Council corporatisation: Flexibility or mercenary cost cutting?


By CouncilJobs

New research has revealed that local councils and council jobseekers agree that the sector is becoming increasingly corporatised but they disagree on whether this creates flexibility or simply “mercenary cost cutting”.

The new research, which was commissioned by CouncilJobs and carried out by Jetty Research, also reviewed external hiring, skill shortages, legislative impacts and digital strategies and was officially launched this week at the Queensland Local Government Managers Association.

These six topics make up this first comprehensive research study on trends and challenges for Australian council recruitment over the next five to 10 years.

It involved a focus group to firstly determine the relevant questions and two nationwide surveys of 540 Council Human Resources (HR) Managers (220 completed) and 5600 jobseekers on (536 completed) which revealed six key findings.

James Parker of Jetty Research said the first key findings on workplace flexibility revealed that council HR managers have a very different view to employees.

“For example, 71 per cent of HR managers believed that moving from full-time to part-time employment was as a flexible working arrangement, whilst only 29 per cent of council job seekers felt the same way,” he said.

“The research also showed that flexible work will be in more demand, particularly from women, over the next ten years and supply needs to match.”

Secondly, hiring from outside council ranks is a continuing trend, particularly in finance and corporate services, although smaller, regional councils find this difficult to achieve in most areas with some saying just getting their job advertisements responded to was a challenge.

“We found that directors and culture and arts positions were more frequently hired externally in metro regions compared to remote areas – 44 per cent to 25 per cent – while regional and metro areas were most likely to hire outdoor and field staff externally – 31 per cent regional, 33per cent metro and 6per cent remote,” said Parker.

“Overall 70 per cent found that the external hiring process was a positive experience,” he said.

However escalating salary expectations through external hiring is considered a drawback in NSW and ACT compared with Victoria and South Australia – 39 per cent, 21 per cent and 24 per cent respectively – in metropolitan councils compared with remote – 38 per cent and 28 per cent; and large councils (>100k residents) – 43 per cent compared to 28 per cent among smaller councils.

“Remote and smaller councils however were more concerned with employees not understanding the realities and legislative constraints of council – 75 per cent compared with 64 per cent regional and 65 per cent metro,” Parker said.

The third major finding was the need for a national approach to skills shortages, with research showing there were too few good candidates available, particularly in the areas of engineering, health and planning.

“We also found that the most significant movement in demand from now to over the next five years in 11 different employment categories, were in aged services, health inspectors and rangers,” Parker said.

Differing attitudes between employers and employees to the rise and implications of council corporatisation was the fourth area the research investigated.

“There was a 12 per cent difference between HR managers and job seekers as to whether they felt councils were becoming more corporate, but overall both groups agreed corporatisation was happening,” said Parker.

“Another difference was that some councils see corporatisation as meaning greater flexibility but jobseekers see this as mercenary and cost cutting.”

The research also revealed different views between sex and age, where 71 per cent of males compared to 60 per cent of females and those aged 45- 54 (76 per cent), compared to those aged less than 35 (56 per cent), were more likely to feel that Councils they are familiar with are behaving in a more corporate manner.

Mr Tony Miller, Managing Director of Council Jobs said these results show a potential cause for conflict and may make it harder to attract certain talent to councils.

“If employers and jobseekers have a very different view of how they compare on a corporate scale this can be off-putting for jobseekers, who may be searching for a certain calibre of role

which they feel a Council will not offer them,” he said.

The fifth key research outcome that goes hand in-hand with corporatisation is legislation which was also viewed as a ‘handbrake’ on pay and attracting and retaining talent, although this differed across states.

“Interestingly it was NSW and Victorian HR managers that felt the most constrained (>50per cent entirely or largely) and Queensland councils which did not feel constrained,” said Miller.

Lastly the research confirmed that recruitment methods had well and truly shifted from print to online.

“The research was clear that the shift in recruiting from print to online will continue. Councils will need to think harder about their digital strategies, and better promote their brand to attract quality staff,” he concluded.

The final report will be available at the end of November. The research will also be presented on 16 November at the LG NSW conference (16-18 November) in Sydney. The report is free to Council Jobs clients. Contact Tony Miller on 0401 004 004 or email

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