The federal government must make an “urgent investment” in Australian public service staff to avoid any more government technology “failures” like robodebt, COVIDSafe and the 2016 census outage, a leading STEM employee group has warned.
Professionals Australia, which claims 25,000 members from various STEM fields, has told the current review of the Australian Public Service (APS) Classification framework that without reforms to develop talent in-house, technology projects will continue to deliver poor outcomes.
“Outsourcing, is too often equal parts poor culture and poor structures. The APS fails on both,” said Director of Professionals Australia’s ACT Branch and Australian Government Group, Dale Beasley.
“Too often APS leadership see technical skills and workforce as something that can be bought off the shelf. This mindset exists because the structures do not allow them to think otherwise.”
The current review of APS classifications is one of the recommendations of the David Thodey 2019 root and branch review of the APS, which found systematic problems and that “substantive changes” were needed to prepare it for the future.
While the government accepted many of the final recommendations in 2019, progress on its response has been slow, including the urgently recommended audit of APS ICT capabilities still being conducted by the Digital Transformation Agency in March this year, as spending on ICT soared.
Last month, it was revealed there are now more temporary contract workers involved in government technology projects than full-time Australian Public Service staff, with some large agencies using more than four times as many tech contractors than APS employees.
Mr Beasley said the current APS structures do not “nurture STEM staff” to meet current challenges.
“Culture and structure must both be reformed,” he said.
“The skills shortages are not a future problem, they are with us in the present, which is why action is so urgent.”
Mr Beasley said APS agencies are routinely reporting critical skills shortages, most commonly in ICT areas.
“The Department of Defence has two outsourced staff for every government employee and the number of outsourced staff is bigger than the entire Australian Army.
“Outsourcing only makes the APS more expensive now, more expensive later and less able to respond to challenges on an ongoing basis.
“A massive uplift will be required in ICT staff in the coming years and the APS is clearly not tooled up to meet this challenge, given the technical failures we have witnessed.”
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