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Untapped local labour resources crucial to easing skills and jobs shortages

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Released today by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, the ‘Bridging the Gap: Population, skills and labour market adjustment in WA’ report has found large untapped pools of domestic labour, in complement to a skilled migrant strategy, are the key to addressing skills and labour shortages impacting many sectors and extending throughout regional and remote Western Australia.

The report found WA was highly prone to skills shortages due to unique characteristics such as the isolation of its capital city, remoteness of mining and agricultural worksites and volatility of its resource industry and therefore economy.

Co-author and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Principal Research Fellow Professor Michael Dockery said skills shortages were a normal feature of a dynamic and growing economy, however, what was important was the ability of the labour market to respond to such shortages.

“While the call for more immigration has dominated addressing the skill and labour shortages, as heard at last week’s Jobs and Skills Summit, there are large, unharnessed sources of local labour and skills that we should also consider drawing on,” Professor Dockery said.

“The current period of low unemployment has seen at least 40,000 Western Australians unemployed each month, while the number of vacancies employers are seeking to fill is running at over 60,000.

“Unemployment and disengagement from the domestic labour market by those who would like to work has long-term economic and social costs, including negative mental health impacts and the fact that the longer people are out of work the less work-ready they become and the less efficient the entire labour market becomes.”

Co-author and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Principal Research Fellow Associate Professor Astghik Mavisakalyan said better workforce diversity had a number of benefits beyond simply addressing the current skills and labour shortage.

“In the case of women and people living with a disability, there are also compelling equity and social justice considerations. Another benefit is that drawing on existing, latent sources of labour does not add to pressure in the housing market.”

Associate Professor Mavisakalyan said the report explored the causes of lower employment rates of women relative to men and found family and childcare responsibilities posed significant constraints on female participation in the labour market, while men’s participation was relatively unaffected by those same factors.

“The cost of accessing suitable childcare is a major contributor, with nearly 60 per cent of those people who are considering using paid childcare believing the cost is a problem to some degree,” Associate Professor Mavisakalyan said.

“Gender biased norms on attitudes to women and work are an additional barrier constraining female workforce participation, suggesting closing the gender gap in labour force participation needs to start with addressing gender stereotypes that are formed from an early age.”

The report also found WA’s current tight rental market and the lack of availability of affordable housing was likely hindering migration flows from overseas and interstate needed to help ease skills shortages.

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