23 May 2011

Cracks appearing in Australia's workforce

Australia is sitting on a workforce fault-line, with the cracks in our society starting to appear this year.

Leading Australian demographer Bernard Salt made the observation at State Training Providers Forum in Perth recently.

“The first of the baby boomers, those born in 1946, will start retiring this year,” said Salt.

“What’s going to happen when a large group of tradespeople from this demographic start disappearing almost on en masse? The loss of so many skilled people is going to have a profound impact on from the workforce.”

Salt thinks big and is concerned about issues and trends from a national perspective, giving forum participants plenty to consider when planning for the future.

While training issues weren’t the focus of his keynote address, he referred to some occupations that were under threat.

“Five years ago, more than a third of the nurses in Australia were over 50, so they could decide to leave any time soon,” Salt said.

“The same scenario applies to religious ministers, across all faiths. In 2006, 48 per cent of them were over 50.

“These are just random occupations in the Census. What we should be doing is having this data for all occupations so we can better plan for workforce needs.”

While workforce shortages will rise rapidly, Salt believes there is some hope to halt the sudden loss in labour.

“The federal government will, I hope, do something drastic and allow a large influx of skilled overseas labour, but there also needs to be a reinvention of what we consider retirement to be,” Salt said.

“We need to tap into the narrative of how people want to live their lives. These days people can look forward on average to 20 years of what could be considered retirement.

“But people don’t want to simply stay home and look after the grandkids. They still want challenges. Then there’s those boomers haven’t saved enough, so they have to work beyond traditional working age.

“The skill will be to help them find new niches. This could be through short courses and other incentives for them to remain in the workforce.”

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The PR Lab is a consultancy, specialising on research, reputation management, social media, media relations and the development of measurable strategies that produce results. It is run by Dr Greg Smith, a former journalist and PR professional. Greg worked on daily newspapers in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. He held senior PR positions in the Australian Defence Force, Sydney Olympics and national not-for-profits. He has also lectured in PR at Edith Cowan University and the University of Notre Dame Australia.