What it does: Collects and analyses statistics
Staff stats: Around 3000
The good bits: Making a social contribution
The not so good bits: Slow career progression
Hiring grads with degrees in: Engineering, Maths, IT & Computer Sciences; Finance, Accounting, Economics & Business Administration; Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences; Sciences.
Shortly after Federation, it became apparent Australia would need a national body for collecting and interpreting statistics. In 1905, the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (CBCS) was established in Melbourne. It was initially attached to the Department of Home Affairs. In 1928, the Bureau’s headquarters was relocated to Canberra and, four years later, shifted from Home Affairs to Treasury.
Pre-Federation, Australia’s state governments had operated their own statistical offices. They continued to do so after the CBCS was created. However, between the mid-1920s and late 1950s, the state’s statistical offices were absorbed by the CBCS.
During the Whitlam years, the CBCS was abolished and replaced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (commonly referred to as the ABS). The ABS was established as a statutory authority. It is headed up by the ‘Australian Statistician’, who reports to the Treasurer.
ABS staff work with state and federal government departments to analyse, collect, compile and distribute statistics. The ABS conducts the Census. It also compiles and analyses statistics relating to Australia’s economy, environment, population, society and workforce.
Technological advances, particularly those relating to the capture and mining of ‘Big Data’, mean the ABS has been presented with “new opportunities for accessing and interrogating a vast amount of data”. To take advantage of those opportunities, the ABS has embarked on a $257 million, five-year-long modernisation program. This program involves “embracing new technology and statistical methods, collaborating better with our partners and improving our culture helps us to better meet the information needs of our stakeholders and the community”. As part of the program, an ABS National Data Acquisition Centre was opened in Geelong in 2016. It will ultimately employ 300 ABS staff.
The ABS presently has an annual budget in excess of $290 million.
Even by public-service standards, the ABS’s embrace of diversity is impressive. It encourages applications from “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with a disability, mature age workers, people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTI+) people”.
There are employee networks for staff with a disability, gender-nonconforming, Indigenous, LGBTI or from a “culturally and linguistically diverse” background.
To promote inclusion, the ABS offers flexible working arrangements, runs training and awareness programs and celebrates “important cultural events and days”.
The ABS is presently focused on recruiting more Indigenous and staff with disability and has introduced various initiatives to facilitate this.
Statistics provided by the ABS are drawn on by businesses, community groups, governments, religious organisations, sporting bodies and citizens. As an ABS staffer, you’ll be providing individuals and organisations with the reliable data they need to make important decisions.
For obvious reasons, the ABS seeks out grads with excellent analytical skills. It also likes staff to be agile, innovative, good communicators and passionate about making a difference. While it will consider applications from all graduates, the ABS typically recruits from the following disciplines:
The grad program has three main streams: statistical analysis and research, methodology and ICT. (Indigenous grads can apply for a ‘Corporate – Affirmative Measures’ stream.)
Unusually for a Federal Government employer, the ABS doesn’t require staff to be based in Canberra, even while they’re doing the development program. The ABS has offices in all capital cities across Australia as well as Geelong.
The recruitment process begins with an online application made through the ABS’s e-recruitment system. As well as uploading the usual details, at this stage, you’ll need to select a stream to apply for. You’ll also need to provide ‘diversity details’ (i.e. indicate if you’re Indigenous, a person with a disability or part of some other underrepresented group).
If you make the cut, you’ll be invited to undertake a brief video interview and cognitive assessment. If that goes well, you’ll progress to a longer interview. This will be done face-to-face or via video conferencing. If you clear that hurdle and two referees vouch for your “employment history, qualifications and experience”, you’ll receive an offer.
Grads undertake a nine-month-long development program. This involves on-the-job training – to foster analytical, conceptual and critical thinking and enhance statistical capability – as well as a training program structured around a mix of virtual and group learning activities. Overseen by someone at a director or senior executive service level, grads form small groups and work on a project. At the conclusion of the development program, their project work is presented to senior staff.
Grads start on an APS 3 level salary of $57,438. This gets bumped up to an APS 4 level salary of $62,996 once the development program is completed. (Those in the ICT stream start on $62,996 and get bumped up to $70,858.) If you make it to senior executive service level, you’ll be on around $200,000. If you get the top job of Australian Statistician, you’ll earn more than the Prime Minister (think a total salary in the neighbourhood of $700,000.)
As a public-sector employer, the ABS provides generous super as well as a wide range of leave entitlements.
The ABS offers staff learning and development programs as well as secondment opportunities. It has a performance-management framework in place that assists staff in identifying areas for improvement and setting career goals.
Given it’s the public service, it’s unlikely you’ll advance without first putting in the necessary time. However, if you go frustrated waiting, you’ll have a skill set that is in demand in the private sector (and likely to become even more so as the data-saturated digital age progresses.)
The ABS might be devoted to serious number-crunching but its staff are a surprisingly social lot. The ABS has a selection of sporting and social clubs and there’s even an annual ABS ball. The ABS’s embrace of corporate fads such as hot desking can be off-putting, as can its rigidly hierarchical structure. But most staff find it an interesting place to work, find their colleagues supportive and find the flexible work options on offer to be most agreeable.
"The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is Australia’s national statistical agency, providing trusted official statistics on a wide range of economic, social, population and environmental matters of importance to Australia.
We have an important leadership role, coordinating statistical activities and collaborating with official bodies in the collection, compilation, analysis and distribution of statistics.
We operate in a dynamic environment, with new opportunities for accessing and interrogating a vast amount of data. In response to this, the ABS is undergoing a major transformation over the coming years. It will encompass how we operate as an organisation, both internally and as part of the wider information community.
With so much happening and so many exciting opportunities available there has never been a better time to join us..."