Skills crisis has been exacerbated by floods

THE floods that have caused widespread damage across Queensland, NSW and Victoria would add to the increasing skills shortage issue, as labour resources are deployed to rebuild destroyed infrastructure.

The latest Clarius Skills Index -- a measure of the supply and demand of skilled labour in Australia -- showed skills shortages in construction, engineering and building professionals and trades occupations continued through to the end of last year, despite an increase in supply over the last three months. Phil Desmet, executive general manager of Clarius's engineering and building services division, SouthTech, said despite a slight easing in the index, skill shortages were continuing to emerge in a number of industry sectors, which would be further heightened as a result of flood recovery demands.

He said this would result in a delay in existing projects, a rise in salaries and a migration of skills from other states."There are several people in the building industry that are packing up their families and heading to Brisbane, as they have five years of work ahead of them there and they can pick their projects and price them accordingly," he said. The December quarter Clarius Skills Index, compiled prior to the floods, reported an estimated shortfall of about 4900 construction tradespeople, 600 building and engineering professionals and 100 building and engineering associated professionals."There is still uncertainty around the demand needed following the natural disasters," Mr Desmet said.

"Some previous projects have been put on hold to rebuild Queensland because the skills shortage means they need to take the talent out of those projects and direct it on to the rebuilding stage."Mr Desmet said he expected the biggest areas of demand would be for electrical engineers, predominantly relating to power transmission and distribution and rail, while design skills also would be sought after for developments related to transport, such as rebuilding of highways and roads.

The skills shortage issue, prior to the January floods, had seen wages increase in the sectors' desperate for workers, particularly in the resources industry. By Sarah-Jane Tasker; The Australian
Business urges PM to expand migration.

THE Business Council of Australia has urged the Gillard government to expand temporary skilled migration and called for wage rises to be tied to productivity gains in deals negotiated under Labour's Fair Work laws.

As concerns about the impact of worsening skills shortages on the resources sector grow, the BCA has urged the government to overhaul the 457 visa programme and to introduce a new form of fast-tracked labour agreement -- an enterprise migration agreement -- for big projects. In its pre-budget submission, the peak business group warns that "many" companies are worried about the cost and processing times associated with the 457-visa programme. The Red Book briefing for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen warned that at least 140,000 skilled migrants were caught in a processing backlog of up to 28 months. While Julia Gillard introduced new arrangements to slash 457-visa processing times so that skilled migrants could be imported for the Queensland floods reconstruction programme, the BCA wants this extended to cover the wider economy.

"The ongoing demand for labour and skills cannot be underestimated and tight labour markets and emerging skills shortages will present major challenges for policymakers," the submission states. "It is important for the budget to include a clear commitment to policies that will support appropriate levels of skilled migration." The government's National Resources Sector Employment Task force recommended the use of enterprise migration agreements -- which would allow streamlined migration on big resources projects -- after finding that there would be a shortage of skilled tradespeople in the resources sector of around 36,000 by 2015.

The BCA submission says the budget should detail a target of nett overseas migration of 180,000 -- a level that would lead to what Treasury has calculated to be a 35.9 million population by 2050, the same figure that sparked the "big Australia" debate. The BCA submission argues these reforms should be accompanied by improved training for school-leavers and those wanting to move into growing sectors of the economy. BCA president Graham Bradley called for the budget to give closer scrutiny to risks on commodity prices. - Annabel Hepworth; The Australian

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