Defence to restructure vetting process to ease skills crisis

Staff lost due to slow clearance checks

The Department of Defence (DOD) needs to radically expedite its clearance processes to counteract the IT skills shortage crisis, according to Peter Lambert, head of DOD's information systems division.

Claiming the defence industry was really feeling the pinch of the skills crisis, Lambert said the department is actively and urgently working on restructuring the vetting process.

"We do, like all of us, have quite a challenge recruiting and training ICT professionals in government," he said.

Lambert was addressing a panel hosted by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) in Canberra.

Representatives from industry, government and academia gathered to discuss the major issues facing the defence sector, with the skills crisis at the top of the list.

Panelist Ian Wing, associate professor of the Australian Graduate School of Policing, said the delays associated with background checks only exacerbate the problem of government competitiveness in the recruitment market.

"The lag at the moment is up to six to nine months, and yet there are private providers in this town that can turn a PV (Personal Vetting) around in a week," Wing said.

"When people get told 'yes, we are offering you a job in an agency and we'll get back to you in six to nine months when the clearance gets through' they find other employment and we lose these high quality individuals."

And according to panelist Greg McAnulty, director of defence and intelligence for Microsoft Australia, submitting an employee through the vetting process can cost the organization $60,000 in lost productivity.

"From a reality point of view, we can't have fully cleared people sitting around waiting for the next thing to come along. Likewise we can't have people sitting around waiting to be cleared, so it's a bit of a Catch-22 situation," McAnulty said.

Ward recommended Defence expedite the vetting process so that checks can be completed within six weeks.

"For your average 20 year old IT graduate, who may have been no further than Bali for a holiday, it should be very easy to check [backgrounds]," he said.

In addition to reorganizing the in-house vetting process, Defence is working with industry to streamline the process.

"We are actively discussing with companies the possibility of them doing their own identity and police checks for restricted and confidential clearances for their own staff," Lambert said.

"This is being done with a real sense of urgency, it affects us as much as it effects industry, and we are seeing results. "

Lambert said Defence is meanwhile addressing the skills shortage through other means, including in-house training, and outsourcing.

"One of the things we're working on is marketing. We do run in Defence probably the largest and most complex IT environment in Australia - it's diverse, it's challenging, it's interesting. And so we try and offer employees that challenge and interest in their job," he said.

Lambert also reminded the forum that skills shortages tend to be cyclical.

"It wasn't too many years ago we were bemoaning the number of IT professionals who were taxi driving to get an income," he said.

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