20/11/2007 - 22:00

Regions' skills spread uneven

20/11/2007 - 22:00

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Businesses in regional Western Australia are facing skills shortages like their counterparts in Perth yet not all sectors are being affected, according to a recent study by the University of Western Australia’s Institute for Regional Development.

Businesses in regional Western Australia are facing skills shortages like their counterparts in Perth yet not all sectors are being affected, according to a recent study by the University of Western Australia’s Institute for Regional Development.

The study, which examined the impact of skills shortages on regional economies, found that only half of nearly 300 businesses surveyed reported difficulties recruiting skilled labour.

By comparison, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA reported earlier this month that 75 per cent of WA businesses described labour supply as “scarce”.

The UWA study found pockets of severe shortages in sectors such as retail, property and financial services.

Trades associated with the manufacturing and construction industries were in greatest demand, particularly for small- to medium-sized enterprises.

In the Wheatbelt, 76 per cent of businesses in manufacturing and utilities reported major skills shortages, while the Great Southern and South West were affected to a lesser degree.

Shortages in the construction industry were even more acute, affecting 80 per cent of businesses in the South West and 75 per cent of those in the Wheatbelt.  

The study also found regional differences within industries such as agriculture, where 71 per cent of businesses in the South West reported major shortages.

The Great Southern and Wheatbelt, on the other hand, were relatively unaffected (20 and 22 per cent of businesses, respectively).

Professor Matthew Tonts, director of UWA’s Institute for Regional Development, said skilled labour shortages could be partly attributed to educational trends.

“During the 1970s and 1980s, an increasing number of people were encouraged to take up university education, rather than technical trades,” he said.

“Also, state-owned enterprises that used to train thousands of apprentices have been privatised, so we’ve lost a lot of potential in training.”

Professor Tonts said a demographic shift had compounded the problem, with.fewer 15 to 24 year olds living in rural areas than 30 years ago.

Organisations in health and education also struggled to attract labour, with all of the health organisations surveyed in the Great Southern and South West reporting major shortages.

Professor Tonts said regional businesses were constrained by an inability to compete on pay and workplace conditions.

“Enterprises, with less than 20 people are also in a much more difficult situation than large enterprises, which have a degree of flexibility,” he said.

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