Ageing workforce taking toll on public sector

by Chloe Taylor19 Feb 2015
The latest Statistical Bulletin from the Public Service Commission (PSC) have shown that the number of young workers in the Australian Public Service is shrinking, with one expert blaming outsourcing and changing hiring policies.

Although under-25s account for 15% of the national workforce, The Canberra Times reported that just 2.5% of federal public servants fall into this category – down from 5% in 2007.

“Representation of young people, less than 25 years of age, decreased again this year,” the bulletin stated. “At June 2014, 2.5% of all ongoing employees were in this age group – down from 3.1% last year. This has been a consistent and steady trend. At June 2007, young people accounted for 5% of all ongoing employees.”

However, the decline in specific age group representations was not limited to the under 25s. The bulletin noted that workers aged between 55 and 59 were up by 0.2%, while the number of public servants aged 60 or over increased by 0.4% – and “all other age groups decreased in size”.

Karen Evans, managing director at NGA.net, said that the ageing workforce is reflected in the PSC’s statistics.

“The ageing workforce is a growing issue in Australia, and the situation in the Australian Public Service is similar to that in other sectors,” she said. “However, the APS is in the unique situation of being restricted from hiring the next generation of workers due to the current recruitment freeze. It means that their workforce is getting older and no one is coming in to fill the gaps as people leave. The most recent data shows how significantly this is affecting the makeup of the APS.”

Evans added that addressing the issue “should be a high priority for not just the APS but all Australian organisations”.

“APS departments and agencies will need to review the current profile of their workforce to enable them to plan for both knowledge retention and succession planning,” she said. “This is no longer something that can stay on the back burner. The expertise held by the over 45s is an asset to the country, and must be adequately transferred to the younger generations to avoid a ‘brain drain’ occurring when people retire. While the hiring freeze is in place, this should focus on transferring knowledge and skills to the middle-management level. In future years, when the hiring freeze is lifted, this succession planning should continue at all levels, meaning the upskilling of employees is a continuous process.”

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COMMENTS

  • by Clem Wright 19/02/2015 1:15:19 PM

    No surprises here then. Recruitment freezes and budget cutbacks in the public sector have come and gone since the first "razor gangs" emerged in the 1980s. Curiously, it was Labor state governments which first adopted this draconian approach to budget management as a way of differentiating themselves from their predecessors whom they wanted to paint as financially irresponsible. The tactic was subsequently taken up with gusto by federal and state conservative governments. So, 30 years later, both sides are still at it. No long term planning, just short-termism lurching from one financial year to the next. All these razor gang exercises follow the same pattern : the tea ladies go first and then staff training budgets are slashed. Lower paid workers are then dispensed with and so on up the food chain. However, senior executive levels are rarely affected since razor gang cycles run out of steam before the higher eschelons are reached. But not to worry - staffing our public sectors in 10 -20 years time will be someone else's problem by then !

  • by Mark McClelland 18/03/2015 9:51:10 AM

    Regardless of whether the recruitment freeze is in place or not, the issues relating to maturing workforces remain and need to be addressed.
    The growing number of older workers could be turned into a positive opportunity by applying a career planning approach to this growing segment of the workforce, instead of relying on being able to bring in new (and younger, less experienced), people to replace them.

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