The Australian Public Service’s entrenched and debilitating technology and related skills deficit has once again easily taken out the top two spots for critical skills shortages across the federal bureaucracy, with more than three-quarters of agencies citing a lack of digerati needed to meet their needs.
For the traditional practice of technologists, some 76% of agencies reported critical shortages for the skillset of Digital and Information Communications Technology (ICT), with 66 agencies coming up well short of bodies.
If that sounds bad, it’s because it is, but the 76% figure is actually a modest improvement over the previous year of 81% — it’s just that there are likely now more agencies than the last sweep, when 54 agencies said they had a critical ICT shortfall.
Mind you, those figures are for permanent APS roles rather than the small army of consultants, contractors and labour-hire project staff, which the government is now trying to convert back to permanent roles.
It’s still too early to say how the great insourcing push is going, but many in the profession and the public service believe prospects for success are naturally limited because of a steadfast refusal to create an ICT specialist classification within the APS that could set more competitive pay rates than are now on offer in the same way that doctors, lawyers and bankers get a different pay schedule.
This is despite there being a specific recommendation to do so in the root and branch Thodey review of the APS.
As previously revealed in The Mandarin, the difference in pay for an IT contractor against a similarly graded APS role is around $100,000 a year, hence the lack of job applications.
There are some efforts to retrain existing staff to undertake ICT roles, but it’s a pretty specific industry, where tightly defined skills tend to outweigh more generalist skills common in clerical work.
Still, three-quarters of the federal government declaring they are chronically and critically deficient in a core modern, post-digital skillset is hardly an achievement you’d brag about.
The next skill down the critical shortage list is data, suggesting there is a general informatic skills drought in the ASPS rather than just a computational and software design and engineering one.
This paucity of objective, empirical candour is best exemplified by the destructive, self-selective innovation grotesque that was robobdebt: figures fudged to fit them in the shape of a hole the government of the day required. Eg., the minister wants savings to be found that do not impact services; yes minister, here is a triangle with four sides.
The lack of skilled data people went for a solid trot this year, jumping from 70% of agencies in FY2022 to 74% of agencies in FY2023. Worse still, the number of agencies reporting critical skills shortages leapt from 47 to 64.
The numbers are easily well ahead of the next skills shortage, “portfolio, program or project management”, which went from 21 to 38 agencies or 31% to 44% between FY2022 and FY2023, both well under half.
Hard skills in “science and/or engineering” recorded a woeful critical shortage increase from 3 to 22 agencies, or 4% to 25% for the same period.
And despite a raft of evidence at the robodebt royal commission and specific criticisms about a general malaise and inadequacy of record-keeping, the shortage of staff capable of competent “information and knowledge management/records management” dropped from 14 to 13 agencies and 21% to 15% over the past financial year.
Maybe APS folk just aren’t as fused to their diaries and contemporaneous notes as they used to be, and Outlook does it all for them? Yeah, nah.
“Hey Microsoft Copilot, pull together my last three years of Teams and Outlook meeting entries to present to the National Anti-Corruption Commission” …
APS trial of Microsoft AI an invitation-only affair
Julian Bajkowski is a research and technical-driven reporter with over 20 years’ experience in technology and cybersecurity journalism. Julian has also been an adviser in public policy and corporate affairs for Mastercard and eftpos.
Tags: Australian public service critical skills Digital and Information Communications Technology ICT ICT specialist State of the Service Report 2023 Thodey Review
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By Julian Bajkowski

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