State of the service

Mobility in the APS

Mobility in the public sector is important. The ability to rapidly deploy staff to where they are needed most is critical to ensuring the Australian Public Service (APS) effectively serves the Australian community.

Mobility helps ensure staff with the appropriate skills and experience are available to work on priority issues. Mobility also builds individual employee capability.

The Australian Public Service Commissioner wants to make it easy for employees to move within and across agencies, and to and from the private sector. To facilitate this, a secondment service has been established to better support movement in and out of the APS. Work is occurring with the Business Council of Australia and other peak bodies and jurisdictions to place APS staff in long and short-term roles outside of the APS.

Sandra McPhee observed in her report ‘Unlocking Potential – APS Workforce Management Contestability Review’, mobility can build a workforce that provides a balance between employees with broad public and private sector experience and employees with significant experience in a particular area.

Since 2000-01, mobility rates in the APS have varied from 1.1 per cent to 3.1 per cent of the APS workforce. After a decline during the period from 2011-12 to 2013-14, mobility rates have continued to increase across the service over the past two years.

Figure 1.

Ongoing employees: Transfer, promotion and mobility rates between agencies, 2000–01 to 2015–16

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In 2015-16, 2,236 employees transferred between APS agencies and a further 1,109 employees were promoted between agencies.

As an employee’s classification increases, there is a greater likelihood that they have experienced mobility within the public service. Over 80 per cent of employees from the trainee to APS 5 levels have worked in only one agency. In contrast, over 40 per cent of SES officers at each of the three bands have worked in two to three agencies. One third of SES Band 3 officers have worked in 4 or more agencies, ensuring greater exposure to a range of operating environments and enabling these senior leaders to draw on the expertise gained across these agencies.

Figure 2.

Ongoing employees by classification and number of agencies worked in, 30 June 2016

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Over half of all respondents to the 2016 APS employee survey indicated that they had applied for another job in the preceding 12 months. Over 30 per cent of respondents reported that the job they had applied for was in another APS agency.

Age plays a factor in the interest of employees in taking up mobility opportunities. Employees aged under 25 and between 25 and 34 are more likely to be interested in temporarily transferring to another role or agency. A steady decline in transfer interest is apparent across the older age groups, with employees aged 55 and over the least likely to indicate an interest in a temporary transfer.

Figure 3.

Interest in temporary transfer, by employee age

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Respondents to the employee census were asked about their thoughts on workplace mobility in their agencies. Analysis of the responses by employee classification indicate a significant difference in views between SES and non-SES employees regarding existing opportunities for mobility. Almost three quarters of SES respondents agreed that their agency provides opportunity for workplace mobility, while less that half of APS level employees reported the same. Around 60 per cent of staff at all levels agreed that workplace mobility should be more common in their agency.

Figure 4.

Opportunity for workplace mobility

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In the 2016 APS agency survey, agencies were asked if they had a policy in place to promote employee mobility. Most APS agencies reported having an internal mobility policy. Only 17 per cent of agencies have a policy in place to promote mobility with the private sector.

Figure 5.

Mobility Policy

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Many agencies that indicated they did not have a formal mobility policy in place noted that they were still supportive and encouraging of mobility, regularly encouraging staff development through transfers and secondments.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has recently launched an initiative that is expected to significantly and positively impact mobility within the coming year. The pilot mobility program known as ‘Operation Free range’ is designed to enable the quick deployment of pre-vetted employees to priority areas.

  • Operation Free Range

    Employees interested in temporarily transferring between agencies can nominate themselves to be considered for needs-based deployment. They become ‘free range’ employees available to be mobilised for targeted interventions. Employee capability is aligned with business priorities in participating agencies.

    Operation Free range will be coordinated by the APSC, with each secondment being:

    • evidence based—to fill critical skills gaps determined by workforce planning and metrics
    • flexible—based on business and development needs, and negotiated flexibly
    • developmental—wherever possible, secondments will be tailored to meet individual needs.

    The expected benefits of the program include:

    • the retention of valued staff by providing professional development opportunities and enhanced career opportunities
    • the opportunity to share expertise and fresh ways of doing things
    • the mobilisation of skilled employees to where they are most needed
    • the formation of strong links and partnerships between agencies
    • enhanced awareness of whole-of-government priorities.

    The program will be evaluated for broader application across the APS and results will be reported in 2017.


2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    How will operation free range operate? Will agencies be required to consent to an employee moving? (i.e. can an agency say no). Does the employee remain employed by their home agency or are they giving up their substantive position for a series of short term assignments? If the latter is the case – do they get paid under the relevant agencies terms and conditions or do they go under the APSC or some other arrangement? I think the idea had merit however the variation in pay, terms and conditions, and subsequent inpact to the “losing” agency would need to be considered.