Brain drain in government departments

By Christine Linnell

IT has become a main area of targeting for cost reduction in government departments. File photo / Thinkstock
IT has become a main area of targeting for cost reduction in government departments. File photo / Thinkstock

Government departments lost a significant number of high-tech employees last year, according to a new survey.

The State Services Commission's annual Human Resources Capacity Survey examines employment characteristics of the public service in New Zealand.

They found that information and communications technology (ICT) roles like systems analysts, programmers and customer support officers fell by 13.5 percent in the year to June 30, 2011 - the biggest drop of all government employment groups.

There were 1738 ICT fulltime equivalent employees as at June 30, 2011, compared with 2009 at the corresponding date a year earlier.

Decreases were due mainly to cuts at Inland Revenue, Corrections, Land Information New Zealand and the Ministry of Education.

"IT has really been one area of targeting for cost reduction and bringing teams together across different departments," says New Zealand Computer Society CEO Paul Matthews.

"I think there's been quite a focus of reducing the internal teams and contracting out more, where possible."

The numbers are not a major cause for concern, he said - though he would be concerned if they continue to drop at this rate.

"You do have to be a wee bit careful when you consolidate and save costs, that you're not losing the people that have the institutional knowledge."

The survey also shows that unplanned turnover of ICT staff jumped from 8 per cent to 16 per cent in 2011.

"Sometimes in any role people start to see the writing on the wall.

"If a department is downsizing or has indicated that they are looking to outsource more work, then you find that people may look to move to the contracting party or elsewhere."

Some of the unplanned turnover could be explained by employees changing roles across the board, "following people staying where they were through the worst of the economic downturn".

A shift to cloud computing was unlikely to be a major factor, as the government has been slow to adopt the new technology.

Mr Matthews said he hasn't noticed a great amount of discontent among government ICT employees.

"It's probably a case of just keeping an eye on it an seeing if it's a bit of a blip... or if it's more of a trend over time.

"We're not raising major alarm bells at this stage, but it's certainly one that we're watching."

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