Does it get better for Public Sector graduates?

By Ayeesha Cain

Laura* paused before taking a photograph, “life and death are simple,” she said, “everything in the middle is complicated”.

VPS Graduate Recruitment and Development Scheme

For a lot of people like Laura, the State Budget has brought yet another complication. Today, as part of the six-hundred proposed redundancies in the public sector, Laura is reapplying for her job. “They’re spilling positions, I have to reapply for my role, it’s a competitive process – some positions are completely gone.”

After graduating from a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) at the University of Melbourne, she was unsure of her future. “I know this sounds corny,” she says, “but I didn’t want to work for a profit motive.” Now in her second year as a Policy officer for the Department of Transport, Laura “wanted to contribute something of social value. So I applied for the Victorian Public Service Graduate Program”.

The Victorian State Budget was handed down in May. In what was poised to be the hardest budget in almost a decade, the preamble said Victorians were “not well positioned to deal with revenue shocks”.

Among the benefits are substantial increases to V-Line services, an upgrade to Geelong Hospital and thirty million dollars in extra funding for the most at risk schools. These initiatives would “drive economic activity, productivity and jobs”. As part of “government restraint,” – six hundred public sector jobs will be lost. This, with the 3,600 proposed cuts in December, brings the total to 4,200.

For young people in the Public Service, the cuts have different meanings. Alex Smith*, a graduate of the Department of Justice Generalist Graduate program, has been working in the public sector for eighteen months. Completing three rotations, he became a policy officer in January of this year, but decided to leave his job for the Australian Tax Office, a federal department.

He said he moved because of a “lack of mobility” in the Victorian public service. “I joined to make better community outcomes,” Smith says, “[but] the environment created by the government was toxic and not conducive to professional fulfilment”.

Research by the Graduate Careers Australia highlights the wider problem for young people. In 2011, 68,205 people graduated. 14.8% of those who graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in 2011 were working part-time but seeking full-time employment. A further 8.7% were not in any paid work.

The data, according to the report, “suggests that a number of new graduates were discouraged from seeking a place in the full-time labour force.” 19.4% an increase of 0.4 per cent on 2010 figures, were continuing with additional full time study.

Smith is unsure about the cuts and what it means for education programs. “They were not just [cuts] to jobs, but to programs,” he continued, “they are taking fewer grads, and after you finish, you have less opportunities.”

Competition between the public and private sector graduate programs is high. A graduate program sees organizations recruit new university graduates in an entry-level position and educate and train them for their career within the organization.

Laura, who is negotiating a graduate program in the private sector, described the cuts as “a result for efficiency”. After the proposed cuts in December, the government assigned a number to each department to identify areas which could improve their efficiency. She continued, “my division was formed six months before I arrived, now, there is not a business need.”

Karen Batt, the Victorian Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union questioned the state’s administration. In a statement on their website, she said, “Victoria already has the lowest Public Sector numbers versus population of all the states – we’re on the bottom of the ladder”.

The cuts, which were announced in December, were part of a broader restructure to the public service. This included not extending, or renewing contracts.

Treasurer Kim Wells announced, “this is a responsible and necessary approach.” Continuing, he said, “we will be defined not by the challenges we face, but by the collective actions we take”. Daniel Andrews, leader of the opposition, has a different view, “jobs are being lost, taxes and charges will be higher, services to families are being slashed and Victorians will have to wait longer for vital infrastructure projects because this Government has been asleep at the wheel”.

When asked about if she could have done things differently, Laura wasn’t sure. “I never thought I’d stay too long, but you don’t apply for a job if there is no career progression.”

Smith, who always wanted to work in the public sector, was hopeful, “If you want to become a public servant now, you’re doing it because you’re passionate. It’s not the first time they’ve been through a rationalization process and not the worst by far. Whether things get worse before they get better, no one knows.”

* names changed to conceal identities.

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