Reform needed to combat skills shortage: LGMA

Skills requirments in local government over the next five to ten years will be determined by an ageing population, the global financial crisis and new ways of doing business, according to the Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA).

The issues were discussed at the National Local Government Skills Forum facilitated by the LGMA in Melbourne, which covered the impact of the global financial crisis on the sector's skills shortages and a review of the 2007 national skills shortage strategy for local government.

Speaking at the conclusion of the forum LGMA national president, Ray Pincombe said that while many of the initiatives promoted by the national skills shortage strategy were validated, there is a significant need for long-term reform of how local government does business.

"Local government must urgently improve the way it approaches workforce planning and development to ensure our sector’s capacity and ability to deliver on existing and new community needs,” Mr Pincombe said.

"Greater emphasis needs to be placed on regional groupings of councils doing more with automation and consolidation of back office operations. This would reduce demand on skills and achieve greater economies of scale.

The forum, which was attended by 50 representatives from local government professional peak bodies, local government associations, relevant education and training bodies and industry skills councils together with commonwealth and state departments responsible for local government, also evaluated the federal government’s new skills’ initiatives.

Pincombe said that too much pressure was being put on planners and engineers and that issues surrounding training in an aging populations needed urgent attention.

“Our sector needs to unpack specialist roles and remove pressures on some of our roles such as planning and engineering by enabling councils to use more para-professional, project management, administrative and financial support staff," he said.

"A coordinated and collaborative approach is also needed on employment and training, particularly with mature-age workers."

Pincombe also identified the lack of employment data in the sector as being critical to growth and sustainability.

“Workforce planning and development is non-existent,” he said. “Our sector does not have the necessary employment data to analyse and forecast trends. Had this information been available, we may have been in a better position to identify our emerging skills requirements.”

An outcomes document is being prepared by LGMA on behalf of the sector for consideration by the National Local Government Skills Shortage Steering Committee later this month. 

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