In an Inquiry into the capability of the APS, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has revealed that the three largest federal government agencies had IT contractor workforces larger than their in-house IT workforce. Most were in the Department of Defence followed by Services Australia and the Department of Home Affairs with a total of almost 7,500 contractors between them. Overall there were around 10,984 IT contractors and 10,020 internal IT APS workers across 77 agencies.
While the DTA says contractors are used to source specialised skills or to augment staff during peak periods, the figures show that in line with Australia’s broader IT workforce, the APS IT workforce is characterised by a shrinking core permanent labour force and increasing use of independent contractors for core IT functions.
Professionals Australia has long argued that outsourcing is not an ideal way of reducing overall APS staffing costs.
CEO Jill McCabe says it’s a serious long-term issue. “As a major purchaser of ICT, there is not only a lack of in-house skills in the APS to procure IT skills but also to deliver solutions internally. When the APS outsources projects, all the experience from undertaking any projects is lost to the tenderer, rather than retained within the APS.”
“Rebuilding in-house skilled technical capacity is a first order priority – it represents best value for money for taxpayers and will ensure the expertise and structures are in place to prevent waste of taxpayer dollars,” she said.
The APS Delivering for Tomorrow report states that the APS increase in demand for data science skills is estimated to increase by 1810 per cent over 5 years. The report estimates demand for an extra 100,000 technology workers by 2024 and notes that developing professional expertise can take an estimated seven years or more to develop.
McCabe says: “With these projected skills gaps and the long lead-time for training, the need to put in place proper planning to rebuild in-house IT capability in the APS is critical.”
“The government needs a whole of services workforce plan which defines capability and desired output, in order to make smart decisions relating to which work is undertaken by external contractors.”
 Australian Public Service Commission, Delivering for Tomorrow: APS Workforce Strategy 2025, pg. 11, https://www.apsc.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-03/APS_Workforce_strategy_2025.pdf
 Ibid, p.12.