By Maxwell Ward & Caroline Li
At last, we made it to the light at the end of the tunnel. Freedom day has been and gone and the economy is in full swing with CBA reporting a 12.3% increase in week on week card spending as of Friday the 15th of October within NSW.
Which judging by the below image, most of that spending occurred in Kmart, (what does Kmart offer that justifies queuing up at midnight?)
Whether you want to tidy up that mop on your head, undertake a fashion makeover or remember what tap beer tastes like, the government wants you out there spending, spending, spending.
There’s only one problem, it might not be so easy to consume those long awaited goods and services you’ve been craving because the workers have gone elsewhere. This week’s article breaks down the industries that are experiencing the shortage and the solutions on offer to fix them.
Hospitality & Retail
Household savings has been building over the lockdown period and so it is only natural that the first place people will look to get a quick rush of good times is either by treating them self to some new clothes and toys or getting a cheeky long island ice tea at the local.
Maurice Terzini, director of the Icebergs bar in Bondi has likened the opening of NSW to the “hunger games” as hospitality venues are doing anything they can to get workers back in after previous employees either went back overseas due to border closures or moved interstate.
It’s not just bartenders and waiters that are in high demand either, it is estimated that between 5 – 40% of security subcontractors have exited the industry.
With a 55% increase in job ads within hospitality and retail against the same time last year, there’s no wonder that employers are offering unprecedented wages to poach as many staff as they can.
The shortage has prompted NSW to reconsider their immigration stance, with Dominic Perottet supporting calls to double the rate of pre-pandemic migration to about 200,000 people per year.
Aimless eyes in a hollow classroom. They follow the cold frames of an unfilled whiteboard, to the clean front desk left unoccupied, to the faces of peers sitting around them, glassy – deadpan. I admit, a portrait of dystopian sterility may be a tad bit dramatised. But the idea of “running out of teachers” still brings a weirdly sobering image to mind. For how can you have the learners, without the learned?
Earlier this month, confidential NSW Department of Education documents revealed NSW was on the road to “running out of teachers in the next five years”, requiring a minimum addition of 11,000 teachers over the next decade to keep the state education system afloat. These shortages will be exacerbated in areas that continue to face recruitment concerns, such as in regional schools, STEM subjects and special education.
The COVID situation isn’t helping. The hesitancy to return back to in-person teaching, and complications with regional vaccination rates amongst teachers have led to several schools resorting to unconventional, sub-par teaching methods to ‘get students by’. Murrumbidgee Regional High School recorded 475 instances of minimal supervision, teacher absence and non-active teaching sessions in 2021 alone, with a similar situation being witnessed in Sydney’s Concord High School. Are lazy afternoons where students “just sit there” now becoming the norm? Not only do these staffing shortages interfere with the quality of secondary education but have ripple effects for student engagement with STEM faculties well into their tertiary studies.
A solution has been put onto the table. The NSW government has announced a $125 million NSW Teacher Supply strategy, which will offer both STEM-related upskilling opportunities for teachers and various teaching scholarships, totalling to $44 million. This package is clearly marketed as an ‘incentives galore’, with students offered financial subsidies not only to relocate to regional and rural schools, but to stay and contribute to the community.
But the fatal law of attraction is not so simplistic. Interestingly, NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos has described the governmental focus on marketing tactics and hollow incentives as an “all icing and no cake approach”. The NSW government has been accused of recycling strategies that focus on fast-tracking individuals into the teaching profession through incentivised mid-career path changes. This strategy fails to take into account the practical issues that exist in the teaching industry – the ever-stagnant salary ceiling and lack of strong career progression.
So what would work better? What could really attract more teachers? Gavrielatos says the answer is simple: pay teachers more and help reduce their unsustainable workloads. The NSW government has stood stead-fast in their refusal to lift teaching pay rises from a strict 2.5 percent per year, to the desired 4.5-5 percent pushed by the NSW Teachers Federation. In this way, slowly, the conduit of knowledge and passion is cleaved in a regrettably premature fashion.
Teaching shortages haven’t been the only deficit experienced by regional and rural areas. Regional sectors including horticulture, hospitality and medical sectors have all experienced a paucity of skilled workers, especially with the border closures to skilled migrant workers. The source of the problem has always been the mass youth outmigration from regional and rural areas, following the conveyor belt into a more attractive urban lifestyle near the coast. In 2011 to 2016, about 180 000 young Australians from regional areas relocated to capital cities, leaving behind local communities that struggle to fill essential positions.
Specifically, the rural health workforce in various states have expressed frustration over the shortage of GPs, who flock to better paying, opportunity-filled urban clinics. It has come to the point where some rural hospitals have been offering up to $2600 to emergency clinicians to cover shifts.
A Monash-led study into factors impacting the choice of paramedics to work in regional and rural areas provides some insight into options for targeted solutions. In a survey of nursing and allied health graduates from six Australian universities, it found that health workers who were originally from a rural or regional area were 4.45 times more likely than urban graduates to practice in rural areas. The most popular reason for taking up regional work was to advance career opportunities (50 percent). Dr Keith Sutton suggests that these findings provide significant evidence for the long-held proposition that the more time a worker spends in rural settings, the more likely they will remain beyond graduation.
Government-led initiatives to address labour shortages in regional areas have been a good start, focusing on targeting students with regional working potential on the cusp of entering the workforce. Enticing students with Gap-Year working opportunities, summer job programs and business sponsorships schemes have attracted more graduates to regional areas early in their career, helping them forge the desire to stay and contribute to the communities.
However, it remains that these initiatives possess a strange likeness to a “Uncle Sam-esque” defence force recruitment drive – something that screams: I want YOU to work in regional areas…but I don’t want to pay you.
Ultimately, it is one thing to attract, and another thing to enact. More sustainable and effective pay needs to be offered to regional workers in essential positions to entice movement away from the cities.