Competition for skills heats up between the states

Friend or foe? A collaborative approach to solving the skills shortage seems to have fallen off the agenda for state governments, opting instead for a combative strategy that aims to poach skills from other Australian regions.

The Queensland Government has recently made an offer to New South Wales workers – move to Queensland and we’ll give you a $10,000 bonus to help you “make the shift”. The bonus is designed to help relocating job seekers build new homes in Queensland – which might be particularly appealing for job seekers looking at creating a more convenient base for fly in-fly out work in Queensland’s resources sector.

The offer might be good for Queensland, but it’s not so good for New South Wales. Skills shortages are everywhere, and New South Wales is no exception.

Earlier this year, Mike Sacco wrote a blog post on the issue of skills poaching. In it, he talked about the resources sector poaching skills from other industries, warning that poaching skills was a short term band-aid – not a solution – that would eventually result in widespread poaching of skills from other resources companies.  And he was right. Now, we’re not just seeing skills poaching from other industries and companies, but from other states that have just as many skills shortage problems.

Of course, the term ‘skills shortage’ can often be misleading. A skills shortage is different to a people shortage. What we really mean is ‘talent mismatch’ – there are plenty of people, they just don’t have the right skills, the ones most in demand.

On one hand, encouraging job seekers to consider a change in location to find work is a good idea. It works when job seekers can’t find work in their current location, but their skills are in need somewhere else. For example, the displaced Bluescope Steel workers from Port Kembla – the target of Anna Bligh and the QLD Government in her address to a trade & investment roadshow in Sydney – may in fact need to relocate to find work relevant to their skill set.

But on the other hand, poaching skills from other states is a slippery slope – it’s a difficult line to draw between attracting job seekers to another state who are finding it difficult to find work in their current location, and attracting job seekers willing to leave a state that still needs them – for one which offers more financial incentives. That type of thinking won’t solve the national skills shortage problem. It’s just shifting the problem elsewhere.

Instead, we should look at planned, sustainable workforce movements that effectively share the workers we have while we build up and train the workforce we need. The Federal Government’s Connecting People With Jobs program goes some way towards a more thought-out process, but clearly it needs to link more directly with state government attraction programs to have its intended effect.

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