Health, education and engineering facing skills shortages in Australia

by Ray Clancy on November 22, 2011

in Jobs in Australia

Skills gap most acute in health sector with shortage of GPs, nurses and pharmacists

Australia’s health, education and engineering sectors are the most likely to be hit by a skills gap in the next 15 years as an ageing workforce retires and there are not enough skilled workers to replace them, a new survey shows.

It is most acute in the health sector. Analysis undertaken by KPMG Econtech shows that based on current trends, for every 110 health professionals who retire, including GPs, nurses, pharmacists, vets and dieticians, there will only be 84 qualified people to replace them.

A similar situation is expected in education, with only 73 qualified people being available to fill every 107 jobs created by retirement.

Engineering is another sector that will be hit by skills shortages, with 18% of those employed now just a few years from retirement.

The September quarter Clarius Skills Index, the only measure of supply and demand of skilled labour, eased to a balanced ranking of 99.7, with an additional 8,500 skilled people to jobs, from a perfectly balanced result of 100 in the June quarter.

Kym Quick, chief executive officer of the Clarius Group of recruitment companies, said the easing of skills pressure reflected the moderating Australian economy and the uncertain outlook for growth.

‘However, the Index does provide false comfort, as the skills gap are only closing as a result of the weak economy and not as a result of any real measures to address the problem of structural shortages,’ said Quick.

‘Negative sentiment is playing the biggest role in the demand for skills at present. Generally, there is a reluctance to take on permanent hires, but still enough demand that there is a gradual improvement in contractor and temporary staff demand. Among so much uncertainty, the one thing we can be sure of is that the market is cyclical and although this current cycle is unlike any other we have seen in recent times, there are clear indications it will recover and demand for skills will be higher than ever,’ she explained.

The research found that overall the problem of skills gaps persists in seven of the 20 occupations surveyed and will re-emerge for many others once the economy picks up pace and hiring follows suit.

This will be further compounded as an ageing workforce reaches retirement, Quick pointed out. She said that while in 1998 less than 8.3% of the labour force was between 55 and 65 years, today it has almost doubled to 13.8%.

‘These workers will reach retirement age in 10 to 15 years, and with a growing economy, Australian employers need to either convince them to stay longer in the labour market or plan to replace them with younger qualified workers,’ she explained.

‘The big challenge of meeting our economy’s labour needs is not only to secure the number of workers to sustain our growth but also to ensure the correct skills mix of workers. Many businesses are already working to keep their older skilled employees, but more initiatives are needed to encourage and incentivise them to stay while at the same time ensure skill levels and our knowledge economy are transferred and extended across the workforce,’ she added.

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