In the last year the Australian labour market has tightened, and more occupations than ever before are in skill shortage, and with employers receiving fewer suitable applicants per vacancy. In 2022 the occupations in shortage rose to 286. It was 153 in 2021.

There are clear increases in the shortages of community and personal service workers as well as labourers and machine operators and drivers. The persistent shortage of technicians and trades workers also continues, a recent paper released by the National Skills Commission reports.

Which jobs are in real shortage?

The NSC paper provides a table of the top 20 largest employing occupations in Australia based on Census data. Of these, many are relevant to VET and have a high labour market shortage rating and strong future demand. They include aged and disability carers, childcare workers and electricians. Several other big employing occupations are rated in shortage and have a moderate future demand, including truck drivers, chefs and motor mechanics. There are also shortages in occupations across the range of skill levels. The NSC’s paper noted that:

“The proportion of occupations in shortage also rose across every Skill Level between 2021 and 2022 [see Figure 4 in the publication]. Skill Level 3 occupations, which are occupations generally needing a Certificate Ill or IV – and includes traditional trade occupations – recorded the highest share of occupations in shortage (46% in 2022, up from 38% in 2021).” And “the largest employing occupations in shortage in this major group were Electrician (General), Carpenter, Chef and Motor Mechanic (General).”

Employers had small groups of applicants from which to choose and they mostly struggled to find applicants “who satisfied their experience requirements, with the majority of applicants (65%) in this major group being found unsuitable due to a lack of experience in the occupation.”

However, the paper found that: “within the Technicians and Trades Worker occupation group, the estimated vacancy fill rate was particularly low for occupations in Automotive and Engineering Trades, Construction Trades, Electrotechnology and Telecommunications Trades.” As we know, supply of workers for these trade groups is often through an apprenticeship.

Moving to other VET-related occupations the paper reports that experience can be valued over qualifications. In relation to occupations in ‘caring’ (aged and disability carers & childcare), shortages were up in 2022 to 20% from 8% in 2021. Again, the paper reported that employers received small pools of applicants with very few being seen as suitable. Lack of experience was the most common reason given for that lack of suitability, and 80% of employers wanted more experience – and usually one year at least was seen as necessary. While some occupations (e.g. childcare) have mandated qualifications, for aged and disability carers qualifications are seen as highly desirable, but not mandatory. When they could not find a suitable person, most employers just tended to keep advertising.

The NSC reports that “an occupation is generally in shortage when the estimated fill rate shows that employers are unable to fill or have considerable difficulty filling vacancies. Additional factors, such as skill level or experience requirements, can influence the ability of employers to fill vacancies, and ultimately the labour market ratings.” Their paper points out and “most of the low estimated fill rate occupations found in shortage were concentrated in the Professionals and Technician and Trades Worker occupation groups.”

Teachers are also seen as a tightening occupational group overall, and in relation to VET the paper points out that:

“It is also worth noting that the estimated fill rate for Vocational Education Teacher/Polytechnic Teacher declined significantly over the past year, from more than 70% in 2021 to less than 50% in 2022” and that:

“The ‘true’ supply of workers for teaching occupations may be influenced by a range of other factors including but not limited to workplace conditions, remuneration and perceptions of remuneration, impacts on wellbeing and mental health, skills wastage and attrition such as loss of qualified teachers to other occupations.”

In VET’s case this may involve teachers and trainers going back to work in their original vocational area.