Australian civil service recruitment ‘too Canberra-focused’ as leaders consider allowing staff to live elsewhere

The federal bureaucracy is too dependent on Canberra for its workforce and must base more staff outside the nation’s capital, according to a government report.

The Australian Civil Service (APS) is going through a recruitment crisis, made worse by the ACT’s extremely low unemployment rate of 3%.

While only 38% of APS’s 160,000 employees work in the capital, that’s where the vast majority of senior executives and political workers are located.

However, a group of heads of government departments say this “Canberra-centric” approach to staffing undermines APS.

They are preparing a localization strategy, parts of which are detailed in the latest service status report.

This report says basing more senior jobs in Canberra discourages a wider search for the best candidate.

This poses “a significant risk to attracting and retaining the right workforce skills and capabilities,” the report says.

“As a result… recruitment is not targeting occupations in demand where they are (i.e. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland).

“This means APS is missing opportunities to find talent, especially for in-demand professions.”

A Public Service Commission spokesperson told the ABC that the COVID-19 pandemic had “demonstrated our ability to work well at all levels from dispersed locations”.

“That includes performing all types of work, including policy makers.”

Ongoing audit to measure hidden workforce

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