What role can businesses play in solving the skills crisis?
14 November 2023 | Minutes to read: 3

What role can businesses play in solving the skills crisis?

By Jamie McKeough

For years, but more acutely in the last 2 years, businesses across South Australia have been crying out for skilled workers.

The shortage isn’t confined to a single sector; it permeates through most sectors including the professions, aged care, manufacturing, cybersecurity, tourism, defence, and space industries to name a few.

Conversations with our clients consistently echo the same sentiment – finding suitably skilled workers remains one of their most significant challenges.

The results from the Business SA, William Buck Survey of Business Expectations for the September 2023 quarter affirm this reality. 55% of businesses are experiencing labour shortages – overwhelmingly 46% of respondents identified the scarcity of adequately skilled workers as a major hurdle they face today. It is also seen by business as the number one constraint to long term growth.

Digging through the raw data of the survey this week offered an insight into the struggles employers are grappling with. The results show the larger the business, the larger the issue.

Undeniably, there is a shortage of skilled workers. However, if businesses continue waiting for the perfect candidates or offering unsustainable salaries in pursuit of what might be considered a ‘unicorn recruits,’ they’ll likely face a continuing wait or risk financial strain by paying above market rates. It looks like the labour market fundamentals are not going to change any time soon – so this is a long-term issue for business. The biggest pool within a labour short market will remain school leavers, inexperienced graduates, and unskilled workers.

Business owners need to acknowledge their pivotal role in creating a skilled workforce for the state. We all know that skilling workers within a business is a combination of on-the-job and structured training, that is often complimented by a qualification (degree, Vet, apprenticeship). I encourage business to rethink and possibly recalibrate their role in upskilling workers – to think about drawing from this unskilled or inexperienced pool, and then about how, and how quickly, they are training them.

For decades, William Buck has been recruiting fresh university graduates and training them to become the skilled workers our firm needs.’ Many of the progressive businesses we work with are increasing their commitment to taking on unskilled or inexperienced workers and fast-tracking their training through a combination of better and more structured in-house training, and better on the job training. It’s not new, it’s just changing the proportions of who and where, and the speed, the upskilling comes from – how much from educational institutions and how much from businesses themselves.

Well-educated graduates are seeking opportunities and can infuse organisations with fresh energy and innovative ideas. VET qualifications will support a range of industries suffering a shortage of skills.

Their lower expected wages, owing to minimal industry experience, can also provide relief for businesses dealing with inflated overheads and declining sales, as also highlighted in this quarter’s survey of business expectations. A more rapid upskilling contributes to greater productivity which all businesses seek – and the nation needs it!

Obviously, it is not solely the responsibility of business owners to mend the skills crisis. State and Federal governments have a crucial role to play in creating pathways for VET and university students, incentivising employers to take on trainees, apprentices and graduates directly or by Group Training Organisations. But more and more successful businesses are taking it upon themselves to play a greater role in solving their number one issue – a shortage of skilled workers – good on them! Creating their own “centres of excellence”, or “learning academy’s”, or simply re-deploying existing staff into designated training roles. I encourage others too as well.

Additionally, it’s imperative that governments set policies to facilitate skilled migration to our state and to the sectors in most need. So too, establishing mechanisms to attract and accommodate short term international workers interested in working in South Australia is so important.

I appreciate it won’t be easy and I do understand that some businesses, in some industries, may not be in a position, or have the skills themselves to invest in graduates, apprentices, or unskilled workers. But for many, this type of thinking will result in a suitably skilled and thriving workforce.

By fostering an environment of collaboration across industries, along with concerted efforts from the government and the education sector, I am confident that we can make significant headway in addressing the ongoing skills shortage which looks set to be around for a while.

What role can businesses play in solving the skills crisis?

Jamie McKeough

Jamie is the Managing Partner in South Australia and Chair of the William Buck Board of Partners. Jamie provides business and financial management, tax and accounting advice to clients across many different industries. His key strengths are in problem solving and understanding business models and the key drivers of business.

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