Addressing skills shortages

Skills shortages have been a major constraining factor on the Australian economy over the last five years. This year, companies could be forgiven for thinking that a skills shortage will not be an issue due to predictions of rising unemployment as a result of worsening global economic conditions. However, this is not the case.

Industry groups are pleading with government not to ‘drop the ball’ on ensuring that Australia continues to build the skilled workforce that it needs to carry the country through and beyond the current world economic conditions. The Australian Industry Group’s recent submission to the 2009/10 Federal Budget calls for investment in the ‘drivers of growth’ of the economy, including education and training.

Skills shortage relief for Australian businesses may be short lived, and for the gas industry with its own specific areas of skill specialisations, there may be little respite.

The Australian Government estimates that an additional 240,000 trade and technical roles will be created in Australia by 2016. With the increasing number of 55+ year old ‘baby boomers’ retiring over the next 5–10 years, it is evident that accessing the youth labour market will become critical for industries to meet their skill requirements for future growth.

The issue is that young people don’t just magically decide that they want to work in particular industries, and they don’t necessarily come complete with the skills they need to be valuable employees.

Research has shown that often a young person’s career choice is determined early in their life. Most often, key influencing factors include either a respected person such as a parent, relative or teacher; or, a positive experience that they have when engaged with an industry in some way.

Many businesses around Australia are discovering that an effective way to tap into the youth labour market is to get involved in career development programs with young people in schools.

Participation in these programs can include:

  • Speaking to school students about opportunities within gas industry businesses;
  • Conducting work site tours for young people, parents and teachers;
  • Offering practical work-based projects where young people work with businesses on real-life projects; and,
  • Hosting students for structured workplace learning as part of vocational education programs in schools or employing an apprentice or trainee.

  • The CAA network

    Engaging with young people in the school system can be problematic for the uninitiated, and with that in mind, the Career Advice Australia (CAA) network has been established by the Australian Government.

    The CAA network can help businesses engage with young people and assist in the development of a future skilled workforce. There are 57 regional industry career advisors covering all areas of Australia who can help businesses connect with local young people.

    Ai Group National Manager for Careers and Education Sally Naughton believes that industry and school partnerships enable businesses to communicate directly with young people and those who influence their career decisions.

    “Partnerships between schools and industry ensure that young people have the most current and accurate information about their career options, and they have the chance to learn directly from business about career opportunities and to see firsthand what they involve,” says Ms Naughton.

    The relationships developed often lead to employment outcomes between businesses and young people who develop a connection. An example is Queensland’s Sun Engineering, which now consistently generates a pool of quality candidates for its apprenticeship positions. The company receives an additional insight into the skills and work ethics of many of these candidates based on prior engagement in structured work placements and collaboration in projects with local schools.

    Proactive workforce planning that is underpinned by appropriate attraction, recruitment, development and retention strategies, is a workable solution to the problem of competing for skilled workers in an increasingly problematic economic situation. It can ensure future success for Australian industry.

    For more information about CAA network and the contact details of regional industry career advisors, contact Nigel Martin, National Industry Career Specialist for ElectroComms and Energy Utilities, on 07 3244 1777, or email nmartin@aigroup.asn.au

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