THE TREASURER, Wayne Swan’s recent move to fast-track national recognition of professional skills has finally put the professional skills crisis on a national platform, but ignores certain industries in urgent need of professional accountants, according to an international recruitment firm.
The Treasurer’s response is part of the Labor Government’s hardline approach to combat inflation, which includes plans to target the skills crisis with higher workforce participation and an overhaul of employment programs.
While the Treasurer’s actions are a step in the right direction, they are only geared to encourage jobseekers into mining and ignore other industries in urgent need of professional accountants, engineers and lawyers, according to Phillip Guest, managing director of Michael Page International.
“Australia’s economic growth depends on the success of our corporate sector, but many companies are constrained because they don’t have the skilled workforce to support their growth,” Guest said.
A recent Michael Page salary survey found that 91 per cent of corporates predict staff numbers to increase, with demand for professional skills to intensify in the next 12 months with 5–7 per cent wages growth for professionals.
“The research shows the skills shortages in professional sectors such as legal, for example, are far more acute as opposed to the broader labour force statistics with forecast wages growth of 5–10 per cent across private practice and the in-house market,” he said.
The tight labour market is being intensified as overseas firms poach Australian professionals who are regarded as hard working and highly trained, Guest said. This is occurring because employers in locations such as the United Kingdom and United States are facing similar skills shortages.
“More critical skills shortages and associated inflationary pressures on salaries will be on the cards if we do not improve our strategies to retain talent in Australia and attract skilled workers to our country,” he said.
“To remain competitive in a global employment market, Australian employers need to better address career development because it is the main reason professionals are leaving the country. We also need to better utilise the untapped talent pools by offering flexibility in the workforce to retain mature-aged workers for longer and to assist stay-at-home parents back into the workforce.”
To do this, Guest said there needs to be strong commitment from Australian business to restructure their workforces to provide meaningful employment – jobs that provide true flexibility. He said the perennial problem for many working parents is the unspoken code of squeezing a five-day working week into three.
“The problem of finding skilled workers will only get worse, with the mining sector experiencing the most intense skills crisis of any sector and the reason for the Federal Government’s focus,”Guest said.
Federal and state governments need to recognise the significant contribution professional services make to the economy, according to Guest, particularly in view of the former Department of Employment and Workplace Relations’ figures which reveal four out of every five of the 998,000 jobs created in the five years to February 2006, come from highly-skilled occupation groups.
“Australia’s economic growth and investment surge with public and private growth at double-digit figures and a wages and salaries jump of 9 per cent over the past year to $128.4 billion reflects companies’ strong profits and the tight labour market,” he said.
This has put undue pressure on companies needing professional skills to sustain their growth levels. “This investment surge has worked its way into increased production with strong demand for professional skills in all markets from the booming mining and construction sectors, to substantial increases in demand for skilled workers in transport, property, business services, finance and communications,” Guest said.
“With the tightest labour market in 30 years and a very high participation rate of professionals, it’s clear that all governments, industry bodies, professional associations and recruitment firms need to take a long-term view of how to restructure the professional workforce, and how to retain and attract the best and brightest.”