Australia experiencing 1960s – era skills shortage

Australia’s ambition to become a clean energy world champion demands urgent attention to train skilled specialist workers.

Boosting output and plugging workforce gaps have also been identified as pressing priorities by the head of Jobs and Skills Australia.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Acting Commissioner Peter Dawkins warned the nation was experiencing a widespread skills shortage not seen since the 1960s.

The speech came as Professor Dawkins released the authority’s 2023 Jobs and Skills Report, which sets out how to develop the road map to ensuring Australia’s skills needs are met.

Modelling shows about two million more people will be employed in the Australian economy within a decade.

The authority’s jobs and skills report has been released alongside a skills priority list and a clean energy transition study.

Prof Dawkins said foundation skills, including digital literacy, were more important than ever.

“Australians will need to acquire and continually develop the necessary skills, which will increasingly be high-level skills if we are to achieve the economic and social aspirations of a prosperous and equitable nation,” he said.

Prof Dawkins said the road map had three high-level aims – minimising unemployment and underemployment, increasing productivity, labour force participation and real wage growth, and reducing disadvantage.

“Increasing equity can be achieved by enhancing the ability of disadvantaged groups to obtain the skills and opportunities they need to be successful in securing and retaining good jobs,” he said.

The focus should be on Indigenous people, youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds, people with disabilities, long-term unemployed and migrants, he said.

The acting commissioner said strategies were needed to improve the gender balance in male-dominated workforces to address skill shortages and improve equity in the labour market.

Despite conventional economics that increasing wages can help employers attract more workers, a survey by the authority found very few employers changed remuneration in response to failing to fill vacancies.

Prof Dawkins said about one in a hundred employers adjusted wages to attract skilled workers in the past year.

Asked about the role of artificial intelligence, Prof Dawkins said the emerging technology offered benefits.

“There are risks, there are challenges, but there’s fantastic opportunities and we do need as well as good economic policy, education policy,” he said.

Prof Dawkins said consideration needed to be given to how vocational education and training, higher education, and migration would provide the quantity and quality of workers Australia needed.

Jobs and Skills Australia was established after last year’s government jobs and skills summit, which brought together stakeholders to decide what immediate steps could be taken to drive economic growth.

Prof Dawkins said challenges would arise as the economy transitioned to net zero emissions, and would impact jobs already in significant shortage, including electricians.

Modelling suggests the clean energy supply workforce comprising 38 occupations will need to grow by 60 per cent by 2050.

Prof Dawkins said young people needed to be adaptable and should follow their passion.

The demand for health and care services will also continue to grow as the population ages.


Tess Ikonomou
(Australian Associated Press)


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