HR beyond the city limits: Albury City Council

by Iain Hopkins11 Jun 2012

Albury, located on the lower inland slopes of the Great Dividing Range close to the NSW/Victorian border, has a population of over 50,000.

The city has long served as an administrative centre for the agricultural communities around the area, while significant employers include a major processing centre of the Australian Tax Office, The Commercial Club Albury and Hume Building Society. Pizza chain Eagle Boys was also established in Albury.

Another significant employer in the region is Albury City Council, home to just under 500 FTE employees.

Long time resident and HR group leader at Albury City Council, Murray Watson, says the distance from metropolitan areas (554km from Sydney, 326km from Melbourne) is both a blessing and a curse for employers, residents and potential residents alike.

Short commute times, clean air, many of the same community facilities as metro areas and more relaxed living conditions make the city appealing, but Watson says that just like other employers in the region Albury City Council has struggled with issues arising from skills shortages in key functional areas such as engineering, planning, and a number of professional areas, but also some of the trade areas as well. “We’re always looking at ways to counteract that, and being local government in a non-metropolitan area presents us with another layer of challenge,” he says.

HR in local government organisations has such a broad mandate that it can be daunting to cover off what Watson believes are the two essentials to any HR function – not just in local government – and that is to understand the business and understand the people.

“The challenge that presents for local government is that sector, and in particular Albury City, has around 20-25 industries within the one organisation. You start with finance, IT, childcare, waste management, then you add in civil construction, laboratory operations, traffic management, airports. Mix in some cultural facilities like art galleries, museums, an entertainment centre, as well as a bit of tourism, and then overlay all that with ensuring you’ve got high customer service focus, and effectively that’s Albury City Council.”

Coupled with “the ever growing legislative burden we have within local government”, which Watson concedes can restrict the City’s capacity to implement strategies or initiatives that other sectors would be able to undertake more easily (specifically areas like succession planning), he adds that the positive out of it is that anyone working in local government “learns to be more adaptable and also more resilient”.

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