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Office Support - Public Sector

July – September 2016


The shortage of suitably skilled and experienced candidates continues across the public sector, particularly for immediately available professionals with government experience.

Long-term temporary roles are increasing, especially in the project support space, while vacancies have increased in the secretariat space of the federal health portfolio.

Across the public sector there are fewer candidates with classic secretary skills such as minute taking and board management. Yet these skills remain important to employers.

When they recruit, employers are now less concerned about a candidate’s relevant systems knowledge provided they have strong Microsoft Office skills, have used other systems in the past and are confident that they will quickly learn the system in use.

Candidates continue to believe that the public sector’s recruitment process remains too long, which impacts the number of people who will apply. It can take three months or more between application and notification of if they have been successful or not. With preference given to people already acting in the role, as well as special measures, strong candidates often have little desire to apply as they believe they will not be successful and can secure a job elsewhere in a quicker timeframe.

In Canberra recent bulk recruitment rounds have created a tighter candidate short market. After two years of performing a role in a temporary capacity during the recruitment freeze, the top talent is being secured in permanent roles.

In the Northern Territory, special measures have been added to the recruitment strategy so that candidates of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent who can perform the role or be trained into the role within six months are given preference over other applicants.

Employers in Darwin also prefer candidates who are based locally, given the transient nature of the city.

In Victoria there is a focus on project support vacancies within State Government and an increase in C-suite Executive Assistant roles in not-for-profits.

Hotspots of demand

Executive Assistants are in high demand. In the ACT those with security clearances are required for three to six month contracts with an immediate start. Demand is so high that candidates with APS experience and a security clearance are often only available for 24 to 48 hours. Futhermore at any time an Executive Assistant can receive multiple offers without actively looking for work.

It takes a certain type of person to be an EA and employers are often seeking either a career EA or someone they can develop in the role. In addition, given that a strong working relationship is required between an EA and the exutive they support, finding a candidate with the right personality match is essential. As a final point, the role can also be used as a stepping stone by candidates who would like to advance their career to a more senior position, which adds to the shortage of experienced candidates.

Personal Assistants are also sought in response to increasing workloads. PAs are often required to complete various administrative tasks for executives and teams.

Project Support Officers and Secretariat Officers are in high demand due to a number of high profile government programs. Both cleared and non-cleared candidates are required to support key taskforces. Skills in demand include travel coordination, committee and board support, drafting briefs and ministerial correspondence and logistics. Secretariats with board management experience who can understand regulations are in particular demand in the not-for-profit sector.

Grants Assessors are in demand as a number of Federal Government departments have centralised this function. There has been an increase in smaller grants to the community, which has lead to an increase in APS3-5 Grants Assessors. Particular areas that receive a lot of media coverage require additional staff to assess applications and answer enquiries from stakeholders. Employers seek skills in assessment, policy and stakeholder engagement.

Receptionists are needed to free up the time of administrative staff.

Administrators and office all-rounders are also sought. In fact, general office skills are always sought.

Project Officers are needed too. Employers are not looking for these candidates in a policy area, but in administration. They want candidates who have worked on projects and understand the logistics as well as deadlines and the consequences of not meeting them.

Data Administrators are in increased demand as the amount of reporting grows.

Candidate trends

Candidates want longer-term contracts or permanent roles and higher rates than one year ago. They are aware that more roles are on offer and that their skills are in demand. Therefore they believe the market can deliver what they are looking for.

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