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.
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.’’
Desalination plant environmental manager Peter Doumouras.