Report highlights age concerns

THE State Government’s recruitment policy – particularly in the areas of health and education – and private sector employers were given a wake-up call last week following a report into the State’s ageing population.

The two-year long Workforce Projections 2002-2022 study, undertaken by the Centre for Labour Market Research – a consortium of universities from Western Australia and the Australian Capital territory based at the University of Western Australia – found the public sector’s ageing workforce poses a serious threat to WA’s economy.

“It is doubtful WA’s public sector workforce will be able to meet future demands without well-coordinated intervention,” the report says.

According to the report, workforce shortfalls of between 4 per cent and 22 per cent could hit WA’s public sector, which is considerably older than the WA private sector workforce, if the current rate of recruitment was maintained.

Health will be most affected, with the graduate out-turn of nurses for 2020 needing to increase by up to 120 per cent to meet expected demand.

Signs of the nursing shortage are already emerging, prompting the Government’s advertising campaign last year to attract former nurses back into the workforce.

Education was another sector the report highlighted.

The age structure of the teaching workforce is expected to create staffing difficulties in the future, despite static school population projection, the report says.

Health and education were also flagged because of the lack of market support and a limited labour supply due to the traditional female orientation of the industry.

However, while the report sounded alarm bells for government, it is the government’s response that industry should take note of, according to a senior research manager at the Centre for Labour Market Research (CLMR).

CLMR’s Ross Kelly said it was always important for business to be aware of government priorities.

“The government is a large part of the economy and any imbalance affects the whole market,” he said.

While Mr Kelly warned his comments should be taken in a general sense, he said any change in government recruitment policy could affect the ability of the private sector to recruit.

“This is a highly stylised example but, say, if the WA Government over the next five years needed an extra 20,000 jobs to come out of universities,” he said. “Then all the universities’ resources were tied up in supplying this demand; what happens to the private sector wanting jobs?

“If there is a change in structure in terms of the type of occupations the government is seeking, and the universities adapt to accommodate that demand, and more to the point students respond to the market signal and make a choice to go into health, for example, it poses a serious issue for the private sector.”

For the same reasons Mr Kelly said private contractors to the government also needed to be aware of any change in government recruitment policy.

A spokesman for the Consumer and Employment protection Minister John Kobelke said the report had raised very important issues and the Government had formulated a response by asking each department to formulate its own action plans.

However, the spokesman said that the report did not just have implications for the public sector.

“This is something the private sector should consider in terms of its mid to long-term recruitment plans,” he said.

WA Chamber of Industry and Commerce spokesman Bob Pride said statisticians had been talking about a tight labour market for a while, but the report highlighted the immediate need for forward looking policies and for Australians to take a wider view of the world.

Assuming that Australia maintains its current work patterns and rate of economic growth over the long term, a greater movement of employees between the private and public sectors would occur, he said.

“Then you will see employers, both public sector and private, having to make positions attractive and offer flexible employment arrangements,’ Mr Pride told WA Business News.

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