Many reasons to get a local government job

Our resident Stats Guy looks at why local governments need to attract more workers.

Jul 08, 2024, updated Jul 08, 2024
We will all be better off if our councils are staffed by the most competent workers.  Photo: TND

We will all be better off if our councils are staffed by the most competent workers. Photo: TND

Local government is neither the most glamorous employment opportunity, nor are workers showered in money.

Only a small share (1.4 per cent) of all workers are employed in local government. It is therefore no surprise that it’s a somewhat forgotten career opportunity.

The role that local government plays in the broader system, however, is rather important and often under-estimated. Let’s have a closer look at the sector. 

Running a big country like Australia is hard. To keep things manageable, we established three tiers of government. Partly we did this to distribute power, so no entity controls everything. Smart. Mostly though, certain responsibilities are best managed on the local level (waste management) while others are best delegated to the state (hospitals) or federal level (defence).

Historically it was very hard for federal and state governments in Australia to understand the needs of local areas as communications between different arms of government was painfully slow. Better to give the local authorities a bit more autonomy.

This means even today local governments in Australia hold more power than their international counterparts. As a result of the housing affordability crisis, the states are in the process of grabbing a few powers from local government as I described previously.

The goal is to minimise the number of development proposals shut down by local government. Even if states will go all in and force strict housing targets on local councils, local government will still retain a lot of power and influence. 

There are 537 councils in Australia managing our local infrastructure, recreation facilities, health services, community services, planning applications, cultural events, libraries, water, and waste. That’s a diverse range of responsibilities. Also, we are talking about local jobs – no need for a long commute.  


So far, a career in local government doesn’t sound too bad. Why then is your local government so desperately looking for new workers?

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I explained in a past column that the current skills shortage is going to stay with us for a while. In another piece I showed which jobs face a steep retirement cliff, meaning losing existing staff to retirement, in the coming decade.

Not having staff is a universal problem across the whole country and all industries. Local government is not exempt. 

So, what can local governments do to attract workers despite this universal skills shortage?  

Things won’t be easy. The most obvious solution, throwing money at potential workers to snatch them away from other industries, isn’t an option for cash poor local governments.

Human resources staff at local government need to be much more proactive and use a holistic approach in selling the job on offer to potential candidates. 

Let’s start with the proactive bit. Just advertising your jobs on LinkedIn, career websites, and your own website simply won’t be good enough.  

Millennial mums

Lucky for local government there is an untapped workforce out there for the next decade – local Millennial mums (born 1982-99).  

The country’s biggest generation is in the process of starting families. This means Millennials move out of their inner-city hipster apartments in search of family-sized homes.

Bit by bit we are moving (almost) the whole Millennial generation out of the inner suburbs into suburbia, the urban fringe, and regional centres within a two-hour drive time radius from our biggest central business districts.  

This move often coincides with pregnancy and/or a period of parental leave. This period of being away from the workforce might be as short as half a year or as however long it takes to get the youngest child into kindergarten or school.

The act of re-entering the workforce isn’t free of anxiety, personal priorities might also have changed, and mum lives further from her old job than she does now.  

A proactive local government taps into these Millennial women as a workforce before the return to their previous position. Local government need to tap mums on the shoulder and offer them employment before they officially start looking for jobs online, before they give their old boss a call to discuss a return to work.

Advertise your jobs in local mother groups, childcare centres, or wherever else you might find them.  

The above narrative of course also applies to dads if they are the primary carer. As time goes on this will become increasingly common as I described in another column last year but for simplicity’s sake we stick with women in this column. 

Local government also needs to talk up the amazing work-life balance that it offers compared to other sectors.  

More power

 Local government has more power than the general public might realise. Workers keen to have an impact on the quality of life of ordinary Australians have quite a bit of leverage at the local government level.

Our younger generations are obsessed with finding meaningful work. Local governments must explain to their prospective workers how they can directly impact the lives of local residents.  

Flexibility! No rigid hours! If workers want to start work earlier or leave later, that might be an advantage in public-facing roles.

Increase the duration of staffed phones, improve the access to local government staff for the public. This might well require a shift of attitude in your particular council, but it’s crucial to implement these changes now.

In a decade even the youngest Baby Boomer will be of retirement age. All younger generations are relatively allergic to hierarchy. If an employer doesn’t flatten its organisational structures, they will struggle to find staff. I hope that’s a wake-up call for the most rigid of councils.  

More flexibility

The fully-staffed local governments of the coming decade are much more flexible in their employment practices than they are today.

Workers can dictate (within reason) when and how they want to work. While this is annoying for middle managers who must spend more energy on co-ordinating their workforce, the HR team will embrace any opportunity to hire staff in a challenging environment.

While local governments can’t shower their staff in money, they can still transform themselves into employers of choice – we will all be better off if our councils are staffed by the most competent workers. 

Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and how these impact Australia. His latest book aims to awaken the love of maps and data in young readers. Follow Simon on Twitter (X), Facebook, LinkedIn for daily data insights in short format. 

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