Skilled migrants face tough decision as borders remain shut until mid-2022

Organisations now face losing even more talented employees

Skilled migrants face tough decision as borders remain shut until mid-2022

After last week’s 2021 Federal Budget release, it’s clear addressing Australia’s skills shortage is a key priority for the government. The same goes for businesses across the country as organisations struggle to attract the talent they need to expand and grow.

But as the government confirmed the borders are unlikely to reopen until mid-2022, the talent shortage may now become even worse. Stories have begun to emerge of skilled migrants who, despite having made Australia their home, are now planning to leave as a result of the government’s border stance.

Having overcome all the hurdles and challenges of emigrating to a new country, migrants are now facing an impossible choice. Give up their life abroad or face yet another 12 months with no prospect of visiting their loved ones. For those with elderly relatives back home, the closed borders are making the decision to stay even more difficult.

Organisations now face losing talented senior staff who bring expertise and a high level of skill to the business at a time when they can least afford it.

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In New Zealand, the situation is much the same. As well as a ban on new people coming in, around 35,000 skilled migrants already in the country are currently waiting for a decision on their residence visas. The government is set to make an announcement on skilled migration this week. Last week, they confirmed that 2,400 more workers for Recognised Seasonal Employers would be allowed into the country by March next year, including construction workers for infrastructure projects, as well as 400 international students.

Speaking to HRD, the Project Management Institute’s Ben Breen said attracting and retaining talent is one of the biggest priorities for employers in ANZ right now.

“There's so many people who have been made redundant as a result of Covid and others who are looking for new opportunities, but the difficulty of course is finding the best people,” he said. “It's always been a problem in Australia but it's been really amplified now in the wake of the pandemic.”

While the focus is on the skills shortages in the childcare, healthcare and technology industries, Breen said the pandemic has raised the profile of soft skills too. Organisations are now thinking more broadly about the capabilities of employees, rather than solely on their ability to complete day-to-day tasks. A people leader’s ability to empathise, to lead, to communicate – traditionally known as soft skills – have all come under the microscope in the last 12 months.

“What used to be soft skills, we're now calling power skills, whether that's great communication or empathy for customers or colleagues,” he said. “Empathy is a big one that keeps coming up in all of the discussions that we're having and the surveys that we're doing at PMI so that is certainly something that's going to continue to be very valuable.”

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Being agile and adaptable is another skill that has been vital over the past year – especially for those within the HR industry. They’ve needed to react to the everchanging regulations and social distancing regulations, the evolving needs of the business and plan for a future that may still look uncertain. Beyond that, they’ve had to put their people’s health and wellbeing front and centre.

As businesses eagerly await the reopening of borders next year, Breen said focusing on internal reskilling efforts will be key. Mapping out potential shortages, how to maximise the capabilities of existing staff and which roles will be most critical once skilled migration returns will all enable organisations to become as resilient as possible.

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