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Sunday 25 August 2019

Almost half of civil servants are over 50 – 4pc under 30

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

THE age profile of the civil service is too high, one of the country's most senior government officials has admitted.

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform secretary general Robert Watt said the lack of young blood in the civil service was "not optimal" and "reflects a planning failure".

He was commenting on figures that show the average age of workers in the civil service is now 46 and will soon close in on 50, while just 4pc are now under the age of 30.

"It is a big challenge for us and a big worry," Mr Watt said.

His comments came on the back of warnings by the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS), which said a crisis is looming over the growing age profile.

The recruitment ban in recent years has seen the average age of the country's 35,500 civil servants shoot up.

Some 45pc of staff are now aged over 50 – a figure which is expected to rise to 66pc in 10 years time.

The situation is most acute at senior management levels.

The AHCPS said over the next 10 years, some 71pc of senior civil service managers will reach the age of 60, with many eligible for retirement at that time. Some 46pc will reach 65 over the next 10 years, and must retire.

Speaking at a hearing of the Dail's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Watt said: "It does reflect a planning failure, without wishing to criticise the people who came before me, but it's a major planning problem."

Committee vice-chairman Kieran O'Donnell voiced concerns that the civil service would not have the "optimum skills set" due to its aging profile and asked what Mr Watt was doing to introduce younger workers.

"As you go on you are going to be losing skills," said Mr O'Donnell.

Mr Watt said his department was "acutely aware of the challenges we face". Large numbers of senior personnel, at principal officer and assistant secretary level, are due to retire in the next three or four years, he said, and there was a need to start planning for this.

The secretary general said efforts were being made to recruit more specialist staff, but admitted the numbers being recruited were small.

He said the state's approach was "downsizing the system and changing the mix (of staff)".

"We are trying to bring in some new people and we are trying to identify more senior and middle management skills that are required."

However, only "a few hundred" new staff would be recruited this year.

He added that there was never going to be a situation where the public sector was like Google, where he said the median age was 28 or 29.

"It is very hard for us to change the age profile dramatically," said Mr Watt.

"Hopefully, when financial conditions are better this situation will be different."

The civil service, comprising staff at Government departments and some industrial and prison service staff, makes up around a seventh of the overall public service.

Ciaran Rohan, assistant secretary general of the AHCPS, which represents over 3,000 senior civil servants and managers, welcomed the recent recruitment drive, but cautioned it was not going to cover projected retirements.

There is expected to be an exodus of staff by August next year, he said. Staff can retire up to that point with pre-Haddington Road lump sums and pensions. But after that they would have to retire on much reduced terms.

Irish Independent

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