Un­tapped tal­ent

More moth­ers will need to go back to work to off­set short­ages cre­ated by an age­ing work­force, Ca­reerOne Edi­tor Cara Jenkin re­ports.

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MOTH­ERS are loom­ing as the un­tapped re­source of the labour mar­ket for em­ploy­ment providers who are brac­ing for an ex­o­dus of re­tir­ing work­ers and the cre­ation of thou­sands of new jobs.

Low birth rates mean there are fewer young work­ers en­ter­ing the work­force than the num­ber of older work­ers who will re­tire in the next 10 years, mean­ing new staff need to be found in the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion to do the work.

The Train­ing and Skills Com­mis­sion es­ti­mates 84,000 work­ers will be needed to re­place re­tir­ing staff in South Aus­tralia in the next four years, above and be­yond the 78,000 work­ers re­quired to fill the new jobs be­ing cre­ated in this time.

Women who have left the labour force or scaled back their hours to raise chil­dren will be tar­geted to do the in­creas­ing amount of work that is be­com­ing avail­able.

Aus­tralian In­sti­tute for So­cial Re­search ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Dr John Spoehr says it is still dif­fi­cult for women to re­turn to their ca­reer af­ter they have had time off for chil­dren.

He says as well as find­ing new work­ers, the Fed­eral and State gov­ern­ments want to in­crease the par­tic­i­pa­tion of staff in the work­force.

But he says there are some sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers to putting that into prac­tice, par­tic­u­larly for par­ents who need to care for their chil­dren.

‘‘There’s this group of women who, with rel­a­tively mod­est sup­port, are an un­tapped pool of labour for em­ploy­ers strug­gling to fill skill short­ages,’’ he says.

‘‘Gov­ern­ments and labour mar­ket providers need to be mind­ful of sup­port­ing par­ents back into the work­place. Putting up pro­grams de­signed to sup­port re-en­gage­ment, con­fi­dence-build­ing and up­grad­ing of skills can be im­por­tant for some women. For other women, it’s go­ing to be time and money – that’s their bar­rier.’’

The Aus­tralian Work and Life In­dex 2010 states any ef­fort for part­time women work­ers to move to full­time work is un­likely to be suc­cess­ful un­less poli­cies and work­place ar­range­ments change to re­duce the bur­den on women.

It finds women will be more will- ing and able to re­turn to the work­force or in­crease hours if they have a job that pro­vides them with work/ life bal­ance.

Uni­ver­sity of South Aus­tralia Hawke Re­search In­sti­tute re­search fel­low Dr Natalie Skin­ner says full­time fe­male em­ploy­ees with chil­dren aged un­der 18 years es­pe­cially strug­gle with work/life bal­ance.

‘‘If we want women and moth­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, to par­tic­i­pate, for a start we need to have flex­i­bil­ity so they can work and man­age all their fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and things like that,’’ she says.

But Dr Skin­ner says en­cour­ag­ing more flex­i­ble work­ing ar­range­ments for men also is needed to help lure moth­ers back to the work­force.

If more men can take on par­ent­ing du­ties, more women can feel sup­ported to re­turn to work, she says.

‘‘The other side of that story is there’s a lot of men out there and they are the ones work­ing longer hours and they want to en­gage in par­ent­ing as well and they are just not able to do that,’’ she says.

Dr Spoehr says even in work­places with flex­i­ble work­ing ar­range­ments, the take-up can be rel­a­tively low be­cause man­agers are not sup­port­ive of that.

‘‘There has to be a revo­lu­tion in this think­ing to make sure that flex­i­ble work­ing ar­range­ments are in place and they are ac­tu­ally avail­able to em­ploy­ers who need them.’’

He says em­ploy­ers will have to con­sider of­fer­ing child­care ar­range­ments, such as on-site fa­cil­i­ties or sub­si­dis­ing the cost of out­side fa­cil­i­ties.

Mother-of-three Kelly Nielsen has re­turned to the work­force af­ter 16 years at home rais­ing her chil­dren.

‘‘My kids were all at school and didn’t need me as much any more and I was bored stay­ing at home,’’ the 35-year-old says.

‘‘I was very ap­pre­hen­sive (about re­turn­ing af­ter be­ing out of the work­force for so long).

‘‘I had no train­ing and no ex­pe­ri­ence or any­thing.’’

Ms Nielsen was em­ployed in July last year as a care worker with ACH Group af­ter spend­ing two years look­ing for a part-time job.

She stud­ied a cer­tifi­cate III in aged care and is now work­ing to­wards cer­tifi­cate IV and may pur­sue fur­ther study to fur­ther her ca­reer in the health sec­tor, which suf­fers from a skill short­age.

She says the work pro­vides flex­i­bil­ity, which she be­lieves makes it a good op­tion for moth­ers re­turn­ing to the work­force.

She can work shifts that al­low her to take her chil­dren to and from school.

‘‘I’ve been lov­ing it. I love talk­ing to peo­ple, just the so­cial side of it,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m thank­ful be­cause there’s so much op­por­tu­nity for TAFE cour­ses and go­ing on fur­ther. I never thought it would hap­pen be­cause I didn’t fin­ish high school.

‘‘It’s been hard go­ing back as a ma­ture stu­dent but it’s worth it.’’

ACH Group chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Mike Rungie says work­ing moth­ers are well suited to aged-care jobs.

‘‘Care work­ers have the flex­i­bil­ity of be­ing able to work short shifts and pick the times and days they want to work,’’ he says. ‘‘They can choose work hours to bal­ance their fam­ily com­mit­ments with a set num­ber of three to five-hour shifts over a week.’’

Pic­ture: NAOMI JEL­LI­COE

Aged-care worker Kelly Nielsen stud­ies at home with her daugh­ters Am­ber, 9, and Aliesha, 14.

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