Where’s the gap in the ‘skills gap’?
Earlier this year the National Skills Commission produced a Skills Priority List report detailing the jobs and industries where there is a national shortage of people to fill the roles. Whilst the fact that there’s a skills shortage is widely known, do you actually know what jobs we’re struggling to fill in Australia? Where is the gap in the ‘skills gap’?
There is a common misconception that jobs where there’s a talent shortage are more entry level type roles or roles that are seen as trades. On the Skills Priority List of top twenty largest occupations with severe employee shortages, only six are roles that could be considered to fit this group. The roles covered on the top twenty list are diverse in terms of education levels required, the industries they generally work in and the level of experience required to do the roles. This shows that the skills gap runs right through all segments of our Australian workforce.
Of the top twenty list, the roles where demand is strongest are aged or disabled carer, electrician, storeperson, waiter, child care worker, and program or project administrator. The education required for these roles varies from potentially none, through to Certificate III, degree level and beyond.
There are certain sectors that have made national headlines due to their shortage: hospitality, healthcare and education being examples of them.
The coverage of the teacher shortage recently has been extensive, however, it mostly addresses the lack of secondary school teachers. What hasn’t particularly been covered is that there are shortages across the entire profession with a lack of early childhood, primary, secondary and vocational education teachers. This shortage is a global issue with the UK and US reporting similar challenges. Australia has looked abroad to fill the gaps, fast tracking visas for teachers to enter the country. However, both the UK and US are looking at the same option, including trying to recruit teachers from Australia. Simply put, there aren’t enough teachers to go round.
Whilst the healthcare sector shortage isn’t as severe as the teaching one, it’s similar in that the entire healthcare industry is affected, starting with aged and disabled carers, nurses, general practitioners and medical specialists. As with the education sector, initially retired health professionals, particularly nurses, were asked to return to work. Clearly this is a short term solution to an increasing issue.
The hospitality sector is facing different challenges. Before Covid-19 much of Australia’s hospitality employees were from overseas. Those who returned home during the pandemic have not returned, leaving the industry in crisis and forcing closure of even more venues for staffing reasons.
So is there an easy solution to the ‘skills gap’ that keeps being mentioned? The short answer is no. The more complex answer is that there needs to be a roadmap put in place which takes into consideration elements such as understanding the career interests of current high school students relative to where the skills are needed, monitoring and managing university place numbers for certain subjects, and skills and careers of overseas people applying for visas to Australia.
The good news is that there are lots of employment options both for Australians and those wanting to come here to work. And available jobs for those with a wide variety of skills and qualifications. It does mean that the tertiary education sector needs to incentivize relevant courses for students, whether by offering fee free options, recognition of prior learning where appropriate, or mixed mode of study with both online and in person options. This would at least offer some shorter term solutions to some employment gaps.
The key however is developing and implementing strategies now to ensure Australia has many of the skills it needs for sustained economic prosperity in the future. And to do this in a more coordinated and effective way than it is done at the present.