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War for talent: Worker shortage as job ads hit 12-year high

Several sectors are dealing with workforce shortages. (Source: Getty)
Several sectors are dealing with workforce shortages. (Source: Getty)

Australian job advertisements have reached levels not seen in more than a decade, new data has revealed, as the country confronts a nation-wide worker shortage.

Job ads rose for the 11th consecutive month in March at 238,700 job openings, according to fresh figures released from the National Skills Commission.

This marks a rise of 19.1 per cent, or 38,200 job ads from the previous month.

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And job ads now are nearly double what they were from a year ago in March 2020, when the pandemic hit.


Vacancies are highest in Western Australia, where the volume of job ads rose by nearly a quarter (23.9 per cent) during March alone.

(Source: National Skills Commission)
(Source: National Skills Commission)

Job ads in Tasmania and Victoria followed closely behind, ballooning by nearly a fifth (19.9 per cent and 19.7 per cent respectively). Tasmania also posted the highest year-on-year job ad growth at 179.6 per cent.

The new data comes two days ahead of the release of new unemployment figures, currently at 5.8 per cent, which is widely expected to drop to 5.6 per cent.

Seek’s latest employment report also reported a synchronised rise in year-on-year job ad growth across every state and territory, with jobs booming in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland.

The industry, construction and public sectors have posted the biggest increases in job ad growth in February 2021 compared to last year, according to Seek.

(Source: Seek)
(Source: Seek)

Meanwhile, tradies, hospitality and tourism workers, and healthcare and medical roles are in high demand, as well as retail workers and customer service assistants.

Which sectors need workers?

Australia’s agriculture industry has also grappled with a workforce shortage in recent months as the international travel ban stems the typical flow of overseas workers and backpackers to fruit- and vegetable-picking jobs.

NSW Farmers Horticulture Committee chair Guy Gaeta told Yahoo Finance in December that March and April would be “crunch time” for farmers if international borders remained closed.

“Backpackers are vital for our sector and if they are not able to get here, crops like citrus, stone fruit and vegetables may not be able to picked to their full capacity,” Gaeta said.

And despite the Federal Government’s efforts to encourage Australians to move regionally to take up farmer jobs, the shortage has not been adequately addressed.

“High unemployment among domestic workers in the past has not resulted in a strong uptake of horticultural work. This suggests that unemployed domestic workers will not meet the present shortfall in overseas workers,” stated a report from the Department of Agriculture.

Australia’s healthcare system has also been warning of a shortage in workers for years now, with NDIS CEO David Moody telling ABC the disability sector needs an estimated 120,000 workers.

And while Australia’s economy recovers and more businesses and recreational facilities return to normal operations, demand for swim teachers has soared, with Swim Australia CEO Brendon Ward saying the shortage is putting young children at risk.

“We lost a lot of swim teachers during covid as pools were closed and many were ineligible for JobKeeper and sought alternative employment in other sectors,” Ward told Splash Magazine.

Average waiting lists for swim lessons have increased 20 per cent, and the teacher shortage is threatening water safety and swimming skills among children.

“We’ve already seen an increase in the drowning toll this summer,” he said. “Swimming is a core life skill which is best taught in the formative years and if we miss the chance to teach young Aussies water safety skills, we may miss it forever.”

Australia’s tech sector is also experiencing a deficit of skilled employees, with recent analysis by RMIT Online revealing that the country needs an additional 156,000 more technology workers by 2025.

“If Australia can address the digital skills gap, it will turbocharge the economy, helping businesses in the Technology, Media and Communications industry alone grow by $10 billion by 2025,” the RMIT Online report said.

This figure is higher than estimates from a 2019 report by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) which stated Australia would need an extra 100,000 tech workers by 2024.

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