23 December 2021

'Not enough fish in the ocean': luring staff a challenge as employment bounces back

| Katrina Condie
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Man and woman tradies erecting TV on wall

Young people are being encouraged to learn a trade to help ease the skilled labour shortage in Canberra. Photo: Detlev’s Electrical.

The ACT unemployment rate has rebounded from its COVID-19 lockdown high, adding further pressure to businesses consistently reporting they can’t find the skills and workers they need.

Employment data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday, 16 December, 2021, shows ACT jobs returning, with the November unemployment rate down to 3.8 per cent from a high of 6.6 per cent in October. The national unemployment rate fell by 0.6 percentage points to 4.6 per cent in November.

Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt says the bounce back is unsurprising.

“Jobs have returned as the hospitality, retail, events and other sectors that were most impacted by lockdown came back to life,” he says.

“Without the support of JobKeeper, these sectors were hit particularly hard. What we don’t know is how many people have left these sectors to find more secure work.”

Graham says access to skilled labour will be a key challenge for all sectors in the New Year.

“The mismatch of people looking for work and businesses looking for workers that have the right skills will be a handbrake on the economy,” he said.

“Businesses need help to find the right staff. Job seekers need assistance connecting with these businesses, many of who are small or medium-size.

READ ALSO: Holiday job ignited extraordinary career path for Detlev’s electrical services boss

“And governments need to create policy frameworks that allow businesses to get on with the task of creating jobs.”

Detlev’s electrical services managing director Grae Munro is one of many Canberra business owners struggling to find skilled staff, including project managers, leading hands, electricians and appliance technicians.

“There’s just not enough fish in the ocean to fill the vacancies we have,” he says.

“During the past year, we’ve advertised a range of positions and we’ve been lucky to get a dozen applications, but unfortunately most of those have not been suited for the job.”

Grae believes attracting young people into trades and teaching them skills and to have pride in their work is the key.

“It’s definitely a great career choice because there’s so much construction work going on in Canberra,” he says.

“The industry is booming at the moment and it’s a good opportunity for young kids to start a career they can be proud of.”

Detlev’s employs around 40 staff across the residential and commercial electrical and home automation sector, servicing the Canberra region as well as Yass, Goulburn and the NSW South Coast.

Grae will be offering electrical apprenticeships and recruiting to fill trade and management roles in the New Year.

Grae Munro from Detlev's electrical services

Detlev’s electrical services general manager Grae Munro is struggling to find skilled staff for his business. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The Canberra Business Chamber has welcomed the ACT Government’s initiative in launching a grants program to attract skilled workers to the ACT, with a focus on innovation and collaboration.

However, Graham says commitment and investment in a long-term skills and workforce strategy is needed.

“We need a clear plan that sets out how we’ll address these challenges through policy and investment during the next five to 10 years,” he says.

“We think it’s also the right time to consider how Canberra’s value proposition is marketed nationally and internationally.

“It’s critical the plan is developed through genuine collaboration between government, industry and the education sector.

“Until we start to think and plan strategically for the long-term, our struggle with the challenges of finding skilled workers will continue to be a barrier to business growth and the ACT economy.”

Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) CEO Leanne Cover says there are shifts in demand for skills across the ACT and Australian labour markets.

“The recent COVID-19 disruption is an example of how the local job market can be impacted when skills shortages emerge in industries such as healthcare, tourism and hospitality,” she says.

“The CIT JobTrainer programs are critical to improving employment outcomes for participants, and to support the ACT and region’s recovery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Leanne says CIT is engaged with Skills Canberra, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, and employment service providers to address the skills shortages emerging in the region.

“By collaborating with these stakeholders, CIT is able to respond and adapt to provide programs that enable people who may be disengaged from education and employment to develop skills and secure employment,” she says.

CIT programs include pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships and other full qualifications, along with short online courses and skill-set training.

“As individuals, we must be life-long learners,” says Leanne. “At CIT, we are seeing people studying at all stages of life, whether it is to upskill or reskill – there are just so many opportunities.”

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I’ve seen areas in the Federal Public Service that are desperate for IT graduates.

Decent salary and great long term job stability.

You might think it would be easy to find takers.

But as soon as you add the term “mainframe” the interested people just can’t be found.

These jobs are there, but people just don’t want them.

Presumably either there are so many IT jobs around that graduates have a lot to pick from, or perhaps it is too easy for such people to prosper without a job.

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