A Public Affair

A Public Affair

Hiring and Firing

Bureaucracy may be a characteristic shared by both the public and private sectors, but when it comes to staff recruitment, government CIOs face a variety of challenges largely unknown to their counterparts in the business arena.

"The public sector faces the same skills shortage as everyone when it comes to IT staff," says Amesbury, "However, there are tighter recruitment constraints which effectively negate the ability to attract the top end of market. Similarly, budget restrictions often mean that agencies cannot afford the costly training often required or expected by IT staff."

One solution to this problem that has proved increasingly popular in the public sector is outsourcing.

"Once upon a time, a job in the public service was seen as a real career, and you would hold onto people because of the benefit of having a secure job in the public service," says Roberts. "That's not the case so much any more as people are tempted by big dollars in other areas."

Roberts overcame that difficulty by opting to outsource many of DCITA's more specialised roles. Outsourcing allows Robert's organisation to leverage off its partner, using its resources to take the pressure off DCITA to recruit and retain qualified staff. Roberts says the chief benefit of such an arrangement is that it gives him the security of knowing he can rely on the resources of his outsourcing vendor when he needs them - even if he doesn't necessarily need them all the time"In an organisation the size of ours, which is about 700 people, it's hard to justify full-time hires," he says.

"For example, you might have a need for a WAN expert or a DBA, but you certainly wouldn't need them full-time - particularly if you're trying to recruit in a very specialised area. You might really need to recruit somebody, but you may only need to use them 60 per cent of the time.

"With an outsourcing partner, the onus is on them, and they are in a better position to provide such expertise because of the volume of work that they do. They can do a lot more as far as resource sharing and resource scheduling to make sure that they've always got the right people to do the job."

Treadwell agrees that retaining key staff is an issue. "Certainly it is hard," she admits. "People that work in Centrelink have a fairly good reputation and as a result keeping them here when there is a differential in terms of remuneration is a challenge."

However, although Treadwell acknowledges the difficulty government CIOs face in hanging on to talented staff, she claims it is important to put such recruitment issues in their proper perspective. After all, she points out, keeping star employees happy is a challenge that all senior managers face, public or private. Private enterprise may have the freedom - and the deep pockets - to offer high performers more money but, in the government arena, CIOs must find more creative ways respond to this challenge. And rising to that challenge, Treadwell claims, is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her role as CIO.

"Our turnover rate is actually less than the private sector," she says proudly. "At Centrelink, we have a varied environment and the challenges of providing good IT services in a range of areas certainly keeps people in touch with new technology. They can't always get that variety in the public sector."

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