How to combat skills shortages

Ai Group’s new report of employer skills needs released last week highlights the increased percentage of employers facing skills shortages. Caused by a mix of factors, these skills gaps are hurting members as businesses grapple with strategies to source the skills in demand.

Discussed below are short-term strategies to consider if faced with urgent needs. Ideally, longer-term workforce development planning will also be a part of business strategy, and steps to achieve this are also considered below.

First some questions to reflect on:

  • Have you analysed the shortage issues – which skills? When did they start?
  • From where did you traditionally get those workers or those skills? Do those sources still exist?
  • Are applicants not filling your needs? Or are they not there?
  • Do you struggle to fill low skilled or entry level positions too?
  • Do you know why they not offering themselves to you?
  • Do you need to change your perception about who you need/get, or where you might find those skills? Are there sources of useful skills that you could build upon with internal development?
  • Are there skilled people available somewhere else?
  • In the ‘war for talent’ what is your industry’s and company’s image?


  • Re-analyse your skill searching and recruitment strategies
  • Look internally and reorganise
  • Re-train and train up
  • Mix new apprentices/trainees and higher apprentices with existing workers
  • Are skilled migrants the answer?
  • Access university and/or vocational education and training students through placements, projects and other activities

Re-analyse your skills searching and recruitment strategies

  • Is your recruitment system achieving the best searches and screening?
  • Are the jobs you are offering intrinsically appealing? For example have you tried recruitment ads that gamify the role by focussing on problems to solve in order to attract interest?
  • Does the activity typically involve resume screening, telephone interviews, competency-based and motivational fit interviews in person, via video, or both, psychometric assessments and reference checks?
  • Consider recruiting new employees that demonstrate a capacity to learn, adapt and innovate even when they do not fit all of the criteria for the role
  • Consider hiring workers transitioning from declining sectors, but who have the expertise/skills sets required in your roles.

Look internally and reorganise

  • Consider a more flexible operating model and organisational structure
  • Consider focussing on roles around skills rather than business functions
  • Re-examine the skills and potential of your employees and use them in different ways
  • Some companies have found new capacity emerging from team diversity.
  • Increasingly all workers will need to apply their skills and abilities in different ways over time.

Re-train and train up

  • Take those with some experience and train-up on-the-job to the requirements of skills shortage roles
  • Explore workers updating their existing qualifications through an accredited unit/skill sets or non-accredited courses. Single units, micro-credentials and short courses are now more readily available through registered training organisations and universities
  • Government funding may be available for the training to support your re-training plan.

Mix new apprentices/trainees and higher apprentices with existing workers to meet skill needs

  • Can you supplement your skill needs by combining existing workers with new apprentices/trainees or higher apprentices (in applied technologies)?
  • Would it suit your business to ‘host’, rather than employ apprentices, by partnering with a Group Training Organisation?

Are skilled migrants the answer?

  • Does the Subclass 482 Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa program include the skilled workers you need?
  • Check the occupations on the Short-Term Occupations List (STSOL) and the Medium and Long-Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) for the skills your business needs.
  • A training levy is payable to the Skilling Australians Fund when nominating employees for the visa.

Accessing university and/or vocational education and training students through placements, projects and other activities

  • Placements and projects involving students from the disciplines you require can allow you to complete projects and solve immediate business problems
  • They also identify talent you may wish to employ after graduation, with the ability to shape students to fit your company’s needs and environment.
  • Other benefits include relationships with universities for research, gaining fresh ideas for the business from students and improving the culture in your own organisation through supervision and mentoring.


Workforce development planning

  • No matter what short term strategies are employed, every company will benefit from a skills development culture. Workforce capability needs to be aligned to business strategy: this capability will be a major influence on the ability to achieve the goals of all business functions.
  • A company’s workforce needs to be continually developed and engaged in order to support the achievement of business directions established.
  • Workforce development should be strategic, including the attraction, recruitment and retention of people, ongoing informal learning opportunities for people within an organisation, and programs of formal training that lead employees to nationally recognised qualifications.
  • The test of strong workforce capability is the ability of leaders, managers and employees to innovate, design, absorb new knowledge, produce, improve and perform at a high level, all within a conducive, cooperative workplace culture.

Workforce development planning approaches

Every company’s workforce development plan is different. In developing your own workforce development strategies, ensure you scope each strategy and identify its success metrics.

The plan and strategies may include all or some of the following:

  • workforce analyses; to meet particular company directions, goals or tendering, including understanding the current workforce demographics, capabilities, recruitment, retention and succession needs and risk analyses
  • training needs analyses; to determine skills gaps in meeting the company’s goals and the learning and development needed to achieve the desired directions or projects
  • training and development strategies to establish combinations of external or in-house training; accredited or non-accredited training; licensing requirements; leadership, mentoring/coaching or change management programs
  • fostering environments that encourage informal learning and sharing by creating opportunities for problem solving, observing, moving employees between jobs, mentoring
  • flexible work arrangements and re-design of jobs
  • identification of specific training programs or training delivery methods
  • identifying any language, literacy and numeracy needs, with plans to improve them
  • timelines for training and personal development
  • collaborating with training providers and other stakeholders
  • strategies to source candidates
  • use of government incentives/subsidies and schemes
  • classifications to implement relevant agreements
  • developing and implementing targeted strategies to achieve training and employment outcomes for identified target groups, for example, indigenous, disability, long-term unemployed, women-in-non-traditional trades, and linking up with relevant support agencies
  • developing and implementing monitoring and measurement frameworks.

Ai Group has services to assist with recruitment; Group Training for apprentices, including higher apprentices; and training and advice on funding subsidies. Our employer guide on access to university students provides tips and relevant university contacts.

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Anne joined Ai Group as an economist and is currently our General Manager, Education and Training. She is responsible for policy development and major projects addressing members’ education and training issues. Anne previously managed Ai Group's national team of Enterprise Connect Business Advisers charged with helping SMEs to improve productivity. Holding a Master of Education (Educational Leadership and Management) and a Bachelor of Economics, Anne worked for over 25 years in the VET sector in policy, research, training and quality management roles before joining Ai Group. She is a Board member of Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA).

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