How Covid has led to skill shortages in different sectors

By Indira Laisram
L-R: Mira De Silva, Bina Shah, Naishabh Gadani

The word doing the rounds these days is that it is increasingly difficult to find pizza deliverers around Melbourne. Sometimes, business managers are willing to pay even 25 dollars an hour, more than the average hourly pay of $17.39. But to no avail.

“If you think about it, you can’t find drivers too. It is pretty unusual,” says Naishadh Gadani, career coach and founder of Your Career Down Under.

Indeed, the coming of COVID-19 has changed the workforce in Australia. And according to reports, it is low-skilled and unskilled workers who have borne the brunt of job losses caused by lockdown and border closure.

“The bigger impact was felt in the informal sector of the economy, the less skilled people from hospitality to retail to warehouses to courier drivers, those were the jobs taken by students and because of their non-availability, those industries are particularly struggling,” says Gadani.

In fact in regional towns, the shortage is pretty stark because of the lack of backpackers and temporary migrants not moving in there, notes Gadani. “They used to find people to do those odd jobs but now are not able to find people. So it’s not particularly skilled shortage but lack of floating workers if you want to call them that.”

No doubt, the pandemic has created quite a big job slide based on skill sets.

Naishabh Gadani

Those who did manage to retain jobs during the pandemic had very less opportunity to work from home. And with the end of JobKeeper on March 28, many low skilled and unskilled workers are seemingly plunged into unemployment. The JobKeeper payment was a wage subsidy paid by the Government to businesses significantly impacted by the coronavirus. It allowed employers to continue paying their employees whether they are able to work or not.

According to Bina Shah of IAEC, education and immigration consultancy, skill shortages are especially prominent in the health sector with lack of specially aged care workers and nursing staff and the hospitality and tourism industry.

“It is the reason the government has now announced full time work rights even for student visa holders, construction industry and the agriculture sector desperately seeking fruit and vegetable pickers and packers due to borders lockdown and no working holiday makers coming in,” says Shah.

However, the story seems no different for most skilled workers.

“My anecdotal evidence suggests that specifically in the IT sector, it would have impacted much more. We were not able to call people, and permanent migration has stopped in the past one year or so. The temporary migration has also stopped. In the IT sector I hear there is shortage of people within specific skills,” says Gadani, who as part of Career Development Association of Australia works with career practitioners and career coaches.

Mira De Silva

According to Mira D’Silva (cofounder of Delivery Centric, an Australian-based company headquartered in Melbourne, specialising in providing digital security for large banks, universities and telecom companies, “There is a shortage in the market especially in the industry that we specialise in—the digital security sector—and there’s not many people out in the market.”

D’Silva says that though university syllabus have included cyber security, most people don’t come with real time industrial experience. “And when you are dealing with security for large banks and telecom companies, you cannot risk having just students, who have just come out of university, on these kind of projects. Yes, we are finding it difficult at the moment but, luckily, we have an offshore office in Bangalore and we have been able to get our resources, being in IT you can always be connected and networked through using your laptop for work.”

Gadani also beleives that Victoria’s big task of tunnel building and other construction will require not just the people on the ground but high end technical skill, say, engineers, specialists. “I would imagine that was also impacted due to Covid. Once they want to ramp up, they will also cry a lot about skill shortages specifically within the engineers, accountant if not immediately but in the next few years.”

In April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the “single biggest challenge facing the Australian economy” in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic is workforce skills, something employer surveys such as CCIWA Business Confidence Survey seconded.

As the economy slowly recovers, how does the future look like?

Gadani is of the opinion that this state of flux will continue as long as the borders remain closed. “I am not particularly good at envisioning what will happen. Holistically, if I look at the migration drop, the major industries that will suffer will be the construction and building industry, whether that will have a repercussion in other sectors—remains to be seen.”

Bina Shah

According to D’Silva, there are a lot of people waiting to join them and are just waiting for borders to open up so they can travel. “We’ve had our resources or employees’ work visas approved. We’ve had some resources who have been able to travel during Covid as a part of this initiative on cyber security where we identified key or niche skills that need to be on-site and it is the kind of work that cannot be offshored. We put across a business case to the government and people were able to fly into Australia, but there are few others who are just waiting.”

Shah believes immediate attention is needed to find ways to bring more and more temporary workers and international students to Australia—after following appropriate vaccinations and suitable quarantine processes. “Many countries have rolled out vaccine programs quite successfully and those vaccinated should be able to travel asap to manage our skill shortage.”

Shah also says that the other long-term strategy is to train locals to fill those skill shortages. However, conversations with many employers in the recent times, she says, show there is high rate of drop-outs in apprentice trainees and other TAFE courses.

“With the economy growing and also increase in population due to migration. there is going to be continuous increase in demand for these sectors such as education, hospitality, infrastructure and health,” says Shah.

Gadani fears that skill shortage will continue to haunt some sectors in the coming two-three years, but is hopeful that with every part of the industry slowly coming back “things won’t be as disastrous as was predicted”.

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