OPINION – with Tam Curtis
The efforts of Townsville City Council, Townsville Enterprise and Sister City Partners has opened doors to new national and international relationships, which provide our city with an opportunity to diversify our economy and move away from our reliance on industries that have created Townsville’s economic yo-yo effect.
There has been recent increased discussion around a shortage of leaders, managers and skilled workers; potentially a by-product of a transient workforce. These personnel generally come for higher wages and leave when the boom is over, taking important skills and business knowledge with them. This impacts company leadership and culture and is potentially destructive to the future we are trying to create. Why? Because it is our business knowledge and company culture that gives us the ability to do what we do well and make necessary changes so that we can seize new opportunities.
This creates a big problem. With so many new opportunities on the horizon we cannot rely on the old way of thinking which has previously revolved around the thoughts that ‘the economy will supply us work’ and, ‘what we have produced in the past will be of acceptable quality to potential new clients now’. We can’t be caught behind the 8-ball, unprepared to meet the needs of, or offer a high level of quality and service to new potential clients.
Our businesses will hire more people to fill vacancies and expect to compete for and win new opportunities with leadership teams and a workforce that are ill prepared and poorly led to meet the new challenges. There is potential to seriously harm these relationships and close the new economic doors before they have really opened.
What’s the answer?
Townsville needs to explore new leadership models for our region and local industries need to be proactive in securing relationships and preparing our workforce to meet the challenges in the face of declining expertise.
Our governments will assist with more funding to create more qualified people, but qualification is only part of the equation when it comes to a competent and competitive workforce. The most important factors are; time, experience, leadership, and a passion for their chosen vocation.
When the reason to educate people is to fill vacancies, and their reason to be educated is purely money; it creates a workforce that cares little about the quality of its work, or its work ethic. The problem is, many companies have now adjusted their standards to this quality.
I have long been an advocate for companies to actively recruit character over qualification. Local people with the right character are more likely to stay when the boom of other industries inevitably die down, which then increases the likelihood of retaining their knowledge and skills in Townsville. Some of the higher-level expertise is not exactly falling off the tree here in Townsville, however there are people within our organisations who would flourish if they were identified early and the time and effort was spent to develop them. When employers develop a leadership and execution plan that focuses on selecting and developing local people with the right character, they create loyalty from their workforce, and this is the basis of good culture and high performance. If we persist with the convenience of hiring short term transient workers we run the risk of pouring higher wages into employees who have an emphasis on poor quality and low productivity. This, in turn, could set our industries up to be nonviable propositions for non-regional clients.
Strategic leadership planning and execution, along with development of our workforce and its culture, are cheap investments compared to the loss of potentially lucrative long-term foreign business relationships. The potential for growth in our region relies on the development and retention of the local population, it is the best way to retain the knowledge and skills that will keep our region competitive now and into the future.