Revenue fears for skillset loss from staff retirements

Revenue struggling to recruit accountants as they can earn higher wages in private sector

Nearly half of all Revenue staff are expected to retire over the course of the next decade, new figures show.

Over 6,345 people currently work for the tax authority. According to its Workforce Outlook 2017-2021 report, an average of 300 staff will retire each year over the next five years with a peak of 448 retiring in 2021.

The main union representing Revenue workers is also concerned about the retirement bubble, particularly in light of the impact Brexit will have on customs operations.

"This is something we have concerns about. I'm absolutely certain it's something management has concern about as well," said Sean Carabini, assistant general secretary of the Public Service Executive Union.

“We’re still going to have a European border on this island. We’re going to have two different economies on this island. So in regards to the customs thing, we need to make sure we have the right people in place to make sure there’s a system there to deal with it.”

More than half of Revenue workers have spent 25 years or more in the public service, with 44 per cent having at least 30 years’ service, according to the document. Civil servants can, and usually do, retire on a full pension after 40 years’ service.

Retirement is mandatory at 65. The figures show that a large proportion of Revenue staff is also nearing the milestone. Half of the organisation’s staff are aged 50 or more and one-third (2,225) are 55 or more.

Revenue is seen as one of the less glamorous Civil Service appointments. This combined with stringent compliance and oversight regulations means that it often struggles to attract younger recruits. Revenue also struggles to find recruits with accountancy degrees because accountants can earn higher wages in the private sector.

The organisation said its focus is now on replacing the large number of expected retirements.

Ageing workforce

“Revenue has a very experienced and ageing workforce,” a Revenue spokeswoman told The Irish Times. “We are therefore focused on innovation, recruitment and training.”

“Our recruitment and training strategies are focused on replacing experienced staff who are retiring, meeting new and emerging skills needs, and enhancing organisational capability,” the spokeswoman said. “In 2016, Revenue appointed 545 staff from open and interdepartmental competitions.

“To meet our business needs, it is essential that we have the right people with the right mix of skills and competencies in the right places. To do so we have to ensure that we attract and recruit talented people, build capability and innovate. They will still be professional, they will still get the work done,” Mr Carabini said. “But the problem is, the economy is changing, especially with Brexit and we need to know that Revenue are going to be given the resources to control that.”

Brian Keegan, the director of taxation with Chartered Accountants Ireland said that the main concern is that skills will be lost without proper recruitment and training. “The overriding concern is not the number of staff due to retire or indeed their age profile, it’s the skillset,” he said.

“There’s been progressive migration in Revenue towards more automated services. Everything has been pushed online. The key though is there’s always going to be technical issues and unusual situations where skilled and trained officers are required.

Complex issues

“Revenue do have an education programme in association with the University of Limerick and we would hope and expect for a dynamic, progressive economy that we have a tax authority that can actually deal with complex technical issues. And that’s all about skills.”

Mr Keegan said that measures are already under way to make sure senior positions are not left vacant.

“They have increasingly been recruiting from outside to fill middle-management positions. And if they have a progressive programme where they are replacing experienced staff with well-trained people from the private sector and maintaining their in-house training programme, they should be able to manage it out. The fact is they need to manage it out, because it is critical.”

The Department of Public Expenditure said it predicts it will have to pay an additional 1,120 civil pensions in 2017, up from 22,900 to 24,020. This represents an extra €13 million in payments.