Go to top of page

Section 4: Movement of Employees

Each year large numbers of employees move into and within the APS. These movements are calculated over a full calendar year rather than at a point in time. During the 2019 calendar year there were 25,409 movements consisting of:

  • 8,724 people engaged as ongoing employees
  • 11,679 current employees promoted within their agency
  • 1,323 current employees promoted to another APS agency
  • 2,762 employees transferred permanently to another APS agency
  • 921 employees temporarily transferred to another APS agency.

This equates to 19.4% of ongoing staff taking up initial employment, changing jobs or being promoted within the APS in the year to 31 December 2019. The true mobility of the APS is, however, higher and includes internal moves within each agency. APSED data does not include movements at-level within agencies, or secondments among agencies. 
Engagements of ongoing employees into the APS increased by 2.9% (8,724 new employees) in 2019, compared to December 2018, which saw 8,480 new employees. Since 2001, trends in engagements have fluctuated from 2,703 during the recruitment freeze in 2014–2015 to a peak of 19,446 in the 2007 calendar year (APSED December 2019 Table 49).
Most engagements during the 2019 calendar year were at the APS 6 (20.7%), APS 4 (19.1%), and APS 5 (18.1%) levels (APSED December 2019 Table 49).
Approximately 38% of people engaged as ongoing employees were under the age of 30 years compared to just 9.8% of the ongoing APS workforce (APSED December 2019 Table 39 and APSED December 2019 Table 48).
Multi-agency experience
The majority of ongoing APS employees have only worked in one agency. At 31 December 2019, 69.5% of ongoing APS employees had only worked in one agency, 18.9% in two agencies and 11.6% in three or more agencies (APSED December 2019 Table 43).
The proportion of APS employees with multi-agency experience varied based on some key demographics. For example, ongoing employees who have worked in multiple agencies are:

  • in relatively senior roles, including 64.2% of SES and 43.7% of EL
  • located in the Australian Capital Territory — 46.5%
  • working in micro agencies of 20 staff or fewer — 67.4%
  • working in policy agencies — 52.9%.

The drivers behind these variables are arguably related. Most policy agencies are located within the Australian Capital Territory, which affects the mobility rates behind both location and agency type. Seniority is linked to employee’s tenure in the APS. The average length of service of SES is 18.9 years, affording them a greater opportunity to work across multiple agencies.

Movements between agencies and temporary transfers

As a whole, movements between agencies are a relatively small part of the mobility picture across the APS. In the 2019 calendar year, a total of 5,006 or 3.8% of ongoing employees moved to another agency within the APS either by a permanent move, as a promotion, or as a temporary transfer. Over the past 20 years, this rate has remained steady, fluctuating between 1.5% and 3.8%.

A temporary transfer is the movement of an APS employee to another APS agency, at any level, for a specified period with the intention that the employee will return to their home agency.

During the 2019 calendar year, there were 921 temporary transfers across the APS, which represented 3.6% of all movements that year and an increase of 142 from the 2018 calendar year. This is the second highest number of temporary transfers after the 2011 calendar year when there were 1037 (Figure 4.1).  

The four largest agencies (Services Australia, the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Defence and the Department of Home Affairs) make up 54.9% of the APS, but only 6.3% of temporary transfers during 2019. The agencies that had significant numbers of temporary transfers were the National Disability Insurance Agency (7.3%), the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (6.4%), the Attorney-General’s Department (5.6%) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (5.3%).

Almost three-quarters (69.5%) of temporary transfers utilised by ongoing employees were within the Australian Capital Territory despite this region making up only 38.4% of the whole APS.

A majority of temporary transfers to another APS agency were at the same classification level. Since the 2009 financial year, the proportion of temporary transfers at the same classification level ranged from 72.1% to 82.6%. In contrast, between the 2001 and 2004 financial years there was little difference in the number of temporary transfers at level and higher duties.

Employees working in Human Resources, Strategic Policy, Communications and Marketing, Project and Programme job roles are more likely to go on temporary transfer. Conversely, employees in Service Delivery, Science and Intelligence are less likely to go on temporary transfer.

Figure 4.1: Temporary transfer at level or with higher duties, 2001 ­– 2019

Women are more likely to go on temporary transfer than men. During 2019, 67.8% of temporary transfers were undertaken by women. Over the last 20 years, 66% of employees who went on temporary transfer were women. This has been consistent over time ranging from 58.9% during the 2001 calendar year to a high of 71.4% in the 2008-09 financial year.  

Women in general are more mobile than men. As well as temporary transfers, women also represent a greater proportion of permanent inter-agency movements. For example, during the 2019 calendar year, women made up 66.5% of transfers/promotions to other APS agencies.

Transfer by classification

As at 31 December 2019, the highest proportion of temporary transfers were at the APS 5-6 levels (43.1%) followed closely by ELs (37.0%). APS 3-4s made up 16.6% of temporary transfers, 2.7% were at the SES level and only 0.5% were APS 1-2s. Relative to their population size, ELs and SES are more likely to go on temporary transfer while APS 1-2s and APS 3-4s are less likely (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2: Comparison of APS employees on temporary transfer by classification level, 31 December 2019

Length of temporary transfer

The median length of time employees go on temporary transfer to another agency is approximately six months. This is a consistent trend over the last 15 years. Since 2000, around 37% of employees who went on temporary transfer ended up moving permanently to that agency within six months of the temporary transfer ending.


Employees separate from the APS through a number of mechanisms including resignations, termination of employment, retrenchment, age retirement, physical or mental incapacity, death or compulsory movement to a non-APS agency. During the 2019 calendar year, there were 11,275 separations of ongoing employees, a drop of 1,327 (or 10.5%) from 2018.  Unlike engagements, separations have remained relatively stable over time, fluctuating between approximately 7,000 and 13,000 employees per year(Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3: Comparison of Engagements and Separations, December 2000 – December 2019

Source:  APSED December 2019 Table 49 and table 63

Resignations are consistently the most common separation type, and comprised 41.5% of all separations over the 2019 calendar year.  Age retirements were the second highest separation type across the APS making up 21.2%. Age retirements have continued to increase as a proportion of all separations since 2001.
Trend data indicates the close relationship between the numbers of resignations and retrenchments. Generally, resignations fall as the number of retrenchments rise. The exception to this trend can be seen in the 2018 and 2019 calendar years where some agencies compulsorily transferred to non-APS agencies, reflected as ‘other’ in Figure 4.4. This had an impact on the proportional representation of resignations and retrenchments.
Retrenchments are the third most common separation type with 18% over the 2019 calendar year. This has declined from 23.1% in the 2018 calendar year and is the lowest proportion of separations since the 2011 calendar year (APSED December 2019 Table 63).

Figure 4.4: Separations by type, December 2000 – December 2019

Source:  APSED December 2019 Table 63