UberEats and Australia’s domestic skills shortage
Hunger? Yeah. UberEats for dinner? Sure. To steal the ad line, tonight I’m going to eat a double cheeseburger with extra bacon and pickles, just like Hamish Blake.
Wait. The app is not working. Should I cook? All that’s left in the pantry is that weird gluten-free pasta. I could starve. Without UberEats, it’s hard to feed me.
This is the position Australia is in and it is not pretty. We have always relied on migration abroad to satisfy our insatiable appetite for skilled workers. Closing the national border during the pandemic was like removing the UberEats app. We cannot have skilled workers easily delivered to our doorstep by adding a job to the list of skilled occupations.
Although the unemployment rate rose during the lockdowns, that was not a problem. As businesses began to recover and start hiring again, they tapped into the pool of unemployed and young graduates; they raided the pantry. Our pantry is almost completely empty now.
This means that we are approaching full employment. I will leave it to economists to fight over whether an unemployment rate of 5% or 4% should be considered full employment. Either way, as we can’t order skilled migrant workers through UberEats at this time, full employment is near.
This means that we will not be able to fill all the vacancies. This problem is not far in the future. It is happening now.
We are already seeing the tourism and hospitality sectors struggling to find enough workers. These sectors have long relied on international students and young people for work and travel visas. Many of these jobs could be filled by local workers. This is even good news because, in some cases, the long-term unemployed have finally managed to re-enter the labor market.
Australian workers, especially in low and mid-skilled jobs, have suffered from wage stagnation for decades. Logic dictates that competition for talent drives up wages. If I can’t find a worker for $ 25 an hour, will $ 30 do?
However, it is not guaranteed that a low unemployment rate will lead to higher wages in all areas.
A bakery in a pretty tourist town might be looking for an experienced pastry chef. There is no local talent available. Will the five-dollar-an-hour wage increase help attract non-local talent to our pretty tourist town? Even so, are there affordable rentals available? More and more, we see accommodation in tourist hotspots as an obstacle to securing workers.
Workers, especially in low- and middle-income jobs, cannot be easily moved across the country. Businesses pay for the relocation of staff in the highest tax bracket, but paying for the relocation of a pastry chef is too much to ask. Many jobs at the bottom of the salary scale may not find local talent and may not have enough attraction to attract non-local talent.
Australia has gone from fear of high unemployment to a domestic skills shortage that is slowing our economic recovery. The federal government has wisely budgeted for big investments in infrastructure – a powerful way to grow our economy while creating jobs for the middle class.
I think Australia needs to get into baking. Quickly. We have to be better at baking than these fantastic women from the CWA.
More skilled jobs are always very difficult to fill quickly. They will be prioritized once our UberEats app starts working again.
Medium-skilled jobs, such as trades and manufacturing workers, can be created a little faster. Everyone will want it once Australia starts its infrastructure program and millennials start needing bigger homes when they have kids.
We can’t create new workers at the rate we’ve grown accustomed to since our pre-COVID UberEats days, we need to do something new: upgrade the skills of low-skilled workers in the odd-job economy to fill mid-skilled jobs in the trades. We could really change someone’s life if we start doing this.
We must facilitate the increase in skills. I have an idea! Let’s remove all obstacles to TAFE. Why not make it universally free and offer free public transport once you’ve signed up for a relevant course?
And before you shake your head and complain about what it will cost, the cost doesn’t matter. Running out of skilled workers to fill the jobs we need to stimulate our economy will cost a lot more.
So come to Australia. Forget that leaven. We have much more important pastries to make.
Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and their impact on Australia. Follow Simon on Twitter or LinkedIn for daily data information.