Deloitte drives debate on the new realities facing the Lucky Country

| December 6, 2011

The first paper to be published under Deloitte’s Building the Lucky Country initiative is pertinently called Where is your next worker?  

This initial discussion piece urges Australian businesses and government to act now to get ahead of the looming skill shortage.

Deloitte CEO Giam Swiegers puts this critical issue in context this way: “A new reality looms.  The problem in Australia over the coming years won’t be a lack of jobs – it will be a lack of workers.

“Leading organisations have already realised this and are engaged in ideas and solutions to get ahead of the game,” Swiegers said.

“They are already developing larger, more effective workforces, tapping into under-utilised workers, getting the most out of the workers who already work for them, and using innovative, new ways to leverage hidden sources of labour capacity.

“Those who respond early and effectively will be best placed to flourish. By making good decisions and executing them well, we can all generate the long-term prosperity we want for our country and our children.”

Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics added his perspective to the topic:

 “The world is begging Australia to grow faster, offering us prices for our resources we have never seen before.  

“Yet, at the same time, Australia has adopted policies that have seen migration fall, just ahead of the biggest surge in retiree numbers this nation has ever seen.

That means the next few years will see skill shortages proliferate.

“That will be felt right across the two speed economy. Miners and construction companies will miss out on the full benefit of the resources boom, and businesses will juggle higher-than-necessary interest rates and inflation, and pay higher wages and higher prices than otherwise for a wide range of skills,” Richardson said.

“Things are about to change. Businesses need to realise that the future won’t be like the past: that the competition will be for workers, rather than jobs; that somebody already working for you is more valuable than they have been before; and that letting somebody retire without exploring the options to keep them for longer may be a wasted and costly opportunity.”

The discussion paper offers 12 ‘levers’ which businesses and government can use to solve the skills problems and boost growth prospects. They lie within a framework economists refer to as the ‘3Ps’ — or the three supply side drivers of economic growth:

  • Population– as retiree numbers surge and migration rates fall, demand for labour will exceed supply. With competition to be for workers rather than jobs, business must consider innovative ways to access the skills and labour they need for today and tomorrow

  • Participation– Businesses need to closely look at their participation and retention strategies if they are to address the skills shortage

  • Productivity– Business leadership is critical. For example, some studies show employee disengagement costs more than $39 billion a year in lost productivity.

The 12 ‘levers’ cover a broad range of options for business and government and include:

  • Working with education providers to access future skills, and shaping courses to suit business needs

  • Fully utilising one of Australia’s biggest untapped sources of competitive talent – women

  • Growing labour pools through skilled migration and considering outsourcing (‘importing’ a service)

  • Tempting retirees back to work – or encouraging them to stay on in the first place

  • Lifting the participation of groups such as indigenous workers, migrants and people with disabilities

  • Taking engagement to the next level, making existing employees the most productive workers of all

  • Using innovative solutions and technology, including ‘crowdsourcing’ to address business needs.

“We know these issues are complex. They therefore warrant exploration of the broadest possible range of options, some of which might be considered contentious,” Giam Swiegers emphasises.

“We recognise that industries such as manufacturing and retail are struggling in the two-tier economy and cutting back on staff. However, even they won’t be immune from the coming skills crunch.

“We also recognise that the migration debate is a sensitive one. Even though skilled migrants more than pay their way and in fact generate wealth for our economy, the myth persists that migrants steal Australian jobs. Bringing more skilled migrants to Australia can help to fill the short-term skills gap,” he insists.

“While there are key challenges for different businesses and industry sectors, Deloitte believes the answers are already there if people know where to look.

“Where is your next worker?Is designed to sow the seed and to get business and government thinking about their future workforce, as well as innovation and fostering opportunities for collaboration,” Swiegers said.

This opinion piece was first published on Deloitte Private Matters and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.