Friday, January 15, 2016

Professionals Australia and Contracting Out

This week I was visited by a member of Professionals Australia who expressed great concern at the loss of science and engineering skill sets to the Australian Public Sector, and particularly the Department of Defence.

He described to me an epidemic of contracting out, involving a push to have as much work as possible done by private industry, and as little as possible done by the Defence Science and Technology Group within the Department of Defence, and the removal of staff with decades of high-level experience.

I share the concern of Professionals Australia about this modern fad. I think it is important that the Australian Public Sector builds up and retains genuine expertise. Without it the chances of delivering infrastructure projects on time and on budget diminish. It is a false economy to contract out all the project delivery functions – we need people who know what they're talking about inside the tent, as well as outside it.

The contracting out obsession also has a real cost in terms of education and training. For many years large public sector agencies like Defence have been prepared to invest in education and training their staff, to the benefit of the nation. Private sector companies don't have the same enthusiasm – they want someone else to do the training. The risk is that no-one does it, and Australia becomes a less clever country than we need to be.

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