State of the service

Older workers in the APS

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The Australian population is ageing. This is reflected in the age composition of the Australian Public Service (APS). For the past 30 years, the average age of APS employees has been rising. At June 2015 the average age of APS employees was 43.5 years.

Between the late 1960s and the late 1980s the average age of APS employees remained below 35 years. A large numbers Australians who were born between 1946 and 1964, commonly known as Baby Boomers, found employment in the APS. Many of this group have remained in the APS. As they get older so does the overall age profile of the APS.

  • “The average age of an APS employee is 43.5 years”

Figure 1.

APS ongoing employee mean age: 1966 to 2015

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 1.

Mean age

Mean age

Year

Shown in the animation further below on this page are the impacts of a number of factors on the age profile of the APS. These factors include:

  1. the large population of Baby Boomers
  2. the number of employees aged 25 and below decrease dramatically during the 1990s
  3. large reductions in the overall APS population in the late 1980s, the mid 1990s, and over the past two years
  4. large increases in the overall APS population in the early 1970s, and in early 2006 and 2007
  5. compulsory age retirement at age 65 until 1999 when it was lifted
  6. many employees resigning at 54 years of age from 1999 onwards. This was in order to realise the financial incentives offered to members of the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme who resigned just before the eligible retirement age of 55.

Figure 2.

Interactive chart: APS population 1967 to 2015

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 2 or visit the State of the Service profile on Tableau Public.

Figure 2 is an interactive bar chart showing the APS population numbers by individual years of age. Overall there were large increases in APS population in the early 1970s (e.g. APS population went from 86,619 in 1970 to 119,379 in 1975), and in 2006 (134,945) and 2007 (143,846). There were large reductions in the overall APS population in the late 1980s (APS population went from 149,315 in 1987 to 139,276 in 1989), the mid 1990s (APS population went from 142,887 in 1993 to 102,009 in 1999), and over the past two years (2014 at 144,888 and 2015 at 136,498). There are several significant aspects to note as outlined in-text, for example employees aged 25 and below decrease dramatically during the 1990s (25 year olds population go from 5,332 in 1985 to 2,980 in 1996 and 1,592 in 2015).

This is an interactive chart: use the scroll bar or drop down menu to animate the year to year trends.

In comparison to the Australian labour force, the APS has higher proportions of employees in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups. Representation at the 55 and over age group is similar. The proportion of ‘Under 25s’ is much lower in the APS than in the wider Australian labour force. The greater representation of older employees in the APS and the lower representation of younger employees means that overall the APS is ‘older’ than the Australian labour force more generally.

Figure 3.

Age profiles—APS and the Australian labour force

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 3. Labour force data sourced from ABS.

Per cent


Age profiles—APS and the Australian labour force

Age group

Figure 3 is a bar chart showing over 80% of all APS 1-6 level employees are located outside the ACT. Out of all the states and territories the ACT has the lower proportion of APS level employees (57.9%), and higher proportion of EL employees. In all other states the distribution of all classification levels is relatively the same with a range of APS level 81.2% to 89.5%, EL 10.3% to 18.4%, SES 0.2% to 0.6%. Overseas APS have greater representation at the EL level 55.7% compared to SES (11.2%) and APS level (33.1%).

As noted above, the removal of compulsory age retirement from the Public Service Act 1999 has influenced the age profile of the APS. The number of employees aged 65 and over increases every year. For example, in 2005 there were 481 ongoing employees aged 65 and over. By 2015 this has increased to 2,017.

Our analysis on APS employee headcount shows the structure of the APS is changing. Over the past fifteen years the proportion of employees at lower classifications has decreased and the proportion of employees at higher classifications has increased. Typically, the average length of service of APS employees increases with classification as does age. This means that as the classification profile of APS employees has shifted upwards, so too has the age profile.

Figure 4.

Ongoing employees: Classification by mean age and median length of service

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 4.

Years

Ongoing employees: Classification by mean age and median length of service

Classification

Figure 4 is a bar chart showing the proportion of non-ongoing employees is lowest in the ACT (6.8%) and in overseas jurisdictions (2.3%). Out of all the states and territories the TAS has the highest proportion of non-ongoing employees (17.2%), followed closely by NT (16.5%).

The three large agencies with the highest proportion of ongoing employees aged 50 and over are the Bureau of Meteorology (39.4%), the Department of Defence (41.4%) and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (46.8%). Of all agencies, regardless of size, those that have the highest proportion of ongoing employees aged 50 and over are the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (48.5%), Aboriginal Hostels Limited (53.5%) and Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (63.3%)

Older workers are an important component of the APS workforce. They contribute skills and knowledge based on many years of experience. Encouraging older workers to remain in the workforce has a number of benefits to APS agencies. This includes the retention of corporate knowledge. A number of costs are also avoided including recruitment and the associated loss of productivity.

With an ageing Australian population, the potential pool of workers to recruit is also reduced. Putting into place strategies that help to retain older workers will support the achievement of agency goals and maximises the use of the available workforce. This should complement efforts to employee younger people to achieve a workforce composition which is consistent with the broader labour market.

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Read the State of the Service Report 2014–15 on the APSC website.