Want to earn more? How to make the most of Australia’s skill shortage

Blue-collar workers are being urged to seek help.

Blue-collar workers are being urged to seek help. Photo: Getty

After a chaotic few years, and a flurry of hiring activity and high salaries in 2022, Australia’s job market is slowly returning to more of an even keel.

Despite this, nine in 10 employers are still experiencing skills shortages, according to the latest Hays Salary Guide.

At the same time, the labour market continues to improve, with
employment rising across Australia in the past year, and recruitment
activity stabilising, according to Jobs and Skills Australia.

“The likelihood of filling vacancies has increased in the last few months, however it remains below levels recorded prior to 2022,” a spokesperson said.

“All of this suggests that, on average, skills shortages have eased slightly in recent months, although they are still high by historical standards.”

But there are still plum roles that employees are struggling to fill – even if some of the salaries on offer have dipped slightly.

Nicole Gorton, director and workplace expert at specialised recruiter
Robert Half, says the jobs market “is definitely not as robust as it was in 2022”.

She says companies are still hiring, but candidates now realise they can’t demand the sometimes massive salaries of 2022 – when businesses were scrambling to get projects off the ground, and adopt new technology after the interruptions of COVID-19.

“Many employers were willing to pay a premium of up to 20 per cent in 2022. In 2023, that’s not the case,” said Ms Gorton, noting that a 5 per cent salary “uplift” is now likely.

She says many budgets have tightened. Borders are also open,
meaning more candidates are available. Many companies are focusing on hiring for highly technical roles, rather than just adding to the general head count.

On the job seekers’ side, Ms Gorton has noticed two distinct camps: Those who are willing to take higher risks for potentially higher rewards (via start-ups), and those focused on maintaining the status quo as cost-of-living pressures bite.

She sees particular shortages in areas including software development, cyber security, cloud computing, analytics, risk compliance and financial controllers.

As of March, Jobs and Skills Australia lists motor mechanics, early
childhood teachers, electricians, metal fitters and machinists, and
physiotherapists as the top five occupations in demand.

Employers in some regional areas also consistently face skills shortages in critical roles such as GPs and resident medical officers.

And Hays provides a long catalogue of skills shortages, across sectors including technology, accountancy, construction, engineering, property, education, health care and life sciences.

It’s clear that there’s plenty of opportunity out there for those willing to
upskill or even retrain for a new career.

So what should you consider if you want to take advantage of the skills shortages – and hopefully land a higher salary or better perks in the process?

Matthew Dickason, CEO Asia Pacific of recruitment and workforce
solutions at Hays, says Australia’s unemployment rate – 3.5 per cent at last count – still remains very low by historical standards.

“Demand for labour is still tight and there are opportunities for
candidates with the skills, experience and work ethic employers need,” he said.

“If someone has a genuine interest in upskilling or reskilling into another role, they certainly should – although they need to understand that it will take some time.”

Mr Dickason says the best way to negotiate a salary increase in your
current role is to focus on proving your value, and take on additional and high value tasks.

“But given the extent of the skills shortage, if you have strong technical skills, relevant experience, a learning mindset, a good work ethic and solid soft skills, you’re in a strong negotiating position.”

He says it’s worth exploring whether your current employer can support you to upgrade your skills, or reskill to help address skills shortages in your particular business or organisation.

If you’re looking externally, Mr Dickason says you shouldn’t expect to
walk straight into a new dream role.

“You still must think about your long-term career goals, and the next job that will help your career progress in that direction,” he said.

He says along with technical skills, employers highly value strong
communication, adaptability and attention to detail.

“Looking ahead, employers have told us they expect to need more critical thinking, agile leadership and both digital and data literacy skills in the next decade.”

Ms Gorton agrees that a long-term approach is essential, particularly if you decide to retrain, and the job must be something you’re generally interested in.

“You’ve got to be prepared to train, you’ve got to be prepared to learn,” she said.

“But if you invest that time, then the reward can definitely be there.”

Other tips

  • Embrace a learning mindset
  • Remember the labour market can change quickly, so don’t base
    employment and training decisions solely on predicted shortages
  • Do think about your aptitude, interests, expectations of pay and
    working conditions, training and goals
  • Seek advice from industry, and recruiters.
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