned a higher level than the applicable work level standards would suggest, in order to enable payment of higher salaries to individuals to match market rates for high-demand talent in particular fields.”

In a submission to the process, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) said that misclassified specialists could run into issues, especially if their manager changed.

“Change of manager, change of role or even movements of functions can result in the person being considered an under-performer as they may not be seen as meeting the ILS [integrated leadership system] expectations or work level standards relevant to their substantive classification level,” the DTA said. 

DTA had wanted a new “specialist” employment category created in response – essentially a “separate category of employee” that enabled agencies to recognise “deep technical skills” and pay for them, without running afoul of the existing employee classification system.

The independent review backed the need to be able to recognise specialist technology skills as being valuable in their own right, but not the DTA’s suggestion.

“While some submissions suggested a separate technical stream for specialists, we considered the value inherent in a uniform classification system should be preserved,” it said.

“Instead, the APS should endeavour to more clearly articulate specialist career pathways – looking beyond the traditional ladder approach to career progression.”

iTnews sought comment from DTA about whether the review recommendation would help DTA’s (and agencies’) cause in being able to attract and retain digitally-skilled and deep specialist talent compared to the current system.

A DTA spokesperson referred questions to the APSC’s ‘Digital Profession’ function, which has a remit for uplifting the government’s digital skills and capability.

An APSC spokesperson told iTnews that the APS “will act on many of the findings of the hierarchy and classification review, taking measured steps towards more modern structures and ways of working.”

“The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) will be consulting further on arrangements for specialist staff, in light of the suggestions in the review,” the spokesperson said.

“Work is already underway on a number of fronts to help agencies attract, develop, retain and deploy the digitally-skilled workforce they need to deliver better services to people and businesses. 

“This includes targeted activities through the Digital Profession and work to build our digital and data talent pipeline.

No timeline was identified for this additional consultation effort.

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