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Grant Nicholson


Classification Structure

The APS classification structure needs some reform to reflect the current nature of the labour market. As a market, rare skills and expertise in high demand will cost more, especially if you want the good to best performers. It is not uncommon in the market for roles such as a Security Architect to be worth $150,000 to $200,000 PA.

The current APS classification structure ties remuneration to leadership capability and responsibility, particularly in the EL to SES zone. This means if you want to hire someone in the market range for a Security Architect, you need to advertise an EL2 to SES-1 level position.

However, the EL2 and SES-1 classifications come with leadership capability and responsibility expectations that include people and budget management, strategic vision, policy development and accountability. These are not things we would necessarily require of a Security Architect. A really good Security Architect needs an in-depth knowledge of human psychology, computer networking and system architectures as well as all the known (and potential) threat vectors. Quite often they will have had a software development background and are expected to keep their skills current as technology and tools evolve.

There are several ways to get around this under the current structure, but none are ideal;

  1. Contractors

The obvious solution is to use contractors, as the market rate can be paid. However, there is a significant margin cost involved (it’s not unheard of for contact Security Architects to be paid $300,000 to $350,000 PA), and there is a degree to which the contractor remains ‘separate’ form the organisation.

I note that there are reasons other than money that people choose to join the public service (stability, public good, influence), and many are prepared to accept a pay differential for that. But the larger the differential, the smaller that pool of people becomes.

  1. Individual agreements

Another option is to use a more appropriate classification level for the nature of the work (such as EL1) and use an individual agreement arrangement to boost the salary. However, as the EL1 structure tops out at around $120,000, in order to pay $200,000 there would have to be a 67% top-up. While allowable, this is well beyond the general band of individual agreements typically granted (typically around 5 to 10%) and senior officers may have a reluctance to setting such precedents.

This also has a couple of other draw-backs. There is a

reluctance (some say not possible) to advertise a role that would be remunerated like this. HR departments instead suggest the role be advertised as a standard EL1 with a statement along the lines of ‘a flexible package can be negotiated on appointment’. This is not going to attract anyone looking for a $200K job.

Another drawback is that an EL1 position doesn’t have the ‘status’ of an EL2 or SES. In some organisation there are additional privileges that come with EL2 and SES level jobs. So even though the complexity and high level skill of the individual is being recognised in their pay, they don’t feel recognised in the workplace compared to everyone else.

  1. Technical EL2 or SES appointment

Advertising an EL2 or SES level role as a Security Architect may attract the right calibre of candidate, but the selection process may have a tension between the deep technical knowledge required and the capability some candidates may have as a less-technical but experienced EL2 or SES officer. In general, an experienced Security Architect will not be experienced as a general senior public servant, and it will be very rare to find someone who is.

Once engaged, the general expectations of EL2 and SES officers may kick-in. They will be subject to a general expectation to attend senior leadership forums, participate in strategic planning and policy formulation and to manage staff, sections or branches. This is not what we need a Security Architect to do… they should be protecting our systems from security breaches by ensuring they are properly designed and managed.

The APS Work Level Standards do make an allowance for technical capability at the higher levels, but the pervading culture that an EL2 is a senior manager and an SES officer is a strategic leader leads to a suite of other expectations of these level roles.

When there is a restructure, merger or inter-departmental transfer for example, the fact that someone is an EL2 or SES officer tends to be what is focused on, with the expectation that they are pretty much interchangeable (i.e. have the same basic capability). Expecting a purely technical SES officer is capable of managing a policy branch is not realistic.

  1. Grow your own

Sending an existing APS6 or EL1 officer on training to develop the deep expertise required may be successful, but will take time (like 1 - 2 years) and at the end of it, they will have skills highly valuable in the market, well beyond what they are being paid. This can result in loss of the capability before your investment in it has been realised, and you are back at square one.

My Recommendation

What I suggest we need is a technical specialist classification structure that recognises the depth and scarcity of technical skills and knowledge. It should cover the salary range currently covered from EL1 to SES-2. These could be aligned to one of the Work Level Standards on a role by role basis to set out the non-technical expectations of the role. For example, a SAP Developer may be at the top of the technical specialist classification, but be aligned with the EL1 (or even APS6) Work Level Standard.

Please note that I use the Security Architect role as an exemplar only. A similar story could be told for a Data Scientist, Program Manager, Enterprise Architect, Network Engineer, SAP Developer or a whole range of highly technical roles, including many outside the ICT & Digital domain I am familiar with.