Career bottlenecks in the APS – A Career Path Challenge


Late in 2012 the Canberra Times Public Service Editor, Markus Mannheim, wrote an article on the “career bottleneck” facing some public servants, particularly at the Executive Level 1 classification.  The article drew on an Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) paper.  The statistics reflected in the APSC paper, combined with staffing cut backs in the current tight fiscal situation pose a challenge for senior APS staff as they contemplate their career path.

The APSC paper shows a large increase in EL1 ranks which, together with the cap on Senior Executive Service (SES) staffing levels restricting upward movement at EL2 levels, means that public servants at Executive Levels face limited opportunity of upward advancement.  This has been exacerbated by the reduction in staffing levels caused by cut backs in departmental funding.  There are now many people at EL1, EL2 and SES levels whose jobs have been abolished and who are seeking new roles at level.  In this environment there is inevitably much more competition for job vacancies and upward advancement is harder to win.

What does this mean for people at the Executive and SES levels looking for a rewarding career?  One path is to opt out of the APS and build an alternative career, this is inevitably daunting to many.  A second path is to continue to build on your strengths (to keep competitive) and to be clear about what it is that keeps you energised and happy at work (what is it you like to do).

If it’s the second path you choose it’s important to recognise that this is very much something each person has to do for themself.  Yes, to a degree, we can expect others (our senior managers) to look after us but at the end of the day it is our personal responsibility to drive our career and our personal development. What can you do?  There are a number of things to think about:

.               be very clear about your career goals – is it really promotion you want, or is it primarily about doing satisfying work, or is it a role that fits with your personal concept of work life balance;

.               what sort of work best suits your behavioural preferences (a diagnostic like PRISM Brain Based Mapping can give a clear insight into what types of work really suit us best – we operate best doing the type of work we like);

.                be clear on your strengths and areas for development (tools like Strengths Finder can provide useful insights, as can more complex diagnostics like Human Synergistics’ Life Styles Inventory or Leadership Impact models);

.               invite frank discussion with your manager about your strengths and areas for development and seek their support in a meaningful development program tailored to your needs (yes you may need to take the lead in driving this discussion because not all managers find it easy to do so – and be prepared for constructively challenging feedback when it is given);

.               research – if there are particular areas you think you would like to work in or types of work you would like to do then research what is required, including by talking to people involved in that sort of work;

.               network – maintain your networks so people are mindful of you and your aspirations and you are front of mind when opportunities come up (if only you know what you would really like to be doing then ….. only you know);

.               keep positive – what you are doing now may not really energise you or ‘flick your switch’, however, you need to apply yourself with a positive attitude to the task at hand while working to position yourself for other things (people are more attracted to those who maintain a positive attitude and it is important to continue to build credibility for a good work ethic and a job well done).

An underlying philosophy, in the above suggestions, is that you need to focus on the things which are critical to your personal development given your career goals.  Simply being a participant in ‘one size fits all’ development activities is not likely to move you forward to your goal and ahead of the rest.

Image:   rangizzz/

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