How to survive the skills crunch

My team often hear where skill shortages are emerging well before data filters through the usual channels.

On the flipside, we also hear from employers who still have recruitment freezes because of continued flat economic conditions.

Lena“Economy is improving, green shoots are showing, where?” they ask. That view has come through loud and clear in the hospitality and retail sectors of late.

With WA dominated by mining and resources, these industries feel skills shortages first as lots of new projects come online at the same time.

Regional areas near mining and resource projects are more susceptible to feeling skills shortages due to lower populations and available skill pools.

Here’s the skill shortages we’ve heard about:

  • About 18 months ago in the Pilbara and Goldfields, we started to hear from regional employers struggling to find certain types of skills, such as mechanics and tradies.
  • Driven by investment in defence and mining contracts, our Apprenticeship Support Australia Job Match Service has received lots of requests from employers looking for skilled or apprentices in metal fabrication (welders and boiler makers).
  • We are also seeing employers in mining and manufacturing really struggling to meet their skills requirements in for heavy duty mechanics, diesel mechanics, fitters and plant mechanics.
  • Labour market research released by the Department of Jobs and Small Business shows the health sector is experiencing shortages in highly skilled positions such as physiotherapists and sonographers, while in the automotive industry there are shortages of panel beaters and vehicle painters.

What you can do

But there are some things you can do to help lessen the impact of an impending shortage of labour.

Take the example of Kalgoorlie, which has been proactive across government and industry in its approach. When it emerged that up to 1000 positions were available, the community came up with a campaign to attract workers and families to the region.

The Kalgoorlie Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry brought employers to Perth for a skills drive (the Kal Jobs Expo held here at CCIWA) as well as launched its own jobs board specifically for the Goldfields-Esperance region.

The expo was successful in raising awareness of jobs in the region and another has been planned for March 29.

We talk to lots of different employers across industries about workforce development strategies. While it’s different for every industry, some of the basics of avoiding a skills crisis are the same:

  • Plan ahead: Do some workforce planning by analysing the skills sets, job roles and operations that drive your business. Consider what you have now, and what you will need in five years’ time. Any gaps you identify will help you put in place strategies to upskill existing workers or look for ways to bring in new people to train them up to meet your expected needs.
  • Keep training: Even when it’s quiet, try and make investing in skills a priority, so when things do pick up again, you won’t get caught short scrambling to find the skills you need to maximise your productivity.
  • Make your business an ‘employer of choice’: When the economy picks up, jobs become abundant and people start to chase higher salaries or better conditions. Make it a really hard decision for your staff to leave by offering flexible conditions and enjoyable working environment. This doesn’t have to be expensive either. Offering options such allowing staff to vary their start and finish times to meet family or personal commitments is a great one.

Lena Constantine is the Manager of Apprenticeship Support Australia.

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