Widening the pool of workers

I’ve lived through the 1980s boom, early 90s bust, late nineties boom, early naughties bust and and the late naughties boom.

However, each bust time we shed staff and each boom time we wonder where the skilled people are and why young Australians, who saw their parents downsized, are not loyal to big corporations .  I think a philosopher once said that “doing the same thing and hoping for different results was the definition of insanity.”

Every CEO and manager I talk to is finding it difficult to attract sufficient numbers of the right skills, right here and right now.  And Australia has an ageing population and a low fertility rate, so four and a half times fewer young people are joining our workforce than did 30 years ago.

According to forecasts from the Australian Government, around 70 per cent of new employment to 2011–12 is expected to come from four industries. The largest contribution is projected to be from the Health and Community Services industry which is expected to add 170 000 jobs over the next five years, growing at 3.0% per year.

The other industries likely to add large numbers of new jobs are Property and Business Services (136 200), Retail Trade (128 200) and Construction (82 500). Personal and Other Services (43 400 new jobs) and Accommodation, Cafés and Restaurants (39 000) are also expected to contribute a large number of jobs.

At the same time, analysts are saying that workforce participation rates will decrease in all states and territories across Australia between now and 2012. In Tasmania and the Northern Territory the supply of labour is not expected to meet the demand due to an ageing population and low population growth. Participation rates will decrease by 3 per cent and 2 per cent in each state respectively.

We simply cannot continue to be precious about accessing labour pools and skills in other economies across the globe.

Functions which can be digitised or automated are most likely to be sent offshore so building those skills which are valuable locally and less easy to replicate are crucial in underwriting economic prosperity for Australia.

More than 100,000 students come to study in Australia from China and India and have to leave to apply for their work visa offshore. When Intel’s Andy Grove noticed the same phenomenon in the US in the late 1990s, he questioned why every foreign student wasn’t given a green card when they graduated.  This question is still relevant in Australia today.


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