THE high employment rate in regional Victoria is causing headaches for many Gippsland businesses, with the resulting labour shortage and ‘pick and choose’ attitude of workers leaving employers out of pocket.
The story from many businesses is the same — it’s not just about finding staff, it’s finding people willing to work hard and then trying to keep them.
Jim Freshwater, who works at a Bundalaguah fencing company, says he has spent the past few years trying to find suitable young workers to help him, and is turning down contracts almost daily because of staff shortages.
“I’ve estimated I’ve lost about $200,000 in work in recent months alone because I can’t get the workers,” he said.
“We advertise, we use social media, we put the word out and we try everything, but they either don’t answer the ads or they come for a week or two and quit.
“It’s not that hard. I’m 63 and I can do it; I reckon I’m fitter than most of these young blokes.
“My feeling is they just don’t want to work — things are too easy for them.”
New data from the Regional Australia Institute shows a seven per cent increase in metro movers to regional Australia, leading to a net migration surge of 66 per cent in the March quarter.
That might sound good for employers, but population growth hasn’t translated into a ready workforce.
The same data shows regional job vacancies also rose, with a new record of 69,300 vacancies in May.
Frustrated regional employers say despite offering good wages they are unable to meet labour demands.
Mr Freshwater pays his young workers $30 an hour to help him build and repair fences.
“You can’t tell me that’s not a good wage for a young person,” he said.
The Regional Australia Institute cites migration as a large employment supplier, as well as job-creator, and with COVID-19 putting much of the country’s migration on hold, it’s little wonder some employers are suffering.
But regional workforce shortages are not just COVID-related.
According to the Internet Vacancy Index, since late 2016 job vacancy growth in regional areas has outstripped vacancy growth in some of the largest cities.
Before the pandemic, federal government data showed almost 6000 regional and rural jobs were advertised online, with Bendigo and the High Country recording the highest number of vacancies at 1700, followed by Gippsland with more than 1200 job vacancies.
A search of the SEEK recruitment website this week showed 439 job vacancies in the Sale-Bairnsdale region alone, mostly in the areas of hospitality, healthcare, childcare, and sales and delivery.
Gippsland Hotel, Sale, manager Gill Murphy said staff shortages were a constant problem in the hospitality industry, but had worsened significantly in recent years — and particularly since COVID.
“We did lose staff over COVID and it’s hard to fill those positions now,” she said.
“I think to a degree there are some people who have become used to not working.”
During the early days of the pandemic an incredible $1.2 billion was paid out each fortnight to job seekers on the Coronovirus Supplement from April 2020 to March 2021, when it ended.
Ms Murphy said she had recently advertised for three or four weeks for a cook, and not one person had applied — even after advertising in Melbourne.
“Many people who say they are looking for work are just too choosey, and that’s just because they can be,” she said.
“But I also think COVID has made some sections of the workforce think twice.
“We used to hire a lot of mums who needed work during school hours, but that section of the workforce has been lost to us because they don’t want to be locked in just in case home schooling comes back.
“COVID has definitely changed everything about the employment scene.”
Gippsland agency GBS Recruitment, which has an office in Sale, sees the labour shortage up close. They fill hundreds of positions in an environment where there are more job vacancies than people actively looking.
Recruitment director Rachael Wilson said hospitality workers were “as rare as hens’ teeth”, and believes the shortages have been caused by the increased uncertainty in that industry.
“This level of staff shortage is unprecedented in my experience,” she said.
“We also have had jobs for chefs and waitresses where we have had zero responses.”
Ms Wilson said labour hire was another area hit hard by staff shortages, again largely because job seekers were looking for job security.
“I think people are less likely to change jobs in these times of uncertainty, so there are just not as many people looking,” she added.
The federal government has placed a strong emphasis on job creation in its 2021-22 Budget, with extensions to income tax offset estimated to create an additional 20,000 jobs by the end of 2022–23.
At the same time the state government’s Jobs Victoria Fund is providing $250 million in wage subsidies to help Victorian businesses to employ at least 10,000 people.
But without a ready workforce, and international borders still closed, finding staff to fill those jobs and speed up economic recovery might not be so easy.
Are you an employer finding it difficult to attract suitable employees? Phone the Gippsland Times newsroom on 5143 9345.