Bridging The Skills Gap

12 August 2021 Elizabeth Painter

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Help! Is an often heard cry from companies who rely on skilled and qualified people to support their operations. Whether they are manufacturers or IT service providers, all company’s trade on their expertise. 


The skilled trade shortage is not a new dilemma in Australia. The global events over the past 18months have certainly highlighted vulnerabilities throughout the world as countries come to grips with the real extent of their home grown talent, but the literature has been clear on this for more than half a decade. A 2016 article in Economic Analysis and Policy reported that half of surveyed businesses indicated “skill shortages result in low productivity, failure to meet deadlines and impacts on a firm’s credibility” (Sharma, Oczkowski & Hicks). The businesses surveyed were all from the ‘food bowl’ in Australia’s Riverina region and included food manufacturing, industrial and engineering companies. 


Anecdotally I can confirm from conversations I’ve had with business and economic & policy leaders all over Australia, and in particular the Riverina, these sentiments and experiences have only intensified in the last eighteen months. Although the challenge of securing skilled tradespeople is one company’s face throughout Australia, the potential impact to homes and pantries nationwide is easier to conceptualise when you imagine fields without machinery capable of harvesting, or manufacturing plants without tradespeople to make equipment to bring food from farms to plates. 


How can such a potentially catastrophic shortage of skilled labour not be met by intense wage growth? I consider it a privilege to work for skilled tradespeople and engineers throughout Australia and facilitating workforces for critical company’s that every Australian relies on daily, whether they realise it or not, to put food and essentials in the home and keep our economy moving. When we compare the wage and income potential of industries such as finance and IT, should these same incentives not exist in fields and industries that provide food and basic necessities? 


Another aspect of Sharm, Oczkowski & Hicks 2016 article was the increase in operating costs associated when businesses couldn’t fill skilled vacancies. It is time we as a nation start considering the commercial impact of not identifying, employing and suitably rewarding our skilled workers and then perhaps we will start to see a growth of interest in the area. 


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