Recruiters placed on hire alert

Skills Shortage

By Julia Stirling and Lincoln Crawley  

The skills shortages are back with a vengeance now that Australia is in recovery mode, according to Lincoln Crawley, managing director of Manpower, Australia and New Zealand.

His view is supported by Manpower’s recent Talent Shortage Survey of 36,000 employers across 36 countries, that reveals Australia is one of the hardest hit by persistent shortages; with 45 per cent of employers having difficulty filling key positions within their organisation.

“No one thought the ceasefire in the war for talent would last forever; skills shortages in Australia are a long-term problem,” he says. “Australian employers having difficulty filling positions are employers across all industries and sectors, with many of Australia’s top 10 skills shortages spanning across multiple sectors. It may not be their whole workforce that’s affected, but a few key roles or a particular function.”

Skilled trades, sales representatives and engineers are the most difficult jobs to fill in Australia, all three of which have remained at the top of the local skills shortage list since 2006, Crawley says.

“An ageing population only serves to exacerbate the issue, particularly in engineering. The engineering industry is seeing experienced engineers begin to leave the workforce, and at the same time is struggling to attract new blood to the field, with a drop in university entrants to engineering degrees.” Crawley says education and training will play a large role in addressing the skills shortages in the long term, and he is hopeful government initiatives that have provided funding for vocational training courses and more university places, will impact.

Crawley says there is a problem in attracting younger people into industries such as engineering, because they want stability.

“Younger workers want qualifications that will get them a job and keep them in a job. The mining industry, for example, is cyclical in its need for engineers and fluctuations in demand mean some degree of instability which is unattractive for those looking for work,” he says. “With better management of the mining workforce, including investment in people and a more structured redeployment strategy, young people may feel more secure in choosing an engineering career in the mining industry.”

Another factor in Australia’s skills shortage is the talent mismatch. Crawley says, “There are plenty of job seekers out there, but their skills don’t always match the jobs that are available. Again, this is particularly true in the engineering sector.”

Projects, particularly in rail, power and mining, are set to come back on the agenda after being stalled by the downturn, and this will create demand for skilled engineers in this field, Crawley says. “The problem is that there will be many other engineers who are skilled in other areas, looking for work. A big tip for those engineers is to up-skill so they can be versatile in the work they can do.”

Crawley says employers are seeking more specific skill sets and are less willing to engage in anticipatory hiring, but he believes it is going to become a tactic employers will need to look at more closely. “Employers want to find an `exact fit’ for their job ads. They don’t just look for a sales representative, they look for a sales representative who has experience dealing with IT resellers, or a skilled tradesman with expertise in commercial lighting. But what happens when they can’t find the person who ticks every box?,” he says.

“Anticipatory hiring is a type of recruitment tactic which looks at hiring someone who can be moulded into a position, anticipating that they will grow into the role and eventually be able to tick all the boxes that are needed for that position.”

Manpower’s Borderless Workforce Survey and Relocating workforce Survey advises 75 per cent of those surveyed would consider relocating for a better job opportunity, and 40 per cent said they’d consider moving permanently. Crawley advises employers to think outside their traditional talent sources to find the people they need, such as in low- growth industries where candidates would be willing to migrate to new fields.

“These workers may require training, but many would just need to have their skill set translated to work for them in their new industry,” he says.

Employers should also consider current employees who may be eligible for redeployment into different roles because, according to Crawley, the best source of new talent are the people already familiar with the company and its business objectives.

Crawley says most employers put more emphasis on `hard skills’ such as technical capabilities and knowledge, and tend to underestimate the importance of ‘soft skills’, such as the readiness to learn.

“Soft skills are equally, if not more, important for a candidate’s success – hard skills are more easily taught.”

Mentoring programs are also helpful and continual training and development of staff are vital,” he says.

Crawley says there are no quick fixes and employers will need parallel strategies that look at long term and short term remedies.

“While we work to address local skills shortages, we still need people on-site, right now. Which means overseas workers will have to play a role in meeting the demand in the short term,” he says. “If employers are considering skilled migrants, they need to approach it as part of a broader workforce planning strategy not just plugging the gaps as they appear.

“Sponsoring overseas workers can, for example, include more costs than just their salary it may also include travel, medical and housing costs.”

Battle skills
– Be flexible both with the people you already have, and in your search for new people.
– Look at how you could up-skill your existing workforce to fill upcoming roles
– Consider how your company could get involved in attracting younger people and workforce entrants into your industry. Graduate programs, and opportunities for regional and international secondments can be attractive drawcards.
– Focus on retaining your existing talented employees. Competitive pay, career opportunities, work-life balance and management quality are still key factors that can reduce staff turnover. If it’s going to be difficult to find a replacement, make sure you are looking after the staff you have.
– When looking to hire, make sure you look at soft skills too, such as willingness and capability to learn. Hiring people who are versatile and diverse in their skill-sets can make a big difference in the long term.

Article from The Weekend Australian, August 7, 2010.

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