The Australian Public Service is losing the best candidates because its recruitment processes continue to be slow, bureaucratic and inefficient, according to the annual State of the Service report.
The report, released last week by the Australian Public Service Commission, found that it took federal public sector agencies an average of 75 working days (15 weeks) to fill a non-executive vacancy.
Executive-level roles took an average of 94 working days (19 weeks).
Cost to fill varied from $700 to $19,000 per vacancy, and the average was $2,800.
(The report noted that the expenditure data was limited, because only 23 of the 98 agencies in the survey were able to provide an estimate of their spending.)
The report showed that the APS recruited fewer staff in fiscal 2010 (10,221 permanent hires, or 6.8% of the total workforce) than it did in fiscal 2009 (12,963 hires or 9%).
The Commission polled employees on their experiences of being recruited into the public service, and found that 60% believed the process wasn't managed efficiently and 53% said it 'took far too long' to complete.
The report said that although government departments were clearly spending a lot of time and effort on advertising, interviewing and selecting candidates, employees continued to view recruitment processes 'poorly'.
Furthermore, some 11% of all those APS employees who left their jobs during the year were leaving within their first 12 months.
'If the APS is to build its workforce capability in a more competitive labour market, it will need to improve its recruitment processes so the right people are placed in the right job at the right time,' the Commission said.
'Recruitment across the APS will need to become more efficient, transparent and applicant-friendly and will need to distinguish [between] candidates on the basis of merit."
There were, however, a few success stories.
The report said the Department of Infrastructure reduced its recruitment costs from $670,000 in 2008/09 to $100,000 in 2009/10, by introducing department-wide recruitment campaigns, developing a new employer brand, and launching targeted graduate recruitment programs and student vacation internships.
The National Library of Australia reduced recruitment timeframes from 39 to 21 days, after putting in place an online recruitment system for the first time in October 2009, developing a recruitment policies and metrics, and providing associated training for staff.
The report noted the most recent estimate for the public sector's total direct recruitment costs (in 2006/07) was $370 million, and indicated a goal of shaving 10% off this amount.
"The Commission is investigating ways to streamline APS recruitment... If [doing this] delivers a 10% saving on direct recruitment costs ($37 million per annum) without diminishing the quality of selections, the return on investment would be considerable."
The report provided only minimal detail on efforts by agencies to measure quality of hire.
Lack of planning leads to paying too much for skills
The report said the most critical skills shortages in the APS at present was in IT, with more than half of the agencies surveyed reporting difficulties finding skilled IT workers.
More than 40% of government departments were also struggling to source finance and accounting staff.
The report noted that only 21% of APS agencies had a formal workforce plan - although another 41% said they were currently developing one.
"Assessing the demand and supply of staff is difficult, particularly when agencies make this assessment without an established system for classifying skills/competencies.
"The lack of systemic workforce planning in agencies leads to poor succession management and a growing sense that the APS ends up paying too much for skills that unexpectedly become in demand."