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Braddon Business Blog

Managing the Skills Shortage

Many small business operators are experiencing rapid growth in activity but finding it difficult to respond to the buoyant economic circumstances due to a lack of access to skilled staff. Although this issue is more acute at the moment, in most businesses it is not new – good people have always been hard to find.

The current positive economic conditions have lead to a tightening of the labour market with the lowest unemployment levels for 30 years. Smart operators have realized that the skills shortage issue has shift from “where can I get additional labour from”, to “how can I keep the workers I’ve got”. Once business operators understand this crucial point, they will adjust the strategies they use and make some real in-roads into the skills shortage issue.

Your competitors also face the issue of no available pool of workers to employ, so it is likely that they will poach your skilled operators, with higher wages and improved conditions. So you need to ensure that your workplace is as attractive (particularly to your highly valued employees) as you can make it. Whilst dollars plays an important role, it is not the only reason your workers turn up each day and work for you. Recent employee surveying undertaken by Moore Consulting clearly indicates that, even in this time of very tight labour markets, hourly rate is not on the top of most employees’ lists and there are other attractions that will keep them turning up at your workplace and not somebody else’s.

These attractions include opportunity for advancement, different roles and responsibilities, varying work loads and tasks, varying work environments, opportunities to experiment with new processes and methodologies, flexible working hours and the opportunity for more autonomy in decision making and creativity – as well as good old-fashioned praise and appreciation for a job well done! And before the critics launch into a tirade of “this just sounds like text book stuff”, these attractions have been generated from recent (last 12 months) employee surveys from businesses right here on the north-west coast of Tasmania.

Creating an attractive workplace means understanding the needs of each individual employee and putting a plan in place that addresses their needs. This is where the work is – it doesn’t mean

employers making one or two changes across the entire workplace and expecting these “silver bullets” to make a difference. Each employee is motivated by different things – as managers we need to treat each one individually and respond accordingly.

None of this information is new and the good operators have been practicing these techniques for a long time. Not surprisingly, these are the employers who, even now, experience little difficulty in attracting good workers. Those who believe that the only reason they are losing employees is because they cannot pay them enough, are the ones who do not know or understand the other, non-financial needs of their employees.

Not surprisingly, the business operators that experience less difficulty in attracting and retaining skilled employees also turn out to be the best people managers. However, as I have mentioned in previous articles, we spend an enormous amount of time and energy ensuring our employees have the right skills but spend considerably less time ensuring that we have equally good skills as managers. Once again, those business operators who put the time and effort into developing their own people management skills reap the rewards many times over – attracting and retaining skilled staff in a tight labour market is just one of those times.

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