Skills shortage demands Aussie CEOs address productivity

This is a guest post by Jeremy Paton, team engagement and collaboration specialist at Avaya

The skills shortage is retaining its vice-like grip on Australia.

Businesses across a range of industries are facing a continuous struggle in finding and retaining workers, despite the staggered re-opening of borders and the government’s skilled migration initiatives.

We have seen this, for example, play out in regional Victoria, where the lack of manpower from working visas has disrupted the operations of local businesses and agriculture, and the technology industry, where the dented talent pool has caused companies to send jobs offshore and delay product launches.

In April, job-seeking platform Seek hit its highest level of job vacancies posted in its 25-year history, which was 59.7% higher than a year earlier.

And the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found 11 out of 19 industries saw a rise in payroll jobs compared with a year prior, with some of the largest increases in professional services, education and training and healthcare, reflecting the heightened need for skilled workers in these fields.

The gap between demand and supply is widening and could result in long-term economic repercussions for our national prosperity.

Last year, the Great Resignation dominated headlines, however it proved to be largely confined to the US. Although workers in the rest of the world might not be rushing to quit their jobs, they’re certainly happy to move to a competitor if their needs aren’t met.

CEOs and business leaders alike are feeling the crunch, and according to recent research from Gartner, attracting and retaining talent is now the top business priority for 31% of them. This is up from just 16% last year, representing the biggest jump of all priorities.

While the analyst firm has recommended a greater focus on internal factors such as training and upskilling, it also advises there is “a need for CEOs to focus more sharply on productivity as a way to reduce staff volume hiring needs”.

The idea that productivity isn’t at the top of the CEO priority list, and indeed, didn’t even make the top 10, is baffling. After all, more productive employees contribute to increased performance at their organisations, motivating them to stick around.

It’s been touted a thousand times that hybrid work is here to stay, but flexible hours and arrangements are only one piece in the productivity puzzle.

In its report, Gartner says “business leaders should be turning to their technology executives now, asking for more aggressive and radical productivity-improving solutions…A deeper, more direct focus on productivity engineering will help restructure the cost base to compensate.”

To ensure effective hybrid work and overcome talent acquisition and retention challenges, employers must empower their employees to be productive through access to the affordances of today’s advanced technologies.

Retaining the right people with tech

Workers require the tools to stay connected and collaborate with their peers, and perform at their peak without jumping hurdles or circling roundabouts when trying to do their jobs. These are the fundamentals of productivity.

Although they served their purpose in the early stages of the pandemic, run-of-the-mill communications apps don’t cut it anymore. In fact, at a recent event attended by some of the largest organisations in Australia, leaders reported that over the last two years, inadequate remote work setups had seen their workers continually hit productivity roadblocks that seriously impacted their quality of life and ability to serve customers.

Staff should be supported by automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) while working, particularly to reduce the burden of repetitive, time-consuming and administrative tasks. That gives them the capacity to focus on high value activity that bring greater value to the business.

At the same time, companies need to take greater advantage of data analytics to understand whether employees’ needs are being met, and determine whether there are roadblocks they need removed to get their jobs done meaningfully and enjoyably.

In a survey of Australian workers, 85% indicated their well-being declined during the pandemic, and 37% considered their employer their main source of mental health support. Organisational leaders need to encourage consistent feedback loops – backed by technology – where workers can make proactive contributions around their own productivity, health and well-being.

Employees also need more than just a virtual meeting room to form ideas, retain information and raise their hand to ask for help from supervisors. While working from home, they should be able to connect and collaborate in a way that is integrated with their digital lives.

In addition to leveraging technology to accommodate flexible work arrangements and boost productivity, CEOs also need to turn their attention to training, upskilling and development.

This can serve as a key differentiator and a major value proposition for prospective employees. People don’t want to stagnate in their current roles; they expect the opportunity for ongoing professional development so they can expand their skills to grow professionally.

After all, work is no longer viewed as somewhere people simply go, but a symbiotic ecosystem in which customers, managers and colleagues freely exchange value and meaning.

External pressures and evolving employee expectations mean it’s harder than ever to attract and retain the right staff. The sooner organisations empower employees to optimise productivity, the faster they will be able to fill talent gaps, and importantly, beat their competitors in attracting skilled workers.

Using technology to support staff to do their best and work to their own beat unlocks flexibility and operational agility while reducing business risk, ultimately setting a new benchmark for recovery.

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