According to the October 2021 Employment Report by employment marketplace SEEK, job advertisements were at a record high. In its 23 years-plus history, SEEK had the highest number of job ads posted in a single month. Year-on-year, advertisements were up by 63.2% and all states and territories had more jobs ads compared to October 2019, when COVID-19 did not exist.
These figures were reinforced in the September 2021 Business Conditions Survey by Business NSW. It found that more than 40% of NSW businesses were already experiencing skills shortages even in the middle of the most recent lockdown.
The strong demand for staff highlights the shortage of available talent. It’s little wonder considering our borders have been shut to skilled migrants, working holidaymakers and international students for more than 18 months.
With some businesses unable to operate as a result of the pandemic, local employees have seized the opportunity to reassess career options and explore different paths. This has amplified the skills shortage across areas such as hospitality, retail and tourism.
The Skills Priority List published in June 2021, outlines nationwide shortages in over 150 occupations with almost half of those occupations projected to have strong future demand. These occupations cover every industry sector and particularly exist in health, construction, manufacturing and finance.
These shortages are having significant impacts on businesses.
Long-term vacancies impact existing workers, can lead to higher turnover and burnout. Business NSW surveys have consistently found that existing workers bear the brunt of skills shortages. This impact is going to be especially challenging given the high rates of COVID-related stress and burnout already being felt by many workers.
Skills shortages impact businesses' productivity, competitiveness and innovation. The business surveys show that many businesses miss out on opportunities or lose customers as a result of carrying vacancies.
Skills shortages can also have significant direct impacts on the community – particularly when occurring in health care and social assistance areas.
Governments have recognised the plight of many businesses and are addressing the issue, starting with a relaxation of the rules for people entering Australia from overseas. Fully vaccinated people will no longer be required to apply for an exemption to enter our country from 1 December, or to quarantine in some states. It is expected that about 200,000 temporary visa holders will enter Australia over the next few months with skilled migrants, international students and working holidaymakers among them.
David Harding, executive director, policy and advocacy at Business NSW said this was a step in the right direction however more needed to be done.
“Skills and labour shortages have already risen as a key economic constraint through COVID-19, and the re-opened borders will mitigate some of the skills gaps – but by no means all," he said.
“Competencies, both cultural and technical are what the new sectors will need as well as traditional skilling, and we will need to fight to gain and retain top global talent, as well as retain our own talent against the backdrop of a global market in skills scarcity and renewed personal choice."
Mr Harding said fixing labour shortages would require good, balanced policy decisions going forward.
"We will be assisting skills development and advocating for good policy decisions throughout 2022 and beyond to help mitigate the effects of longer-term skills shortages,” he said.