By Ben Klatt
Gary owns a mid-sized finance industry business in Townsville. After a tumultuous year for lenders, superannuation companies, insurance companies, and other financial players, Gary knows he needs a risk and compliance officer to protect his business and remain in good standing with industry regulators. He’s advertised for over six months. He’s offering good money. He’s offering very comfortable working arrangements. He’s had a total of two applicants, neither sufficiently qualified. The skills shortage in Regional Queensland is at a crisis point and even with TAFE Queensland’s offer of free courses, the gap is still wide.
I’ve worked on both sides of this problem. As a Queensland government employee, I could see firsthand what regional businesses needed and where the process was falling over. After so many years of providing fast-tracked, flexible but fully accredited courses, I know too well that bureaucratic solutions are often just layers of problems rather than practical solutions.
Is the skills shortage coming to an end?
The good news for regional business owners is that the Queensland government’s solution is now a “work in progress”. The bad news is, for people like Gary, their business remains at high risk until it’s sorted. There’s a few key factors that will impact recovery success:
Attrition. Unfortunately, TAFE has a 46% dropout rate for non-trade certifications. Removing the fee structure will likely increase that rate. So while the government has opened up a HUGE swag of free TAFE courses, the number of completions may dwindle further.
Graduate Status. The TAFE qualifications have very loose entry requirements and are targeted specifically at people looking to change careers into an industry with an existing skills shortage. While regional Queensland is screaming out for qualified workers, these graduates will have very little industry experience (by the nature of the TAFE recruitment program) and won’t have the benefits of the peripheral support and industry partnerships offered by private RTOs.
Completion Time. Students enrolling in these courses are offered some flexibility in completion times (in a bid to lower attrition no doubt) but for students studying on campus or in more practical industries, the completion time is mandated by the availability of lecturers, placements, and annual schedules. This means that an Associate Diploma may take two full years.
The Fast Track
While I applaud the idea of upskilling our state, in fact, I am a lifelong proponent of upskilling as a means of socio-economic advancement, I fear that for many of our regional business owners, there are far too many barriers to a successful outcome. How do we overcome these barriers?
Manage Attrition with Student Support. Tertiary institutions will always have a level of student attrition. While the best universities on earth (Oxford, Harvard etc) also have the best graduation rates, it comes down to the initial student selection process, rather than the facilities and flexibility of the school. Changing to a student-centric culture where ongoing career and academic support is the best way to reduce attrition at the certificate and diploma level.
Enhance graduate value with industry upskilling. While TAFE aims to attract new applicants to struggling industries, Gary may wish to consider upskilling an existing team member, say an administrator, to take their place in the risk manager role. Why? As an administrator, the employee may have little experience in risk and compliance but they’ll have an excellent understanding of the challenges in the industry. They’ll be able to identify risks faster. They’ll have insight into potential risks on the horizon. Upskilling staff also increases staff retention rates, helping you retain the skilled workers you already have.
Completion Lag Time. This is a tricky one because there is no way to slash the time taken to learn an industry from scratch. But, in the example of Gary’s administrator, their career in the industry to date, and their knowledge of the challenges and experience of the risks, may qualify them for Recognition of Prior Learning Certification (learn how this works here). This is where a Registered Training Organisation can fast-track a solution to Gary’s problems.
Similarly, if regional businesses hire foreign nationals, they may already have excellent qualifications that just need to be “certified” in Australia. This will mean they only need to study the areas of Australian-specific law or business that differ from their international qualification. Unfortunately, these employees will not qualify for the current TAFE program.
So what’s the outlook for Regional Business impacted by the Queensland skills shortage?
Hang in there, our slow-moving bureaucracy is working on it. I look forward to a bright future where Queensland can boast a highly skilled workforce, unfortunately, for Gary, that is still a while away.