South Australian Business News

What role can businesses play in solving the skills crisis?

Tuesday, November 14th 2023

Article by Jamie McKeough, Managing Director — William Buck

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 South Australian Business Chamber, 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 businesses as the number one constraint to long-term growth. 

Digging through the survey’s raw data 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 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 short labour 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 businesses 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!

It is not solely the responsibility of business owners to mend the skills crisis. State and Federal governments have a crucial role 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 academies, or simply re-deploying existing staff into designated training roles. I encourage others too.

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. 

See the full report here >

Recent Articles
27 Feb 2024
Breaking down the issues facing bigger businesses
27 Feb 2024
Businesses treading water as cost pressures continue to bite
27 Feb 2024
Five major companies have signed development agreements for SA's first large-scale clean hydrogen precinct
27 Feb 2024
Swagger state primed for property investment opportunities
26 Feb 2024
Public smoke and vape ban in force from Friday
23 Feb 2024
End of an era for Boileau Business Technology