WANTED: Skilled finaciers and engineers

SEP 2010

A range of complex factors including strong growth in demand, inadequate training services and the emergence of specialist areas can create skills shortages even when the economy is powering. But in a crisis, these factors can combine to potentially threaten the rebuilding phase. Recent industry body surveys on two of the Gold Coast’s essential sectors indicate the worst is yet to come.

A federal Government-affiliated report shows the financial services sector is facing a skills shortage and urgently requires more professionals to deal with the economic recovery and the threat of a ‘double dip recession’.

Results of the part-Commonwealth owned Innovation and Business Skills Australia’s (IBSA) 2010 Environment Scan highlights a skills deficit in the industry after more than 12,000 jobs were lost during the economic downturn.

Industry response to the financial sector survey formed the basis of the report and found there was a critical need for skills to support the sector’s business functions, particularly governance skills, supervision and leadership skills, knowledge management skills and business planning skills.

Two-thirds of survey respondents indicated the challenge was finding applicants with the right mix and level of skills, but despite this the same percentage had not received training or up skilling in the last three years.

WMS Chartered Accountants partner Leschen Smaller, says the sector is experiencing a flood of accountants re-entering the industry without the necessary experience.

“It all results from the GFC – many firms reassessed their needs and professionals who were made redundant moved into consulting/contracting work, jobs with smaller firms or positions overseas,” she says.

“The problem now is that these people are trying to re-enter an environment that has not only changed dramatically over the past two years but also they are not necessarily equipped with the correct level of skills given their recent experiences.

“We at WMS are currently on a recruitment drive and I’m finding that there is an unprecedented number and diversity of applicants who are looking for work, but it is very difficult to find anyone with the right level of experience and ability.”

Randstad Queensland accounting manager Tarnya Lowe, says employers should be willing to hire those professionals forced to ‘deviate from their career plan’. In a report delivered earlier this year, the recruitment firm showed that 53 per cent of organisations in the banking, financial services and accounting sectors retrenched staff in 2009.

“As the economy continues to gain momentum and with the competition for talent back on the agenda in many specialised skills areas, the reality is that employers cannot afford to wait for exactly the right match of talent to apply for their jobs,” says Lowe.

“Organisations have two immediate choices in regards to their talent attraction strategies to counter the impending competition for talent. To entice new recruits who were able to retain their career-driven roles during the GFC, they will need to offer increasingly attractive remuneration packages in order to lure them away from their current employers.

“The second option may deliver more sustainable long-term benefits. This is to evaluate jobseekers on a case-by-case scenario. More often than not, the most successful candidates placed are those that are the right cultural and business fit, not the ones with the exact skills and experience.”

Although Australia is in a relatively strong position post downturn, the IBSA report claims competitive advantage is at risk of being lost due to a shortage of skilled workers.

The alarming report on the national finance sector comes as Consult Australia’s annual Engineering Skills Survey results indicate that Australia’s ability to design and deliver an estimated $400 billion in infrastructure projects over the coming decade is also under threat.

State governments across Australia have announced record infrastructure spending but the consulting industry body has warned that engineering skills shortages will continue to constrain the country’s growth and limit innovation.

Consult Australia CEO Megan Motto, says the survey results demonstrate a ‘systemic problem’.

“There is tremendous concern within the industry about the continued shortages of professional and paraprofessional engineering staff in Australia, especially when governments have announced record infrastructure spending,” she says.

“The engineering discipline most affected by the skills shortages is civil engineering, according to over two thirds of firms. This is particularly alarming in light of the infrastructure-centric spending agenda from both federal and state governments.”

Randstad Queensland construction, property and engineering manager Jamie Dargie, says there is ‘no quick fix’ for challenges that face the growing Queensland population and economy but training and education should be the first step.

“When speaking with the CEO for a major coal mining conglomerate recently he commented that the only thing stopping him growing the company was finding good people,” says Dargie.

“This rings true on all levels within construction, property and engineering as even though we have endured a downturn the infrastructure sector is extremely busy with key staffing needs.

“This coupled with the resource sector’s insatiable appetite for technically competent and experienced people, suggests we need to look closer into training incentives and courses for people to diversify their skills as well as improving the attraction of students into the sector and upping our retention rates.

“We can minimise the effect by offering significant rewards to older staff and keeping people in the work force longer, post-GFC more people need to top up their super funds and retaining that experience and postponing retirement would assist in passing over the baton so to speak.”

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