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The June 2010 unemployment rate in the United States was 9.5%. In the UK the ‘headline’ unemployment was 7.9% and two weeks ago, the OECD reported that the unemployment rate in the world’s 31 leading industrialised economies averaged fell to 8.6% in May, 2010.

These rather bleak figures from elsewhere around the globe (although improving from earlier in the year), compare starkly with the very sunny outlook in this part of the world. Falling unemployment figures coming out of Australia (5.1%) and New Zealand (6%) are predicted to maintain their downward momentum.

Although the new (Australian) financial year is not yet a month old, we are already seeing the unmistakable signs of a very quick return to the desperate times of 2007 when the words ‘skills shortage’ seemed to appear as regularly as ‘NRL in crisis’ or ‘Wallabies optimistic for new season ahead’.

On 6 July in the SMH article ‘Unqualified used to fill persistent job vacancies’, the Australian Government admitted that jobs were being filled by unqualified candidates simply because there were not sufficient skilled applicants available to fill the vacant roles.

This was most often the case with special needs teachers. The SMH reported that teachers with no expertise in teaching special needs children were being hired because teachers with the necessary specialised skills were not being trained quickly enough to meet demand.

On 7 July ABC1’s 7.30 Report ran a segment on how the acute shortage of doctors for rural and regional areas in Australia is being somewhat overcome by New Zealand locum doctors flying across the Tasman to plug the gaps, sometimes just for a weekend.

On 9 July, in The Australian article ‘If you want work, the west wants you’, it was reported that in response to the West Australian unemployment rate plummeting to 4%, the State Government announced that they are, next month, launching a massive recruitment campaign aimed at luring skilled east coast workers to WA.

The WA State Training and Workforce Development Minister released a list of 348 priority occupations, including carpenters, vets, midwives, optometrists, social workers, lift mechanics, butchers, bakers, prison officers, plumbers, architects, pilots, accountants, nurses, chefs and locksmiths.

On 14 July the Victorian Premier launched a new $6 million dollar campaign to recruit nearly 1700 new police officers for the state over the coming five years. Accompanied by a slick TV commercial, the Premier and the Chief Commissioner of Police clearly recognise that to win the hearts and minds of the desired talent pool, you have to make policing both a sexy and genuine career option for skilled young Victorians.

The next day, 15 July, the Australian Industry Group-sponsored Deloitte survey of CEOs was released.

This survey reported that skills shortages were a high-to-extreme, business critical risk between now and 2015. The survey of 400 companies, employing over 30,000 people in the manufacturing, services and construction sector, reported the following research findings:

  • More than 4 in every 5 businesses believe there is a moderate-to-extreme risk that skills shortages will adversely affect them in 2010
  • 27.4% of all vacancies over the past 6 months remain unfilled
  • Almost two thirds of companies had difficulties filling vacancies over the past 6 months
  • As to the specific nature of these difficulties the reasons; ‘lack of specialised skills available’ was nominated by 59.3% of companies and ‘lack of applicants’ by 48.5% of companies
  • Companies are responding to the lack of skilled candidates by ‘upskilling existing staff’ (37.8%) and ‘outsourcing or subcontracting the work’ (31.2%)
  • 12.6% of companies report that the skills shortages are so significant as to ‘constrain production’
  • Over three quarters of the survey respondents expect to hire more staff in the next 12 months, including 53% nominating that they will be increasing their total number of staff

15 July also saw the Australian Computer Society release a report highlighting ageism as a prominent issue in the Australian IT employment market.

The conclusions of the report ‘Improving Age Diversity in the ICT Workforce’, were that ICT workers aged over 45 were more likely to be unemployed in Australia compared to their counterparts in Canada, the UK, New Zealand and the USA.

The unsaid implication being that the so-called ‘skills shortage’ of ICT workers was more accurately an ‘attitude issue’ of employers being reluctant to consider employing older workers and unwilling to invest time and money in providing the necessary training for the up-skilling to these workers.

The 15 July trifecta was completed when a Federal Government taskforce, set up to help secure the critically important resources sector, a skilled workforce for the future, handed down its final report.

The National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce Report, ‘Resourcing the Future’ recommends using skilled migrants to fill temporary shortages, graduating more engineers and geoscientists and increasing the number of skilled trade professionals.

All of these actions will need to be taken pronto as the Report predicts that the resources sector is heading for a projected shortage of 36,000 skilled trades professionals by 2015. The Report also concludes that the domestic supply of mining engineers and geoscientists will not be sufficient to meet demand over the next five years, with an expected shortfall of around 1,700 and 3,000 respectively.

So what does all this flurry of action mean for recruiters?

My view is that all these very clear signs point to the need, as trusted external recruitment advisors, to be assertive with our clients about the market for talent.

We need to be especially (respectfully) assertive to clients who are doggedly sticking to some outdated views such as ‘there’s plenty of candidates out there’, or ‘I’ll wait for the candidate who ticks all the boxes’, or ‘I can afford to take my time hiring’, or ‘I shouldn’t need to sell this job or my organisation to candidates, they should want to work here’.

Plainly put: Recruiters need to educate their clients about the current realities of the skilled employment market and that things will only get tougher in the months and years ahead.

Education of clients comes through various channels such as articles in email newsletters, blog posts on industry forum websites, sending relevant reports (such as the ones I have highlighted in this article) directly to clients, holding seminars on the issue and building it deliberately into face-to-face and telephone conversations with clients.

A single-channel approach will not do the job. I recommend that you need to have a clear communication strategy about this issue across your whole organisation, no matter how big or small it is.

The consequences of not undertaking this continual education of your clients will be the inevitable frustration of attempting to find the ‘impossible’ candidate for your inflexible client. Also, the likelihood that you will be ‘out consulted’ by a competitor who is effective at educating the client and managing their expectations about candidates.

As recruitment professionals, I believe we have an obligation to undertake this education campaign with our clients because if we are not willing and able to do it, then who is?

This is a great opportunity to elevate our standing in the eyes of our clients. We may not be communicating a message that is popular or easy to deliver, but if we are effective at providing alternative ways of dealing with the skills shortage problem, then our future as an industry is more assured than ever.

What steps are you willing to take?

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The article fails to take into account the fact that there is massive under-employment in Australia. This has the effect of making the unemployment rate and employment market appear better than what it actually is.

As for skills shortage. Well that is something that recruiters start talking about when candidates don't respond to their ads on the job boards. Networking and headhunting skills are seriously lacking from the majority of recruiters in Australia because recruiter training is virtually non-existant and reliance on job boards is far too high.

The skills are there, it's just a matter of finding them.


If there is a skills shortage it is because employers want a lot of boxes ticked, a lot of which don't necessarily get the best person for the job. There are a vast amount of underemployed people out there who would be brillian employees with a little bit of training. For various reasons, age discrimination being one, they are not considered, ie too young or too old.


Agree – and I bet you can not tell me which skills or jobs these are ? Mature aged people learned their jobs on the job back then and know more than most people coming out of University to get paid McDonalds wages and have to pay back their debt for the next 20 years of their life.

If there is a skills shortage it is because employers want a lot of boxes ticked, a lot of which don't necessarily get the best person for the job. There are a vast amount of underemployed people out there who would be brillian employees with a little bit of training. For various reasons, age discrimination being one, they are not considered, ie too young or too old.

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