Short­age of skills no puz­zle

A staffing prob­lem lies more in the avail­able pool of work­ers than the qual­i­fi­ca­tions they hold, CareerOne Edi­tor Cara Jenkin re­veals.

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ADE­CLINE in the work­ing pop­u­la­tion cou­pled with the high ex­pec­ta­tions of em­ploy­ers is be­hind what is la­belled as the skills short­age, labour mar­ket ex­perts say.

They be­lieve em­ploy­ers need to take more re­spon­si­bil­ity to at­tract and re­tain the work­ers they want and give staff more train­ing to get them up to speed to the level they want.

The term ‘‘skills short­age’’ has been used to re­fer to a lack of work­ers who have the skills re­quired to do the jobs on of­fer.

Work­ers them­selves are be­ing en­cour­aged to ob­tain skills re­quired through fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing to help ease the short­age.

But em­ploy­ment ex­perts re­veal a lack of work­ers is the true cause be­hind the short­age in skills while em­ploy­ers also are un­will­ing to ac­cept a stan­dard be­low what they seek when hir­ing new staff.

Na­tional In­sti­tute of Labour Stud­ies prin­ci­pal re­search fel­low Pro­fes­sor Sue Richard­son says there are some jobs in which it is hard to find a worker who has the ca­pac­ity to do a spe­cific job.

But Prof Richard­son says those skill short­ages are ‘‘re­ally rare and usu­ally preva­lent around very spe­cific, high-level skills that take a long time to ac­quire’’.

‘‘There’s a thin mar­ket. Not many em­ploy­ers want them or have them,’’ she says.

‘‘So when em­ploy­ers de­cide they want more, there isn’t a pool of them for them to draw on.’’

She says a skills short­age of­ten is used as an ex­cuse when an em­ployer has ad­ver­tised for more staff but finds there are not enough ap­pli­cants with the tech­ni­cal skills, per­sonal qual­i­ties and will­ing­ness to work for the wages on of­fer or live where the work is avail­able.

‘‘That’s the labour mar­ket work­ing,’’ she says. ‘‘If they im­proved the terms they of­fer . . . I ac­tu­ally think we don’t have a skill short­age.’’

Cor­po­rate Ed­u­ca­tion Ad­vis­ers di­rec­tor Dr Lind­say Ryan says the skills short­age ex­ists in a lack of peo­ple to do the work and a lack of peo­ple with the right qual­i­fi­ca­tions for po­si­tions.

He says the dif­fer­ence be­tween the num­ber of peo­ple en­ter­ing and ex­it­ing the work­force was nar­row­ing, from an an­nual av­er­age of 170,000 new peo­ple in 2002 to a pro­jected 12,500 new peo­ple by 2020.

Em­ploy­ers could not rely on peo­ple to re­main in the work­force be­yond re­tire­ment age, he says.

Al­ready the av­er­age ac­tual re­tire­ment age was 61.5 years for men and 58.3 years for women, as op­posed to the of­fi­cial re­tire­ment age of 65 years and well be­low sug­ges­tions for a pro­posed re­tire­ment age of 67.

He says man­agers are re­ceiv­ing fewer and fewer job ap­pli­ca­tions and al­ready are em­ploy­ing staff on the ba­sis of a ‘‘clos­est fit’’, who can be de­vel­oped rather than who have all the skills sought.

Ade­laide’s new de­sali­na­tion plant re­quired more than 1500 skilled work­ers in tech­ni­cal, re­search, con­struc­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­age­rial fields while it was built.

SA Wa­ter em­ployee Peter Doumouras, 28, was one of those on site for the past three years, start­ing in a role as­sist­ing the pro­ject’s en­vi­ron­men­tal man­ager.

Through in­ter­nal men­tor­ing and up­skilling, he now plays a key role in en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment.

He started at SA Wa­ter in its grad­u­ate pro­gram, work­ing in dif­fer­ent ar­eas un­til he gained a role as en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cer.

‘‘I would say, ever since work­ing on the de­sali­na­tion pro­ject, the work­load has in­creased quite a bit from what I was do­ing pre­vi­ously,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s more chal­leng­ing work – there’s real-life, en­vi­ron­men­tal needs to deal with day-to-day.’’

Pic­ture: Camp­bell Brodie

De­sali­na­tion plant en­vi­ron­men­tal man­ager Peter Doumouras.

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