13/11/2007 - 22:00

Sector not spared the effects of people, skills shortages

13/11/2007 - 22:00

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Skills shortages may have beset the corporate sector in Western Australia for several years, but not-for-profit organisations, some argue, have had to cope with added pressures.

Sector not spared the effects of people, skills shortages

Skills shortages may have beset the corporate sector in Western Australia for several years, but not-for-profit organisations, some argue, have had to cope with added pressures.

The sector is not only dealing with the state’s general shortage of labour, but is losing staff to the more lucrative private sector.

It also faces competition from government in areas of service provision such as counselling and mental health.

UnitingCare West chief executive officer Chris Hall said finding and retaining staff, both for administrative and professional roles, was a huge issue for the organisation.

“The bottom line for us is the lack of parity of salaries across the board,” Mr Hall said.

“There is a lack of competition, particularly compared to what the government is offering, and certainly in administration, people are able to get a job in other industries that far outweighs what we are able to pay.”

Of 170 full-time positions, UnitingCare West currently has 20 vacancies, which Mr Hall said had been at a fairly constant level throughout the year.

In order to improve staff retention, the organisation is negotiating a new collective agreement with its employees, due to be finalised in the next few weeks.

“It will come at a significant cost but we feel we have no option in the current climate,” Mr Hall said.

The Salvation Army is also considering salary increases for its staff, according to CEO Gary Hart.

Several of the organisation’s social workers have moved to the government sector and replacing them has been difficult.

“We need people who can look past salary,” Mr Hart said.

Within the area of human services, the disability sector has been assertive in dealing with the workforce issue.

Earlier this week, peak body National Disability Services announced a two-year national disability workforce project to assess capacity issues and trial a series of employee retention strategies with service providers in each state and territory.

WA’s disability providers also recently negotiated with the state government to deliver a pay rise for staff of $33 a week, although some felt this did not go far enough.

“The wage increase was nice to get, but in some ways it a bit of an insult to the lowest paid workforce,” Nulsen Haven chief executive Gordon Trewern said.

He said workforce planning was likely to become even more challenging in the years ahead.

“It’s not only about getting labour but about how it influences service design and delivery in the future. I think we’re just seeing cracks now and we haven’t begun to see how big that crack is going to get,” Mr Trewern said.

Despite making progress on wages, staff retention remains a major issue for the disability sector.

Activ Foundation chief executive Tony Vis said the organisation was struggling to cope with the downward spiral of staffing.

“The good people do stay, but they get worn out quicker, so they’ll start to go. The best people stay, but they’ll start to get worn out and they’ll go too, and then you rely on casual and agency people and so your wages bill goes up, which it has for us enormously,” Mr Vis said.

While attracting and retaining staff is challenging for some organisations, others say recruiting people with the appropriate skills and experience is just as problematic.

Mission Australia’s state director Angie Paskevicius said there was a greater need to upskill employees, and staff inductions were taking longer because people often lacked the requisite skills.

“There are particular types of staff that are becoming more and more difficult to find and in the pool that we have to select from, the bar is much lower,” she said.

One reason not for profits are affected by the current staff shortage may be that the third sector’s traditional workforce of volunteers is in short supply.

However, it is debatable as to whether there is a shortage of volunteers and it depends which statistics are considered, according to Volunteering WA CEO, Mara Basanovic.

While WA performed poorly compared with other states in the recent census data, Ms Basanovic said workplace studies showed the reverse.

She said the perception that participation rates had dropped off was misleading.

“The way volunteering has changed is not necessarily in numbers, but demographics. People who are time poor want to volunteer in quite short, sharp bursts,” she said.

They’re quite happy to give two hours per week rather than a whole day.”

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