The Institute of Public Affairs’ regional worker shortage research was discussed by the CEO of the Broome Chamber of Commerce on ABC Kimberley Breakfast on 20 September 2023.
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Below is a transcript of the interview.
New data from the Institute of Public Affairs last week revealed the Kimberley and Pilbara’s job vacancy crunch rate is at 9.2%, which is the third highest in Australia. The five geographic zones most affected by worker shortages are in Regional Australia, according to the report. The Goldfields and Southern WA topping the list at 11%, followed by Brisbane with a 10% job vacancy rate. The job vacancy crunch rate is calculated by the ratio of job openings to working age Australians not in the labor force in the region. As a result of the current shortages, Broome Chamber of Commerce members are starting to reduce their operational capacity. They’ve got fewer staff, so they’re reducing their opening hours, and in some cases there’s an increased workload for existing employees. Are you nodding at that? Is that you? Would like to hear from you this morning. (044) 892 2604. The Broome Chamber of Commerce, CEO is Sharni Foulkes, and she told Maya Cordick more about the impact of a lack of workers.
To see obviously Broome and the Kimberley being ranked as number three.
Yeah, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to fill those jobs and to look at the fact that our unemployment levels are quite low, but we still have a disengaged workforce. Those numbers wouldn’t even if we were to engage every disengaged worker or underutilized worker, those numbers still wouldn’t even scratch the surface.
How have the worker shortages impacted local businesses in Broome this year? Have you noticed a big change in recent years at all?
So our members are telling us that they’re starting to reduce their operational capacity. So they’re having to operate with fewer staff, which means that they’ve got reduced opening hours or they’ve got increasing workloads for their existing employees. And this in turn affects the quality of their service, but also their offering of products and services. They’re looking at increased labor costs. So to be competitive in the current market, they’ve been forced to offer higher wages and benefits to attract and retain workers. This then puts up with pressure on labor costs across our whole region, and it starts to impact profit margins for business. We’ve also got the seasonal challenges that happen every year. So obviously Broome’s economy being highly seasonal with peaks during the season, worker shortages have been particularly acute during these peak months, which does make it a challenge for business to meet those increased demands.
But with a later start to the season and a longer tail end, those workers are starting to leave and our visitors are still coming, so we’re having to meet that gap. There’s also been quite a big skill gap, so some businesses have had to hire less experienced workers or individuals without specific skills required for their roles. So they’ve then had to invest in training and upskilling, which results in productivity issues and also further expenses for businesses. I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s an employee’s market out there, not necessarily a business market and staff are becoming more difficult to retain. They seem to be shopping around a lot more, job hopping from different companies just to see which offering is better suiting for them. So yeah, it’s been a challenge.
How could this problem be alleviated?
Well, a few different ways, I think. I don’t think there’s one answer that will fit all. You’ve got support for businesses that really is crucial. So assisting businesses in developing a scope of work to cope with their increased labor costs and also their labor shortages. So things like developing attraction offerings within their business, looking at community engagement, so encouraging community involvement in addressing these issues, fostering a sense of local pride, attracting new residents, supporting local businesses where possible, and businesses sharing resources and assets. We could look at addressing affordable housing, which I guess is probably opening a can of worms here, but the availability of affordable housing is a significant factor in attracting and retaining workers, and it doesn’t seem to be alleviating, which is quite scary. I think that a lot of investment needs to go into affordable housing to be able to attract workers to the region. Broome is promoted as a very attractive destination for people to come, but one thing it doesn’t do is provide that longevity of a permanent move and a permanent investment.
So looking at marketing to perhaps a younger age group to relocate up to Broome and to stay for 10 years or 20 years opposed to, why don’t you go and do 12 months in Broome, so that our businesses can invest into that workforce and progress them. So that, I guess, leads to investment in skills and training and also to seasonal worker programs. So actually offering a permanent pathway for residents to be able to apply for permanent residency, not just offering Visa sort of short-term solutions. So I know that the East Kimberley have been working very, very hard on their DAMA application that was lodged in November, and that includes an extension to the West Kimberley, and we’re just waiting and waiting for an outcome from that. So we hope to have something to share very soon.
Sharni Foulkes, who’s the CEO of the Broome Chamber of Commerce and Industry speaking to Maya Cordick about worker shortages and how poorly rated the Kimberley is on a national regional scale because it’s got so few workers and a lot more job vacancies.
This transcript from ABC Kimberley from 20 September 2023 has been edited for clarity.