Skilled labor shortages loom in multiple sectors of the Australian Economy

More than one major industry within Australia faces the very real prospect of skilled labor shortages, and in both instances industry leaders are looking to skilled immigrants to bridge the gap. On one end of the spectrum is the IT sector, which needs to keep up with the demand created by a $43 billion National Broadband Network project for the Australian government. On the other end of the spectrum is the Oil and Gas industry, which is trying to handle a number of new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) projects, including a $43 billion initiative of its own – the Gorgon Project for joint partners Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell.

In both sectors there is growing concern over the lack of skilled labor, as many experts believe that the size and scope of these major projects is too much for the native workforce. Estimates indicate that the Australian IT sector’s growth rate is expected to grow at a rate of three times that of employment – creating enough work to generate an additional 36,000 jobs by 2013. John Grant, the chairman of the Australian Information Industry Association, believes that the answer lies in importing highly trained workers from neighboring countries because, “We are not putting enough people through our own institutions.”

Within the Oil and Gas industry, a number of new LNG projects have kick-started demand for everything from front-line managers to mining engineers to metallurgists, according to experts at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA). Meanwhile, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) estimates that the number of workers in the Resources sector would need to grow by approximately 86,000 over the next decade for Australian to maintain its place in commodity markets throughout the world. Unfortunately, Chris Fraser, the Director of Education and Training for the MCA notes, “We are going to be very quickly back into these capacity constraints caused by labor shortages. Then when you start to look at what’s happening in WA with the LNG projects, that becomes the reality very, very quickly.”

Playing a large role in the ultimate success, or failure, of these two sectors’ job placement needs is the Australian government. Grant has suggested that the country would be able to effectively handle the staffing needs of IT organizations only if the government has a positive view on skilled immigration. “Provided the government doesn’t get ‘holier than thou’ in terms of allowing people into Australia, I think the market here could avoid a critical skills shortage.”

Grant’s Oil and Gas counterparts share some of the same sentiments, yet there is a degree of skepticism with regards to the government’s approach to brining in skilled workers. APPEA’s Director of Skills and Safety, Miranda Taylor, has indicated that certain immigration programs, like the 457 visa, are not well positioned for big offshore LNG projects. Taylor said, “A lot of people working offshore aren’t seeking permanent migration, and in many cases, are coming into Australia for weeks or months. The timeframes involved and the bureaucracy, in particular in some of the states, is really not suitable to the sorts of needs we have with the offshore industry.”

Despite some uncertainty over the government’s future stance on skilled migration, it’s clear that opportunity exists for the right type of skilled migrant worker. However, immigration can be a complicated matter, so it’s important for potential workers to take the time to learn about Australia’s immigration policies, requirements and procedures. Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship is a great starting point for individuals looking to conduct research on the topic. Alternatively, there are companies and organizations such as Perdaman Global Services that exist specifically untangle administrative intricacies and to help facilitate a smooth and successful immigration process.