Shortage of skills adds to wages bill

Skills shortage

By Cecily-Anna Bennett

Since the global financial crisis the job market has been in a constant state of flux, resulting in skills shortages in several industries. It is evident in mining and engineering, in finance and the professional services industry and in banking.

During the financial crisis, many organisations shed staff, along with their loyalties, which left many employees feeling disengaged, distrustful and on the hunt for another job.

Many of those who stuck it out through the tough times have become today’s jobseekers.

Peter Gleeson is the executive general manager recruitment at Chandler Macleod. He believes candidates are still disgruntled by the downturn, but the market is strong for skilled workers.

“At the end of the GFC, candidates were disenchanted with their management and the way they’d been treated during the downturn. There hadn’t been many jobs around and they were doing a lot more and being paid the same, in some cases maybe even less than they were at the start of the GFC,” he says.

“Just about every industry and every job discipline was affected during the downturn and companies are now expecting significant returns on investment.”

As business has picked up, there are fewer skilled people available. “We’re now seeing areas like sales starting to come back because companies are trying to get more product out into the marketplace. Essentially, any role that can produce profit for companies is now under demand.”

Gleeson has already witnessed the knock-on effect as a lack of skilled workers fuels a wages push for companies competing to attract and retain staff.

“Supply and demand says that salaries will increase. Certainly within our company we’re seeing two things. One is an extensive move to contracting, but we’re also starting to see a shift insofar as permanent hiring preferences go. Contractors, in IT for example, are getting paid about 40 per cent more than permanent staff.

“Companies are now attracting people into permanent roles to secure those hard-to-find skills but having to pay significantly more.”

Gleeson recommends candidates find a recruitment consultancy they can trust, that can help them better understand the market and advise where their skills are most applicable. He also advises candidates to get involved in their own networks where they can understand what is going on in the marketplace. “The reality is that employers will employ you in order to get a return on that investment, so you have to be able to show value,” he says.

The fifth Australasian Talent Conference (May 24-26, deals with many employment issues.

Trevor Vas, one of the conference founders and chief executive of Human Capital Management Solutions, saw a gap in the market for a conference that addressed the challenges faced by recruitment and talent management, that engaged senior professionals in the talent management space and embraced innovation.

The theme of the conference this year is moving recruitment into the talent management zone, a topic Vas believes is apt in the present climate, where attracting, developing and retaining desirable candidates can be a highly competitive exercise.

“I like to think the conference had been quite an instigator in creating innovation in the talent management sphere in Australia. It’s an uncomfortable scene for a lot of organisations,” Vas says. “Talent management is really about the integration of forecasting recruitment, learning and development and performance management.”

Vas believes the skills shortage is creating opportunities for candidates and has seen a sharp rise in the number of employers who are sourcing passive candidates, those who are not looking. The headhunting is fierce.

“What that means for the candidate market is they essentially have opportunities being put forward to them as a result of the market being tight,” Vas says.

“The other thing that’s happening is that candidates increasingly have a digital brand – a LinkedIn profile, for example – so it is easier for organisations to identify, network with and recruit them.”

Vas recommends candidates maintain a digital profile that is reflective of what high performers do in terms of their particular industry. Equally important is the participation in blogs, networking groups and discussions that represent leading practice. “Avoid having things on your Facebook profile that don’t reflect what is a professional approach to things,” Vas says. “Your digital footprint as a candidate is now very important from a professional sense.

“From a trade perspective, if you’re looking at working for yourself at some point, you could use a Facebook page to promote yourself.”

Considering the meteoric rise of social media, Vas sees a future for innovative recruitment strategies, such as serious games, which test a candidate’s aptitude via an online game before directing them to fill in the application. Sara De Freitas, research professor for the Institute of Serious Games in Coventry, England, will be in Sydney to discuss this innovation further at the conference.

“From both an employer and candidate perspective, the whole engagement and attraction process is moving from a static type of thing on a website to a much more interactive approach,” Vas says.

While he concedes that many people will find the serious games concept too way out, it has already been used by companies including Aldi and the armed forces; even Britain’s M16 has released a game-like comprehension test for potential spooks. Vas says candidates should be aware the whole notion of recruitment and engagement is changing. “The market is still shaky since the global financial crisis but I think it’s improved significantly, and it’s a candidates’ market by far,” says Vas. “It’s still a little bit volatile, it could change quickly.

“The other thing about the market is there are more opportunities from a project perspective; fixed-term employees, three-year gigs, for example.

“There are more of those around than there used to be and that creates a mind shift that you may not have a job for life.”

Article from The Australian, April 2011.

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