Inspire : Public Works Sept Oct 2012
27 What are your proudest achievements at ACELG? First and foremost, the fact we've successfully put the consortium together and achieved such a high level of collaboration among the fve partners. Working with a consortium, there were obviously issues that had to be resolved to get the show on the road and keep it there. One of the things I'm very proud of is the way the fve members [UTS Centre for Local Gover nment; University of Canber ra; Australian and New Zealand School of Government; Local Government Managers Australia; and IPWEA] have developed a lot of trust in each other and supported the broader ACELG agenda. The Centre is now well established and well recognised around the country. Our research program is a great success. Among our many other achievements, the work we've done with the IPWEA on asset management, long-term fnancial planning and the national assessment framework have been headline projects. They really represent world class in local government. What were the initial reasons for forming the Centre? It was announced almost out of the blue by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the then-Minister for Local Government, Anthony Albanese, at a meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government in 2008. There had been a lot of concern about skills shortages in local government and Local Government Managers Australia had convened various for ums to look at that. They suggested a ‘virtual centre of excellence’ that would showcase best practice in local government. At the same time, it was obvious when talking with Minister Albanese that the Federal Gover nment was becoming increasingly concerned about the underlying fnancial and infrastructure maintenance and renewal issues in local gover nment. When the Prime Minister made the announcement, he put a lot of emphasis on that. He said: "We know you have some serious problems. We are happy to contribute fnancially to dealing with those problems, but we want local government to be stronger, more effective and more professional." Setting up the ACELG was part of that package. How much is the skills shortage a ecting the sector? It’s diffcult to nail it down, because local government functions in a very complex labour market. The skill areas that are defned as being in shortage do change from time to time. But there's no doubt that in core areas -- and certainly engineering is right at the top of the list -- local government is struggling to attract the people it needs to handle the full range of local infrastructure and service delivery issues. Some places are in need of urban and regional planners, while others need health and building inspectors or fnance professionals. It tends to vary. The mining boom is sucking all kinds of people out of the workforce and into highly paid jobs. Local government is str uggling to deal with that. One of the often-overlooked issues is that local government is becoming an increasingly complex sector. It needs ever-higher levels of professionalism to do its job properly. We certainly do not put enough emphasis on improving the skills of our workforce and really looking ahead and saying: "what skills are we going to need in 10-30 years' time? Where are we going to get those people and do we have to do more to grow our own? The tendency to cut back on apprentices and cadets due to fnancial constraints is only storing up problems for the future, not resolving them. ACELG is just fnishing off a national workforce strategy for local government, which will highlight those issues and plan for the kind of skills and workforce local councils will need in 30 years' time. How exactly have the tasks become more complex? Anyone in local government will say that over the last fve decades, the range of things that councils do has increased considerably. But councils have also had to operate at an increasingly sophisticated level, especially with long-term strategic, fnancial and infrastr ucture planning. The days of just bringing down the budget once a year have long since past. Community engagement is another big change. People now have a much greater expectation that they will be consulted regularly and will be able to have their say on the big picture decisions that the council is considering. The need for councils to learn to talk to their communities and really listen to what they are saying has become a major issue. They of course need new skills and techniques to do this properly. For example, some councils are now using internet-based panels of residents to get regular feedback on issues. @ We certainly do not put enough emphasis on improving the skills of our workforce and really looking ahead and saying: "what skills are we going to need in 10-30 years' time?
Public Works July Aug 2012
Public Works Nov Dec 2012