Local government workers: they’re not getting any younger

Group of happy business people clapping their hands

Youngsters are scarce in Australia’s local government workforce, according to a new report by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) based at Sydney’s University of Technology.

The 2014 Profile of the Local Government Workforce report found that more than one-third of local government workers are over 50, compared to the Australian workforce average of 29 per cent.

For men, this figure is higher still. Forty-one per cent of men working in local government are aged 50 or over, compared to 32 per cent of women.

Over 50s were concentrated in the occupations of CEO or general manager, labourers or plant operators, bus drivers, home care and community services, child care, works and infrastructure managers and finance/payroll.

Occupations with the lowest proportion of those under 5o working in local government were: communications and media, urban planners, community engagement, lifeguards, greenkeepers, fitness instructors, IT and arts/culture.

Correspondingly, the proportion of people under 35 working in local government stands at 22 per cent, substantially lower than the national average of 35 per cent.

Combined with high levels of impending retirement – a challenge reported by almost one-fifth of councils – the practical implications of these statistics are serious.

The report identifies a loss of corporate memory, skills and knowledge as people retire and problems with this knowledge not having been properly managed and transferred to those coming up through the ranks.

The report said: “The ageing cohort of CEOs and general managers suggests local government needs to be thinking about how to develop, attract and retain the next generation of senior leaders.”

Ten per cent of councils also said that they were spending more money adapting workplaces and tools or machinery due to the physical incapacity of an ageing workforce.

Centre Director Associate Professor Roberta Ryan said local government should be introspective about the findings.

“The biggest workforce challenges facing the sector are the ageing workforce, high levels of impending retirement and male dominated senior management ranks,” Prof Ryan said.

“A greater commitment to workforce planning is the key strategy that can help the sector respond to these issues.”

Worrying, only 10 per cent of councils said they had a workforce strategy in place, although 88 per cent were developing one. The plans are mandatory only in NSW and Western Australia.

The report’s conclusions will drive the National Local Government Workforce Strategy prepared for ACELG by Local Government Managers Australia.

The dearth of young talent is reflected in the composition of federal government staff too.

The Public Service Commission latest 2014 Statistical Bulletin shows that only 2.5 per cent of federal public servants are under 25, down from 5 per cent in 2007.

In contrast, over 45’s make up nearly 60 per cent of Defence staff and nearly 55 per cent of Veteran Affairs bureaucrats.

Karen Evans, Managing Director of talent management company NGA.NET said the Australian Public Service (APS) hiring freeze restricted it from hiring the next generation of workers.

“It means their workforce is getting older and no-one is coming in to fill the gaps as people leave. The most recent data shows how significantly this is affecting the makeup of the APS,” Ms Evans said.

“APS departments and agencies will need to review the current profile of their workforce to enable them to plan for both knowledge retention and succession planning. This is no longer something that can stay on the back burner.

“The expertise held by the over-45s is an asset to the country, and must be adequately transferred to the younger generations to avoid a ‘brain drain’ occurring when people retire.”

While the hiring freeze was in place she said there should be a focus on transferring knowledge and skills to middle-management.

“In future years, when the hiring freeze is lifted, this succession planning should continue at all levels, meaning the upskilling of employees is a continuous process.”


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