Bridging the skills gap in Australia

Written by
Changeboard Team

24 Mar 2012

24 Mar 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Skills shortages in Australia

70% of organisations in Australia are experiencing skills shortages, with the largest shortage in the public sector, according to research carried out for a new report published by Hays.

In our Bridging the skills gap we surveyed 462 organisations across Australia and found that the epidemic of absent skills is one of the most important issues affecting the labour market today.

The skills lacking vary between organisations and even departments, but the question facing us all remains the same: how do we respond and close the gap?
Australia is a regional economic leader, and the issue of a skills shortfall is hugely important for us. The ability to overcome skills shortages and secure the top talent will be critical to business success.

In the new report we present a six-point strategy to help organisations close the skills gap. This has been designed to highlight the main areas of focus needed to attract and retain the most appropriate and skilled professionals.

1) Be flexible

In order to adapt to the changing market. This includes considering existing employees, who are not only a rich source of information but who have also already demonstrated their commitment and ‘fit’ with the organisation.

Other ‘flexible’ strategies include considering transferable skills and recruiting based on the potential of professionals. Such flexibility allows you to open a vacancy to a larger pool of professionals who have experience, suit the organisation, and can become a highly valued asset with a little technical training. 

In addition, embracing flexible working options - which the public sector does very well - allows an organisation to not only retain critical skills but widens the pool of potential talent to include those that need flexibility to remain in the workforce.

2) Have a plan

To identify the key roles and likely requirement patterns in your organisation. At the most basic level, this means examining where you are heading and comparing this to the skills - and the skill gaps - you currently have within your organisation or department.

Recruitment planning, the development of a succinct process, a tailored offer, the effective use of temporary assignments and mobile technology should also be part of the planning process. 

3) Create an employment brand

To attract like-minded professionals aligned to your values. If in doubt of this strategy, consider that those organisations with strong employment brands receive unsolicited applications from people who want to work for them. 

4) Source far and wide

And include the under-utilised talent pools: the first of these is overseas skills. Today’s recruitment market is global and there is a wider-ranging acceptance of the benefit of an overseas recruitment campaign and of the importance of migration to economic growth. 

Secondly, attract mature age employees by implementing age-friendly recruitment practices (including writing vacancy advertisements that focus on skills not age and reviewing the practices and attitudes of hiring managers). Consider phased retirements. 

Thirdly, create workplaces that enable women to participate at full capacity. A program to assist women into senior management can also expand the pool of talent internally with leadership potential and improve retention. 

Finally, don’t discount former employees. It's a sensible strategic move to maintain contact with your potential ‘boomerang’ employees via a formal alumni program or a more casual online forum. In addition to these under-utilised talent pools, new technology and social media are also factors in a comprehensive search.

5) Training and development

Involves open communication with staff and up-skilling existing employees to build a more talented workforce capable of handling the required workflow. But remember, training doesn’t always have to be in the classroom. Coaching and mentorships should also be considered.

6) Focus on retention

And start with the benchmarking of great performers, then recruit to these criteria. A retention plan also includes training people well, performance management, career development, succession planning and engagement. Also critical is assessing managers; people join companies and leave people.

We stress, however, that adopting one or two of these points in isolation is not enough to overcome the severity of the skills shortage that Australia will face. Rather, we advise organisations to combine these strategies and use them in parallel to forge a robust and effective strategy.