Government technology failures will continue without “urgent investment” in technical and professional staff, a technical union has warned, as the use of contractors continues to grow.
Professionals Australia, which represents 25,000 technical professionals across the country, made the call in its submission to the Australian Public Service (APS) hierarchy and classifications review.
The review is considering “optimal management structures and emerging workforce needs” for the first time since 2012, as recommended in David Thodey's root-and-branch examination of the APS.
ACT branch and Australian Government group director Dale Beasley said technical and professional structures were needed to ensure past government failures were “not a recurring theme”.
He cited the COVIDsafe contact tracing app, which has found only 17 close contacts not identified through other means in 12 months, as well as robobebt and the 2016 Census outage.
“Outsourcing is too often equal parts poor culture and poor structures. The APS fails on both,” he said.
“Too often, APS leadership see technical skills and workforce as something that can be brought off-the-shelf.
"This mindset exists because the structures do not allow them to think otherwise.”
Beasley said Thodey's review had “recognised that the existing APS structures do not nurture STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] staff to meet today’s challenges”, requiring both "culture and structure" is reformed.
In the wake of the review, the government established a digital profession in April 2020 to uplift expertise by offering career and skill development opportunities.
As at March 26, only 1451 individuals had signed up.
Meanwhile, departments and agencies are continuing to rely on an external workforce for their technology needs, with more IT contractors than internal IT staff employed across the APS last financial year.
Beasley added that almost three-quarters of federal government agencies were reporting "critical skills shortages", most commonly in data (70 percent), digital (54 percent) and ICT (40 percent).
“Outsourcing only makes the APS more expensive now, more expensive later and less able to respond to challenges on an ongoing basis,” he said.
“A massive uplift will be required in ICT staff in the coming years and the APS is clearly not tooled up to meet this challenge, given the technical failures we have witnessed.
“We urgently call on the federal government to invest in APS technical and professional staff to build and maintain much needed capacity and to save taxpayer dollars.
“We urgently call on the APS leadership to change the culture and thinking to invest deeply in technical and professional staff.”