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Industry leaders see early signs of recovery in WA

LEADERS in a range of industries, including engineering, finance and training, say they are seeing the green shoots of recovery in the Western Australian economy — albeit on a small scale. The leaders attended a discussion in the Business News boardroom recently on the state of the economy and issues surrounding employment in WA.

Attendees agreed now was the time to work on attracting and retaining good staff to avoid the possibility of a skills shortage. BDO Chairman and Corporate Finance Partner Sherif Andrawes said he had seen evidence of business growth in WA for the past six months. “We’re having trouble fi nding staff here in Perth, and clients I’m working with are having trouble fi nding engineers or geologists,” Mr Andrawes said. “We’re looking to fl y people over from our Corporate Finance team in Melbourne because we’re so busy.”

Other attendees agreed the local market was showing signs of improvement but said good workers were still being lured to the eastern states. Whittens Group HR Manager Tonya Miller said she had found it difficult to secure a good engineer, who would want to be based in WA. “The market on the east coast is quite hot,” Ms Miller said. “Sydney infrastructure is going ballistic and it’s extending right out into regional NSW.”

Australian Industry Group Senior Adviser for Workplace Relations Karen Nelson said this pointed to the threat of a skills shortage in WA. “There’s no question that we’ll face a skills shortage in WA, and very shortly,” she said. Ms Nelson shared the example of a manufacturing and maintenance business that offered several niche roles. “There are currently three businesses in WA looking to fi ll these roles and the skilled employees are frequently jumping between them,” she said. “They’re having a real issue with maintaining a steady base of these workers, as well as keeping them away from their competitors.”

Cape Operations Director Andrew Gordon referred to the challenge of minimising attrition from a project that is drawing to a close, while at the same time manning up on another. “People obviously want to maintain continuity of employment for as long as possible, so as projects draw to a conclusion the challenge is in keeping them focused and motivated on the job that needs to be finished, rather than them looking for the next opportunity,” he said. “This challenge is increased where you have other projects that are kicking off at the same time. “Obviously those same people don’t want to miss out on that opportunity either.”

Salary packaging was also raised as a way of adding extra value for employees. “It’s a really good workplace benefit for our staff,” City of Canning executive manager, community and commercial, Steve Leeson said. “Nowhere else are salaries scrutinised as they are in the public sector. “By introducing salary packaging into the workplace, and helping peopleunderstand it, they see it as a benefit of our workplace.”

Easifleet Chief Operating Officer Lance Compton said salary packaging was one way to give employers a competitive edge over other companies. “Relocation costs, stamp duty and remote area benefits can all be claimed by employees,” Mr Compton said. Moving to a rural area for work could also attract remote area benefits. “You can package half of your rental costs, half your utility bills and half your mortgage interest,” Mr Compton said. “If you want to lock in prospective employees, that’s one of the best ways — disposable income is what this boils down to. “When you’ve got people weighing up two employees it’s about the contra.”

 

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