Subscribe to BiziNet Newsletters
 

Skills Barometer Checks Employment Pressure in Western Sydney

Craig McCallum

Craig McCallum

It’s the third largest economy in Australia but in pockets has some of the state’s largest unemployment figures and employers are telling us that they cannot fill some jobs. The economy of Greater Western Sydney (GWS) is one of great importance and complexity.

Recently more than 450 business managers and executives in GWS were contacted to take part in a research project to gain an understanding of employment pressures in the region.
 
The research, commissioned by TAFE Western Sydney and the Western Sydney Business Connection and conducted by Lonergan Research, aimed to identify current and future skill needs of employers. Results from this research have now been published.
 
A quick glance of work roles in GWS revealed that of the nearly 860,000 filled roles in the region, there was a fairly even spread between sales workers (18%), clerical and administrative workers (18%), managers (17%) and professionals (17%). Coming in with proportionately less positions were technicians and trades workers (12%), labourers (9%) and machinery operators and drivers (7%). The least significant group of workers were in service industries such as hospitality and community services (3%).
 
Breaking these roles up into the broad categories of blue, grey and white collar, where blue collar roles are primarily manual, grey collar are primarily about service and white collar are office workers and professionals gave a further understanding of the types of roles in the region. Within these definitions, Greater Western Sydney roles were found to be 9% grey collar, 27% blue collar and 64% white collar.
 
Drilling further down into the research it was found that within these role definitions, grey collar roles had the highest proportion of unfilled jobs, with demand outweighing supply by 10%. White collar roles also had a higher demand than supply; with 8% of roles unfilled. Blue collar roles had the smallest gap between supply and demand with 5% of roles unfilled.

Overall, there was a significant shortage of skilled and qualified workers in the region with around half of job applicants underqualified or unsuitable for advertised positions. The Audit found that sales worker positions advertised have the least suitable applicants with one in six applications considered underqualified.
 
Management positions equate to almost a third of all job shortages in GWS and businesses are telling us that half of the applicants for these positions are also underqualified. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that these positions take the longest time to fill at an average of nine weeks compared to an average of five weeks for other roles.
 
Business, finance and management have been identified as the areas having the largest deficit of technical skills and the highest anticipated need of these skills in the future.  Building, electrotechnology, engineering and manufacturing skills show the next biggest deficit of skills. Employers in GWS expect this trend to worsen.
 
Business leaders in Greater Western Sydney are putting a greater emphasis on an employee’s ‘soft’ skills to complement their ‘hard’ or technical skill qualifications. Soft skills like teamwork, time management and communication are transferrable skills which can see workers through a range of jobs or even a career change when a specific technical skill may become redundant.
 
I believe that these abilities can be gained through training in various forms, and we have seen success in learners picking up interpersonal skills through pre-employment programs and through having these skills embedded in other training programs.
 
I would like to see more discussions around the complementary roles of training organisations and industry in closing skill gaps identified. For example, research indicates individuals learn better in an on-the-job environment. Doctors are put through their paces in hospital wards before they are accredited and lawyers undertake their articles before they represent clients. Could an internship model work for other professions?
 
Also, workers who have a base qualification but wish to upskill may be ineligible for funding assistance. Is it more appropriate to fund skills sets or units of competency rather than whole courses? And would this help close the skills gap in some areas?
 
The skills barometer has been an opportunity for us to hear from businesses and industry about current and future needs for the regional workforce. We would like to continue to lead this discussion and to be active in ensuring that employers have access to the training and support that they need to grow their businesses.
 
I invite employers to contact us to discuss their current and future training needs and to be a part of the dialogue about skilling the workforce of the future in Western Sydney.


by Craig McCallum

Reader Comments