Up or across? Management vs skills in the APS

21 July, 2010

Having work mostly in the Australian Public Service (APS) for the last ten years of my career I am acutely aware of the bias in both remuneration and treatment for corporate ladder climbers versus design/technical expertise. I use the term “corporate ladder climber” without contempt – it’s simply the best term to describe a career path and goal, to advance from the lower APS ranks to EL Executive Level up to SES Senior Executive Service.

As you climb up the ladder you get perks like your own office, your own car parking space, an assistant, performance bonuses etc. For people who choose to prefer a skills-based technical role (which includes designers) you pretty much hit the ceiling at EL1 … or rather the third year pay increment of EL1.3.

Graph showing corporate ladder climbers versus design/technical careers.

I recently read an analysis of the Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration report by someone who took exception to the following:

Talent management would also be introduced – allowing leaders to proactively identify and nurture high performers.

As this person pointed out, this will almost certainly lead to the creation of a gap between particularly gifted and motivated employees and people who simply want to get on with their job and go home. It will lead to resentment as special attention is given … and what form would that special attention come in?

I don’t want to put myself or the design profession up on a pedestal. It’s just a job. I’m particularly passionate about what I do and I hold the potential of design thinking in high regard … but I’m sure plenty of people feel that about their own professions and industries. It’s nothing unique to design. So when I bring this issue up I’m not expecting designers to receive special treatment here. All I’m doing is pointing out that the only thing designers and other technical professionals may get in the APS is job satisfaction because while the APS does pay well (and for designers, better than the private sector in many instances) there is no pathway to increase your salary for long service or skills development.

You’re stuck at APS6 or EL1 if you’re lucky or take on team leadership responsibilities.

As for me, I’ve sworn to never accept a non-ongoing role again. The salary of a permanent employee with the expiry date of a contractor. As a non-ongoing I don’t get paid training which if I was a contractor at least I could afford to cover myself (luckily I’ve been accepted to attend UX Australia as a volunteer). As a designer I’m project-based which means I move on after 12 months tops. So I can’t accept permanent roles and thanks to Gershon contract roles are being phased out so I’m pretty much screwed.

If I have any future with the APS it will be as a consultant or not at all.

One comment

  1. Have you seen 5 Strategies for Improving Employee Satisfaction in Healthcare ? I found it to be really helpful in these troubled times…:o)

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