US workers to fill skills gap

by Stephanie Zillman03 Apr 2012

Federal Skills Minister Chris Evans yesterday announced a new streamlined plan to bring skilled US workers to Australia in order to fills gaps in the labour market, especially in the engineering and trades sectors.

Evans said as the demand for skilled construction workers is likely to peak over the next three to five years, and a number of large-scale resource projects are due to commence, both governments recognise the potential to match the demand with a steady supply of workers in the US.

The measures will allow workers from the US in licensed occupations, such as electricians and plumbers, to be granted immediate access to provisional Australian licences on arrival. More broadly, the skills assessment process will assure Australian employers that the skills of US workers align with their needs. “Projections show that we will need workers from overseas for a peak in activity in the next three to five years,” Evans said. “This is a great opportunity to address skill shortages in Australia by filling shortfalls in particular areas with qualified candidates from the United States, with applications expected to open from mid-April,” he added.

Currently, workers need to be assessed onshore, which can mean waiting months between entry and starting work. Under the new skills assessment process, US workers will be assessed against Australian regulatory requirements before entering Australia, providing certainty to applicants and employers. Pre-arrival assessments have long been available in other countries and the Australian business community has welcomed the amendments as a very logical step. A joint statement released by the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia (Amcham), and the US Chamber of Commerce said the amendments provide the real potential for skilled US workers to temporarily fill the skills gaps in Australia, benefitting employers, workers and both economies.

A recent Senate inquiry into the shortage of engineering and related skills heard that Australia trains fewer than half the engineers it needs and the skills shortage is preventing some construction projects going ahead. Engineers Australia (EA) director Brent Jackson told the inquiry's public hearing last week that the answer included controlled skilled migration to arrest engineering shortfalls and better government infrastructure planning to manage workforce needs.

To support employers in linking with potential skilled workers, immigration minister Chris Bowen said the federal government had also decided to run its overseas program of Skills Australia Needs expos in the United States for the first time to attract skilled workers in the resources, energy and infrastructure sectors. “This initiative will provide information on skilled visa options to Americans with suitable qualifications, skills and experience and help them to work in Australia under a temporary employer-sponsored visa,” Bowen said.

An ongoing challenge for Australia is to ensure that the targeting of specific skills is well directed. While shortages in specific skill areas are best addressed through temporary migration initiatives such as the bi-lateral employment initiative, Deloitte partner and national immigration leader, Mark Wright, said that in the context of the new announcement, organisations should take the opportunity to review workforce planning strategies with a broader lens. Wright said some of the questions to ask are:

• What are we doing to tap into highly skilled workforces looking to leave more depressed markets, such as the US, UK and Ireland?

• What investment have we made in infrastructure and programs to support global mobility?

• How thoroughly have we considered which skills our business should ‘own’ and which it makes more sense to ‘rent’ or source from other organisations and/or countries?

• Have we reviewed the new skills-assessment process developed by DEEWR, which will essentially fast-track entry for licensed trades and allow employers to confirm skill requirements that new workers can meet?

• Should we be participating in the US-based Australian government-led Skills Expos planned for 2012, directly promoting employment opportunities to US workers in those skilled-work categories in demand in Australia?


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