The Great Nerd Drought

johnboy 1 December 2010 67

IT News are covering a shortage of technology skills in the Australian Public Service and, as ever, Gershon is to blame.

Analysts have blamed the culling of IT contractors during the Gershon Review and an exodus of talent from Canberra during the global financial crisis for an alarming shortage of technology skills in Australia’s public service.

The Federal Government’s 2010 State of the [Public] Service Report released late last week revealed recruiting ICT staff continued to be the Federal Government’s biggest skills headache.

I would say that the Public Service recruitment process is positively nerd unfriendly.


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peterh peterh 11:51 am 04 Dec 10

facet said :

Once upon a time in the early 1990’s a fresh, new conservative government sat down to lunch with a couple of IBM computer salesmen to develop the new non-socialist public service IT policy.
Question: What is the difference between a used car salesman and a computer salesman;
Answer: The Used car salesman knows when he is lying.

The outcome was that all computer hardware and software was to be outsourced to “standardise” and save money. Thus began the slow decline into the dark age of public service IT. Managers who knew how to implement computer systems left or were “eased out”. The plaintive cry began “You gave me what I asked for but it is not what I need”. It seems that one size does not fit all.

Twenty years later very little has changed.

err, desine (the first IBM deal direct with defence including product and staff) came into being in 1984, maybe you are talking about the cluster or group contracts, they were collaborative between many companies, and outsourcing was a way at the time to stabilise jobs during the recession to prevent losses. maybe you are talking about the PE contracts (precursor to the evil panel contracts of today) that were run by DAS, the outsourcing contracts came into their own when the EDS / ATO deal was signed. Today is no better, The Microsoft / Data#3 Whole of Government deal effectively eliminated business for small players, as they couldn’t sell microsoft products to government anymore.

The outsource contracts are perceived by public sector staff as a bad thing, but, for the most part, the staff used in these contracts were purchased out of the department, the shortfall engaged as many locals as possible, and overseas talent was brought in to fill the gaps.

The killer for Government has been Gershon’s promotion of AGIMO, the cull of Defence contractors and the sharing of project resources between departments, often requiring classification adjustments at the cost of the department requiring the resource – from restricted to Classified / S / TS…

The private sector didn’t fare any better, we have lost swathes of business through lack of contracts, the panels make the sales of hardware about price, not value, and I am watching small competitors disappear.

Jackly Jackly 4:56 pm 03 Dec 10

The response of the Government to Gershon seems from the outside looking in to be about consistency – applying the APS recruiting standards/processes across the board having decided that inconsistent outsourcing practices aren’t such a good idea. I had expected it to increase their chances of getting the right people into the service. Being a public servant myself, I should have known better. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have applied some real risk management in their treatment of IT people who are still on their way to becoming permanent residents or citizens. Aren’t there better ways of protecting the sovereignty of Australian data adn systems than to exclude the qualified, experienced and trustworthy from the employment pool?

shadow boxer shadow boxer 10:29 am 03 Dec 10

No it doesn’t, it is my accumulated assessment after 20 years of working with techs,

I remember back in one previous job new employees needed to do a psych assessment to get the clearance required for the work. Basically we were just looking for balanced mature individuals with a good work life balance and a stable circle of friends, family and motivations. Trouble was the IT techs consistently failed, they had to change the test in the end to allow through people that are always right *rolls eyes*.

I agree your statement about herding cats with a hose but doesn’t that just re-inforce my point ?, as a general rule there is a common inability to admit there might be a better way of doing something than the way they want to do it, anyone disagreeing must be stupid.

This usually ends in tech wars among the staff (outlook vs notes, win7 vs vista, .net vs vb5, apple vs pc etc.

I have one young man who is very talented and I let him start work at 11 and finish about 10 at night because it suits him and he is really really smart, trouble is he thinks this is his entitlement and we should be somewhat thankful he turns up at work at all. He gives no thought to the others that cover for him when the boss rings at 8:30.

Fisho Fisho 10:49 pm 02 Dec 10

shadow boxer said :

harley said :

Fisho said :

Luckily many of the dregs currently taking up space seem to be drifting towards project management.

Bwhahahaha! Head, meet nail.

and this kind of sums up a lot of the problem “I don’t want to do any management or be accountable but I’ll bag out those that do because I am special, and by the way pay me more”

IT techs are rarely team players.

Management != accountability. If the dictionary binders union hadn’t made a kerfuffle about special orders back in 1846 those terms wouldn’t be in the same book.

Managing techs is somewhat of an art, not entirely dissimilar to herding cats with a hose. Not impossible, but there are a minority of ‘managers’ that can do it. The rest just blame the techs or something.

Techs generally want a manager who can go in to bat, not a finger pointing lacktard.

Proper management (and the resultant environment) will do more in retaining tech talent than many would realise.

Your team players comment shows a profound lack of knowledge about techs.

facet facet 8:04 pm 02 Dec 10

“Selection criteria” reveal how much the selection panel has thought about selecting the “right” or best fit applicant. As opposed to the private sector where they sit and look at applicants and see how “attractive” they appear (no one wants an ugly camel). Selection criteria reveals a lot about the people on the selection panel. In the old days, selection criteria were vetted by a third party, but nowadays anything goes.
Too much freedom is as bad as not enough.

Gungahlin Al Gungahlin Al 5:13 pm 02 Dec 10

sexynotsmart said :

Gungahlin Al said :

Interesting… IT = nerds.
Maybe the IT workers of Canberra need to put out their own calendar of non-nerd IT boys and girls.

OK, I’m interested in that. But everybody has to be nude and I have dibs on being Mr January.

Is a response to selection criteria required? If so, what’s the criteria?

Putting my hand up for chairing the selection panel. Someone else’ll have to assess the guys though – I’m not likely to be much chop at that…

capn_pugwash capn_pugwash 4:53 pm 02 Dec 10

hmm I have heard that APS4/5 can pay more than private companies. Previous posters and myself were meaning more the high 6/EL1 level. Just speaking in general terms – there are always going to be exceptions though. Good luck in the interview.

Sonja Sonja 4:37 pm 02 Dec 10

Lower pay in the public service? You serious?? As a long-time Service Desker, the private companies pay utter garbage compared to the Public Service.

Most Service Deskers in the private industry get paid $40-45K, and Public Servant Service Deskers will easily get $10-15K+ on that.

Hence this IT “nerd” (Dip Sys Admin) is heading for an interview on Thursday in one of the govvy departments.

capn_pugwash capn_pugwash 1:54 pm 02 Dec 10

cmdwedge said :

Pretty much, though I still manage to keep my hours around the 40 mark, 45 maybe. Used to crack 70+ hours at a previous role though. Not sure about the ‘less responsibility’ part though. That seems to be an attitude thing, if you want to just cruise along in a cushy PubS job, then by all means do so. But if you feel like earning your dollars and putting in an honest day of work for an honest day of pay, then you could probably do that both in PrivS job or a PubS job. There are some very hard working public servants that I deal with each day.

Yes the attitude is a better way to put it… not that it applies to all the APS. I used to do 60+hrs and enjoyed the buzz of delivering to a deadline. If you were one of these (what some have called here) ‘overpaid’ consultants I’m guessing that the client would not be too understanding if you had to go and pick up a sick child from childcare at 11am or something!! As others have said it is such a long process to jump through the hoops of the APS selection criteria that the private sector wins there

fermion fermion 1:48 pm 02 Dec 10

OpenYourMind said :

These days IT shops are about ITIL compliance, governance, accountability, standardisation, project management etc. Lots of IT people can’t or won’t make that shift and cling to the diminishing pool of backroom ‘nerd’ work.

Yes but happens if you take away the ‘nerds’? You are left with a bunch of email pushers!

p1 p1 1:31 pm 02 Dec 10

shadow boxer said :

Contrary to public opinion there is very little room for passengers in todays public service.

I don’t know about our IT department, but is certainly the case where I am. Well, unless you count time wasted on teh Riotact.

cmdwedge cmdwedge 1:30 pm 02 Dec 10

capn_pugwash said :

So (very broadly) speaking if you were choosing between working for the APS or private sector it would be:
* APS – less responsibility/less pay/more family time/better super/better maternity leave/36hr week
* Private – more responsibility/more pay/less family time/standard super/standard mat leave/40+hr week (but as earning more could contribute more to super and fund own maternity leave)

Just confirming as i’m moving back to canberra next year and have previously worked for private sector consulting to APS but as family committments increase it gets tempting to switch camps!

Pretty much, though I still manage to keep my hours around the 40 mark, 45 maybe. Used to crack 70+ hours at a previous role though. Not sure about the ‘less responsibility’ part though. That seems to be an attitude thing, if you want to just cruise along in a cushy PubS job, then by all means do so. But if you feel like earning your dollars and putting in an honest day of work for an honest day of pay, then you could probably do that both in PrivS job or a PubS job. There are some very hard working public servants that I deal with each day.

shadow boxer shadow boxer 1:23 pm 02 Dec 10

cmdwedge said :

shadow boxer said :

and this kind of sums up a lot of the problem “I don’t want to do any management or be accountable but I’ll bag out those that do because I am special, and by the way pay me more”

IT techs are rarely team players.

You sound like a bunch of fun to work with. You hate your staff.

Nah, the team I have at the moment is good but business is business and I had to replace a few before it got to that point (including a contractor who had been there for ten years and thought knowledge is power), we took some short term pain rebuilding that one but we have 2 or 3 people who can cover his skill set now).

Contrary to public opinion there is very little room for passengers in todays public service.

capn_pugwash capn_pugwash 12:54 pm 02 Dec 10

So (very broadly) speaking if you were choosing between working for the APS or private sector it would be:
* APS – less responsibility/less pay/more family time/better super/better maternity leave/36hr week
* Private – more responsibility/more pay/less family time/standard super/standard mat leave/40+hr week (but as earning more could contribute more to super and fund own maternity leave)

Just confirming as i’m moving back to canberra next year and have previously worked for private sector consulting to APS but as family committments increase it gets tempting to switch camps!

facet facet 12:07 pm 02 Dec 10

Once upon a time in the early 1990’s a fresh, new conservative government sat down to lunch with a couple of IBM computer salesmen to develop the new non-socialist public service IT policy.
Question: What is the difference between a used car salesman and a computer salesman;
Answer: The Used car salesman knows when he is lying.

The outcome was that all computer hardware and software was to be outsourced to “standardise” and save money. Thus began the slow decline into the dark age of public service IT. Managers who knew how to implement computer systems left or were “eased out”. The plaintive cry began “You gave me what I asked for but it is not what I need”. It seems that one size does not fit all.

Twenty years later very little has changed.

jforgeo jforgeo 10:45 am 02 Dec 10

cmdwedge said :

shadow boxer said :

But please, sipping lattes and having a nice corner office does not mean you’re a hard or intelligent worker.

It is a nice view, and you do get paid well though.

If I got paid as much as a bouncer as I did as I contract PM, I’d go back to that. I can’t see the APS ending it’s need for those of us who are “results orientated” anytime soon. And in my view, if as an overpaid contractor you don’t deliver results, you should get the arse.

cmdwedge cmdwedge 10:43 am 02 Dec 10

shadow boxer said :

and this kind of sums up a lot of the problem “I don’t want to do any management or be accountable but I’ll bag out those that do because I am special, and by the way pay me more”

IT techs are rarely team players.

You sound like a bunch of fun to work with. You hate your staff.

Kan Kan 10:37 am 02 Dec 10

The PS is notorious for culling and then rehiring staff at a higher price. The Gershon Review was the latest in a long line of so-called efficiency plans that have failed to fix the problem of staffing costs and poor productivity. These reviews only accomplish uncertainty and disloyalty. How can you get the best out of your staff, if there are constant whispers of redundancies and cancelling of contracts? No wonder, the PS is seen as a joke by the private sector.

Me no fry Me no fry 10:17 am 02 Dec 10

HandyCap said :

Interesting – I am a BA with 18 years of IT experience with a federal agency and my position was just declared excess. After a significant amount of pressure from my boss, I accepted the VR. So… why, if we have a skills shortage, are full-time permanent IT professionals (not only me) being booted out?

This sort of mirrors my experience. My department basically panicked after a severe budget cut and got rid of a fair percentage of its IT staff. Wasn’t gone a week before I call the call to return on contract. Did a few stints of contracting but that work dried up in the face of the GFC – plus I am no good at touting for work, and I absolutely loathed dealing with “recruitment” firms.

I think there are a lot of problems with the way the APS views and treats its IT staff – but that is stating the obvious. They are almost clueless, it seems, and things are getting worse, not better. I’d like to return to work, but that forces me to confront what I see as one of the bigger issues with IT employment in the APS – the ASO6/EL1 divide. Your programming career basically ends once you become an EL1.

p1 p1 9:58 am 02 Dec 10

This is the funniest thread today.

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