What does COVID-19 mean for jobs in the Government Sector?

The Australian Public Sector is a dynamic, ever-changing beast and if you’re lucky enough to have a job right now then chances are you’ll come out of this COVID-19 landscape with a bigger and more diverse skill set.

Anyone in the APS will tell you that all state and federal governments are currently scrambling to ensure roles are filled, so service delivery is kept at a premium. Services Australia, which handles Centrelink and My Aged Care for example, is expecting around two million Australians to join the welfare queue and have already advertised for at least 5,000 additional staff across the country.

The Deloitte Gov2020 report provides a valuable insight into the future of government operations both at state and federal level. Interestingly this report, despite being several years old, has inadvertently predicted changes that will be happening because of the virus. It describes “mega shifts” in the way the public service is run which will have a lasting impact on government jobs and will likely continually funnel jobs into specific areas, notably education, energy and environment, defence, health, law and justice, human services and transport.

These jobs could be anything from police officer to community nurse, health inspector to legal aid lawyer. A pandemic doesn’t put a stop to the needs of any community, anywhere.

Skills or experience in these areas will be most in demand as Australia starts its recovery later this year. Think of these characteristics as outlined by the Australian Public Service Commission: leadership and accountability, management diversity and span, stakeholder management and independence and decision-making. Working from home has put the spotlight on these skills and will be most in demand once everyone returns to their workplace.

These “mega shifts” focus on funding models, data and tech usage, service delivery, public-private partnerships and employee flexibility. In this era of home-based work, public sector staff are likely to be developing skills in a range of areas to cope with the demands of being away from an office and ensuring everything runs smoothly.

“Employees won’t stick to departments, but instead will move from project to project. Advanced HR policies will track skills, accomplishments, and certifications in ways that keep employees engaged,” the report says.

For those with analytical skills and regulation experience, opportunities will emerge in the policy space as governments work to make sense of the COVID-19 experience.

According to Grad Australia, the changing digital landscape means that applicants should prepare themselves for evolving roles as departments change the models of their face-to-face transactions.

This doesn’t mean fewer jobs - and job growth can attest to that - rather staff will be utilised more effectively as departments use automated services. Growth areas are tipped to be tied to digital transformations, as expected, with information technology and cyber security roles likely to increase.

Clearly the experience with the Coronavirus is showing the government’s commitment to keeping people employed and it will spend in many areas to support this. In NSW there is already many capital works projects underway to support population growth. As a result the area of infrastructure and development is a hotbed for project management positions, particularly for those with experience in large infrastructure projects. Well-organised leaders and critical thinkers who have an ability to juggle and negotiate should be keeping their eye out for this kind of project work.

Reporting jobs, and those in budget and contract management, are all likely to grow in the next five years and provide stable opportunities. Health jobs are particularly strong and likely to continue to grow, particularly as coronavirus takes its toll on community health.

In NSW the public sector job growth has been massive. In the latest data in the year up to November 2019, full time jobs grew by 21.5% - or 43,700 jobs. There are now 204,900 full time positions in the sector while part time roles, which have increased 18.9%, number 41,800.

Labour market economist Michael Emerson, from EMDA, says in NSW the demand has been driven by economic growth as a result of population increases and solid capital expenditure, and this is having a flow-on effect in the public sector where people are lured by job security and decent wages.

“There is on-going demand for governance and compliance officers and managers in response to tighter regulations and the push to improve governance,” Mr Emerson says. “Managing compliance and security, especially cyber security, will also be growth areas as concern and risk is only increasing.”

So, don’t be despondent, the outlook for government jobs is positive. This virus will have a temporary impact and it’s unlikely to be long lasting. The Government is already spending money now and will be eager to be back on its feet fast.

This article was written exclusively for Training & Coaching Solutions by Eve Fisher, an independent writer & journalist who was previously the National Editor of "MyCareer" for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age for over 8 years.

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