Shortages to end Gershon contractor cull?

ICT skills shortages in the public service are most felt by those departments that hire the most contractors, according to the Australian Public Service's annual State of the Service report.

ICT skills shortages in the public service are most felt by those departments that hire the most contractors, according to the Australian Public Service's annual State of the Service report.

Sixty-eight per cent of the agencies that responded in the report (PDF) said that the effect of a shortage would have a moderate or severe impact on the agency's capabilities.

Fifty-two per cent of agencies indicated that they currently relied on partially outsourced or externally managed ICT services, with 13 per cent using fully outsourced services. The other 35 per cent managed their own ICT services.

"The highest numbers of contractors were in development and programming, program-project management, testing, business process analysis/design, and systems analysis/design," the report stated. "These areas had the highest representation of ICT contractors in percentage terms, relative to the total number of staff (APS ICT employees and ICT contractors) ranging from 2 per cent to 6 per cent of the workforce. These are the skill sets where the greatest shortages are expected in the next 12 months to three years."

Contractors currently make up 19 per cent of the Federal Government's 14,286 ICT workforce. In 2007/2008 agencies reported that there was a shortage of around 1000 ICT skilled workers across the government agencies, however the agencies reported this figure was expected to increase to 1711 by 30 June 2011. Software engineers were the most in demand at 212, with business analysts (157), support technicians (92) and analyst programmers (80) also in high demand from agencies.

As part of the government's response to the recommendations of the Gershon review, the number of contracted staff has been decreased since 2008. The Reinecke review of the implementation of the recommendations said that the contractor reduction was partly due to concerns about job stability during the global financial crisis. Ovum research director Kevin Noonan has said that the State of the Service report highlights that this is no longer the case.

"As the ICT industry emerges from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis, competition for in-demand skills will continue to grow. Government is likely to find the going tough, in its efforts to tempt highly paid contractors to become permanent staff," he said.

"Perhaps it is now time to move away from Gershon's recommendation to cut contractor numbers by 50 per cent. In the light of consistent evidence, it might be better to focus on attracting skills from all sources, to secure the delivery of government services," he added. "While internal staff can often be a more cost effective in particular circumstances, this is an ICT investment decision based on local requirements. The bottom line is that ICT skills simply aren't available to meet identified requirements. Agencies need to have the flexibility to address that shortage, based on their own particular business requirements."

The deadline to reach a 50 per cent reduction of contractors was set at October 2010. The government extended the timeframe by an extra year to allow for the development of a strategic ICT workforce plan and a whole-of-government ICT career pathway to be built.

Gov 2.0 in action

The report also found that just 28 per cent of service delivery employees within the public service had access to social media tools, while 38 per cent of agencies reported they did not use social media at all

There was some reluctance within the public service to use social media, with one respondent endorsing their agency's restriction of social media use, saying it would lead to reduced productivity.

"I strongly agree with my agency's decision to restrict access to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube etc. I do not think these benefit our organisation. If staff were granted access, there would be a large amount of time wasting with people using them for their own personal enjoyment and not doing their actual work," the respondent said.

The report lends weight to this theory as it also found that the majority of investigations relating to Code of Conduct breaches by public service employees related to the misuse of internet or email.

"This year, as for the previous three years, the most commonly reported behaviour was improper use of the internet or email. Overall, the number of employees investigated for this type of misconduct increased, as did the proportion of cases where a breach was determined," the report stated.

There were 313 cases investigated in 2009/2010, up from 202 in 2008/2009. Of the 313, 80 were found to have been in breach. The report noted that the vast majority of these investigations came from the Australian Taxation Office and outcomes ranged from reprimands, fines, counselling or even employment termination.

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