Despite the fact that the Australian government has invested millions upon millions of dollars into the employment market, there still seem to be significant skills shortages in Australia. This is an issue which is going to dominate the forthcoming election in September 2013, amid concerns that there are no feasible long-term policies in place to improve the spread of skills across the Australian employment population and reduce the number of overseas workers.
The fact this has been going on for over a decade now is obviously a major concern, not only to the domestic Australian population but also to the unions. Australian unions have been very vocal in their criticism of the current 457 visa system but what is the underlying problem and can it be resolved in the short term?
If you take a look back to the US mortgage crisis in 2008, many economies around the world have not recovered five years later. However, the fact remains that the Australian economy did not even dip into recession and indeed has remained one of the strongest economies in the developed world.
While this is obviously a major benefit to the Australian people, Australian business and the Australian government, it has brought about a number of issues which are currently under investigation. Even before this ongoing growth in the Australian economy, fuelled by Chinese and Indian demand for natural resources, there were a number of skills shortages across the board. The introduction of various visas, such as the 457 visa, was purely and simply to reduce the skills and experience shortage which was seen in more than one area of commerce.
An Evolving Employment Market
While Australia has always been very strong in natural resources, the country has some of the largest mining companies in the world, nobody could have forecast the massive demand from India and China. This exacerbated a problem which already existed in the shape of skills and experience shortages and therefore pushed up the employment packages available for overseas skilled workers thereby attracting more and more interest.
A number of surveys have shown that expats from around the world are targeting some of the higher paid positions in the Australian employment market, many of which lay within the natural resources industry. While many people are pointing the finger at the mining magnates, who have made serious money from the ongoing development of the sector, the fact is that a short-term issue needed to be resolved in double quick time.
While critics of the skilled worker visas system will point the finger at an apparent lack of investment in the training market, this is not wholly true. Mining companies in particular have been large investors in local training facilities and indeed those skilled workers who have entered the country to fill specific needs are now passing on their skills and experience to the local Australian workforce. In a perfect world this would happen overnight, leaving a highly skilled and highly experienced band of local Australian workers. In reality, this is going to take some time which is why we have seen friction of late between the government, unions and businesses.
Maybe a reduction in 457 visa numbers will encourage employers in Australia to invest more money in training, but it could also put at risk a number of large ongoing projects which are both beneficial to the employment market and government coffers. The Australian authorities need to find a balance between filling a short-term skills gap, putting money aside for long-term training and at the same time adjusting the number of overseas skilled workers entering the country. This is perhaps one of the more difficult juggling acts which the Australian government has faced in recent times but one they need to resolve.