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Is There a Skill Gap in Australia – or Just a Good Hiring Gap?

We often hear from employers that it’s difficult to get the right people to fill their positions because of the “skill gap”. That is, there simply aren’t enough qualified and suitably skilled people around to adequately step into available roles. Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 3.33.33 PM

This has potentially serious effects for the economy as a whole, and has often been the case in the past in Australia, as the country was growing.

But does this claim stand up to scrutiny by employers in Australia’s cities today?

Or does the scrutiny turn the argument around 180 degrees and point the finger back at the employers? Are they making the positions attractive enough? Are their hiring practices good enough? Are they up to the job of attracting the people they need?


Australian Skills Shortages

Compared with the US and Europe, Australian unemployment rates have remained low this past decade. The relative success of the Australian economy has created some shortages of professionals in some areas, most notably with “middle-skilled workers”. This includes “tradies” such as welders, technicians, electricians, and carpenters; also vets, chefs, auto mechanics, and medical technicians, amongst others.

A survey by the Australian Institute of Company Directors last year discovered that over half of the corporate directors who responded saw the skilled labour shortage as their biggest challenge to future growth, as the inability to keep pace with customer demand strikes.

Many fear that this “middle skills” area is likely to worsen in the future unless the country’s unemployed and underemployed can be trained in the necessary skills via apprenticeships.  However, beyond this there does not seem too much to worry about regarding an Australian “skills gap” – and certainly not in the sectors that most of our clients are operating in.

If there had been other serious shortages, then growth of the Australian economy over the past decade would have flagged them, and it would be starting to bite. But despite a few employers’ claims, evidence for this is thin on the ground.


“Skill Gap” – A Convenient Excuse?

This begs the question whether the “skill gap” is really being used by employers as a convenient excuse for their failures to attract the right people? Have they learnt this lesson from politicians I wonder?!!!

Rather than a “skills gap” is there a “good hiring policy gap”? Following are some of the hiring mistakes we see companies repeatedly making:

  • Poor job descriptions and ads, and poor interviewing technique not able to consistently attract the right talent
  • Offering uncompetitive salaries turning candidates away
  • Setting unrealistic expectations that can’t be met
  • Not engaging candidates by “selling” the vision of the company
  •  A notoriously poor company culture resulting in high staff turnover and instability in the team
  • Expecting all candidates to be degree-qualified and not being able to look beyond this
  • Employing only fully-skilled and qualified candidates in the mistaken belief that it’s always better for a company’s training budgets ( with technology changing so fast, almost all employees need ongoing training – and anyway developing talent should always be seen as a positive.)
  • Not being set up to recognise and hire potential


What Should Employers Be Doing?

Business owners need to recognise that human talent can be their great competitive advantage. That’s “talent” not necessarily “skills”.

This may mean taking a few more calculated risks with people and developing a clear vision: hiring on attitude, “cultural fit” and other potential talents, rather than blindly following the experience, skills and university degree line, for instance.

They should invest in an effective recruiting system that allows them to uncover this talent, plus the necessary training systems to develop it, and then create a culture of engagement and recognition that retains these people, reducing the churn rate and saving money in the long-term.

The “skills gap” sometimes becomes a scapegoat – unless you are a company employing largely in the middle skills area, where there are real shortages of technical skills, consider your own hiring practices: the likelihood is that the people are out there and you need to adjust your methods of recruitment to find them and get them on board.

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