Ageing in the Irish Civil Service : A Human Resource Management Response

O’Riordan, Joanna


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Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: CPMR- Committee for Public Management Research
Schriftenreihe: CPMR discussion paper
Bandnummer: 36
ISBN: 978-1-904541-51-6
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2006
Publikationsdatum: 28.03.2009
Originalveröffentlichung: (2006)
DDC-Sachgruppe: Öffentliche Verwaltung
BK - Basisklassifikation: 88.00 (), 88.10 (Öffentliche Verwaltung: Allgemeines)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.7 Verwaltungswissenschaften

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

Irish civil servants are ageing. Over the past twenty years, the proportion of staff in the 40 to 60 age category has increased almost four-fold. At the same time, numbers of staff under the age of 30 have considerably declined. The problem is significant in a number of departments. Based on 2003 data, over half of all staff in the Office of Public Works are over the age of 45, with other departments, including Arts, Sport and Tourism, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Defence, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Defence and Transport also having large cohorts (greater than 40%) aged over 45. Recruitment embargoes during the 1970s and 1980s, coupled with a general ageing of the labour force, has led to a situation whereby a large proportion of civil servants are due to retire over the next decade. Department of Finance projections suggest that the proportion of staff over the age of fifty will increase from 25% at present to around 45% in ten years time. This will dramatically increase the number of retirements over the same period.1 For public service managers, ageing presents wide ranging human resource (HR) challenges. Large numbers of retirements imply significant loss of experience, know-how and organisation memory. Of necessity there will be extensive promotions at all levels of the organisation, with the possibility of promoted staff lacking the necessary skills. In addition, the government’s decentralisation initiative, a voluntary programme to relocate several thousand civil servants outside of the capital, will have similar implications. This paper highlights the importance of developing a number of HR initiatives as a means of planning for and managing the large number of staff departures and consequent loss of experience which both ageing and decentralisation will generate. The concept of workforce planning, an integrated approach to managing changes that impact on staffing, is introduced. It is also emphasised that staff departures can generate opportunities as well as challenges, for example, the non-representative nature of the civil service (vis-a-vis the make-up of Irish Society in general), the need to change the allocation of staff across divisions or to improve job-filling through broader candidate search. However, a serious concern is that the Irish civil service has been slow to implement HR reforms as identified in Delivering Better Government and developed in successive national social partnership agreements. In particular, translating policy into practice, for example, effectively implementing PMDS2, devolving people management responsibilities to line managers, ensuring a more strategic approach to the management of staff resources, has proven difficult. This paper discusses a number of possible reasons why departments have not engaged with HR reform, including ongoing tension between departments and the centre3 in relation to respective roles and responsibilities, the overly administrative focus of HR units and the increasingly professional nature of HR management. A central conclusion of this research is that barriers to HR reform need to be addressed if the civil service is to effectively address the twin challenges of ageing and decentralisation. There is an onus on the centre to take a lead in dealing with rigidities and inflexibilities within the system, and with the development of HR policy and the management of civil service-wide HR concerns. However, individual departments must also be proactive in the management and development of their staff. The initiatives discussed in this paper - skills analysis, the organisation’s resourcing strategy, the approach to job-filling, developing and promoting talent at all levels, and managing performance, can all be addressed by individual organisations. Two factors would appear to be critical in making this happen, the engagement of senior management with HR reform and the professional know-how and experience of HR staff. The civil service is facing a period of uncertainty in relation to staffing. The extent and time-frame of staff departures due to ageing and decentralisation remains unclear. However, as emphasised in the concluding section of this report, faced with this scenario, the worst thing departments could do is nothing, because the relevant data is perceived to be too difficult to gather or because more complete information may emerge at some point in the future. Rather, organisations need to forge ahead with workforce planning and do the best they can with what they have. As noted in chapter six, ‘a complete solution to part of a problem is better than no solution at all’.

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