‘Staggering’: Occupations facing skills shortages in Australia almost doubled in past year

by Sarah Martin
Of the 20 largest employing occupations, more than half are having difficulties finding workers

The number of occupations experiencing a skills shortage in Australia has almost doubled over the past year to reach a “staggering” level, new data reveals.

The National Skills Commission’s annual update of the skills priority list, released on Thursday, shows there are 286 occupations with national shortages, compared with 153 in 2021.

Newly listed occupations include dentists, paediatricians, a range of surgeons, specialised nurses, and intensive care and emergency medicine specialists.

Teachers – primary, secondary and special needs – are also newly listed. General practitioners and registered nurses remain on the list, as they were in 2021.

The five most in-demand workers – based on job vacancy data – are registered nurses, software and applications programmers, aged, disabled and child carers and construction managers.

Other occupations on the list include technicians and trades workers, electricians, carpenters, chefs and mechanics, machinery operators, drivers and labourers, and community and personal service workers.

The skills priority list is used to help shape government policy on training and migration.

Thursday’s report states that of the 20 largest employing occupations, more than half are now facing skills shortages, with the number of jobs advertised up 42% in the past year, to 309,900 in August.

For caring jobs, the report said that employers received small pools of applicants for advertised positions and considered “fewer than two applicants as suitable on average per vacancy”. It follows a forecast that Australia will be short more than 200,000 caring jobs by 2050.

In response to the inability to fill vacancies, the report said, employers were more likely to restructure the organisation, give up on filling the position, or change the position requirements, rather than offer higher wages.

However, the report said that almost half of all businesses had reported increasing wages, salaries or bonuses for existing staff to address workforce shortages in the past 12 months.

The proportion of health professional occupations experiencing shortages went up by 47 percentage points in 2022, with the number of suitable applicants for health professionals halved.

“Employers struggled to fill vacancies for these occupations, with around half of the vacancies for health professionals remaining unfilled,” the report said.

It suggests the health sector has been hit with additional workforce instability by a temporary redistribution of the Australian workforce in response to Covid-19 and worker burnout.

Anthony Albanese said the report showed that the former government had “dropped the ball” on skills training.

“My government is focused on growing our vocational and training sector, delivering 465,000 fee-free Tafe places to help address skills shortages, and upgrading key Tafe infrastructure,” the prime minister said.

“We also have a strong focus on opening up more opportunities for apprentices and traineeships, giving people on-the-job work experience.”

The federal skills minister, Brendan O’Connor, who will convene a meeting of state and territory skills ministers on Friday to discuss the crisis, said the “staggering increase” in skills shortages was compounding economic challenges domestically.

“By investing in skills, we can capitalise on the demonstrable connection between a trained and skilled workforce and a more productive economy.”