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Australia’s looming skill shortage

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Ocean Road Magazine, 15 November 2021

With international borders closed for over 18 months and multiple restrictions and lock-downs impacting the economy and business operations, you would think that ‘Freedom Day’ and the easing of restrictions towards the end of 2022 will be the key to unlocking business growth opportunities.  As we begin to see people return to normal social and economic activities, like going shopping or going out to dinner, the concerning reality is that Australia’s looming skills crisis may put a significant dampener on the party.

While the recent discourse from Government has been centred around paving a roadmap to recovery via easing restrictions and opening state and international borders, neither of these will be the ‘silver bullet’ that solves the skills shortage. In fact, I believe we may encounter the opposite.

The reality is, that people are going to resign in droves as soon as they can find the confidence to move around again, either through increased recruitment due to higher business and economic certainty, or geographically, around Australia and internationally.  Some commentators are already referring to the ‘Great Resignation’ as high stress and boredom drive people to reconsider their priorities and options over the next 6 months.

We may also see many migrants who are able to travel deciding not to come to Australia due to how closed off and isolating our approach has been during COVID; they may view coming to Australia as a risk to being able to return home.

With these high risk forecasts at play, businesses need to be on the front foot of action and planning in order to combat the prolonged potential skill shortage they may face, in order to secure their business and economic growth in an uncertain market.

What can businesses to do to safeguard their future?

Rethink your hiring process

The National Skills Commission has indicated that recruitment is down due to continuous lock down, restrictions and business uncertainty. However, with vaccination rates climbing and the recent Government announcement on the ‘roadmap out of lockdown’, we will soon be seeing restrictions ease and hiring resume. However, the issue for many businesses will be finding the right fit on the other end of the hiring process, especially in industries already facing a skills shortage such as agriculture, infrastructure and regional hospitality.

In order to combat this, businesses will need to take a more inclusive approach to their hiring process. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high, and are usually not given opportunities to employment due to their lack of work experience. However, if we’re not giving them the opportunity to work, then they will not gain any experience. Consider hiring a younger employee with the view to invest in development and training to see their growth and success. Employees who are invested in usually feel a sense of loyalty to the business, leading to increased productivity and commitment.

Similarly, think about ensuring that your hiring process is also welcoming of mature employees and isn’t limited by a traditional mindset of the ideal worker (who is generally 30-something and has around 7 – 10 years relevant experience). We see many highly skilled, vastly experienced and capable employees overlooked due to their age. While their high-level experience may at times make them appear over-qualified, it’s important to recognise that many mature aged employees have the desire to stay in the workforce and contribute their knowledge and expertise at a variety of different levels.

Invest in training

The right candidate may not have the right qualifications. This goes against everything recruiters and business leaders have learned or practiced, however, giving candidates with the right attitude and a well-rounded view of business and common-sense a chance is critical to combating this looming skill shortage. It is vital, however to invest in relevant training and development in order for the candidate to be able to succeed.

 By re-balancing roles and positions through training and inclusion to suit people who hail from diverse work experiences, businesses will be able to minimise the impact of the looming skills shortage.

We need to be taking a long-term view of this situation and not leave our solutions in the hands of eased restrictions and opened borders. Being proactive by strategically and creatively planning your workforce to overcome obstacles that pose large risks toy our business is the key to coming out of this pandemic on-top.

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