President’s column: 15 March 2019

Local Government Workforce challenges revealed

One of local government’s most valuable assets is its workforce and councils across Australia employ around 189,000 across an amazing 394 occupations. Most of our employees are full time (68%), committed, long term employees with the unplanned turnover rate in our sector being a relatively low 8.3%.

But we do have challenges in our sector.

These have been highlighted in a national report on Local Government Industry Skills and Workforce and Development which has just been published by ALGA on its website https://alga.asn.au/local-government-workforce-and-future-skills-report-australia/. It makes for sobering reading.

The national level report, which aggregates the findings of reports at the state and territory level, provides a snapshot of the Australian local government workforce. The key issues highlighted relate to current and emerging skill shortages and training delivery and uptake. The report analyses data from the ABS Census and a Local Government Skills shortage survey undertaken in 2017 to which 242 councils responded.

It reveals that local government has a workforce that is considerably older than the general Australian workforce, has an ongoing declining participation level of workers under 30 years of age and does not have enough apprentices to meet future needs with a decline in apprenticeships between 2012 to 2017 of more than 60% – three times greater than the general workforce.

Findings from the survey also reveal that the local government sector is facing major skills shortages in key professional and technical occupations with almost 70% of local governments experiencing a skill shortage and skill gaps. Engineers, Urban and Town Planners, Building Surveyors, Environmental Health Officers, and Project Managers topped the list of occupations in demand.

The key reasons behind the skills shortage include the inability of councils to compete with the private sector on remuneration, lack of suitably qualified/experienced candidates available locally, high demand across the labour market for certain occupations, and remoteness/location making it difficult for many councils to attract and retain workers.

The survey also revealed that 60% of local governments have unmet training needs arising from the high cost of training and lack of training available locally, and 70% of local governments have done no analysis or forecasting of changing roles/skills requirements arising from digital disruption and technology changes.

It’s a challenging picture and one which every council should be thinking about. We can only meet the needs of our communities if we have the staff to do the job. It requires all levels of government to be working to address these issues and I note for instance that one of the priorities for LGNSW in the impending state election is a commitment from the new government to address skills shortages. At the national level ALGA will be seeking to work with whichever party takes office after the Federal Election expected in May on measures at the national level to tackle the workforce challenges.

However, governments can only help when needs have been identified. Are you confident your council has identified its workforce development needs now and for coming years? And what can you first do locally, before asking other governments to help?

Mayor David O’Loughlin
President