Demand for employment has shown a slow but steady increase in Townsville, kicking the ‘there are no jobs’ excuse to the curb. Yet what Townsville and North Queensland now face is a skills shortage. We’re not known for swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other (you only have to look at our ‘winters’ to know that change isn’t a big thing in the north). This is why we got Ged Welsh from Hays Recruitment Australia to delve into the problem.

“In relation to skills shortages, they’re occurring at two levels,” says Ged. “One of them is the actual increase of demand for new skills in Townsville and that’s been predominately led by the increase in the mines in the Bowen basin and Mt Isa, which is driving the growth of manufacturing in Townsville. Then another is that there is a real lack of talent in middle managers and that’s those people with exceptional people management skills, digital skills and soft skills.”

Ged adds to this, saying that if there were 300 boilermakers in the Bowen Basin right now then certain businesses could possibly take them. However, he warns that the increase in demand for digital will only grow stronger.

So why are we facing a skills shortage in digital? The youth of today are pretty smart when it comes to social media, so it should be a simple fix, right? Well that’s where things go pear-shaped. Due to the huge misconception that there is “nothing in Townsville”, our talented workers are leaving this city in search of bigger, better and more congested roads. This means businesses are finding it hard to hire skilled staff.

We’ve found the problem, now how do we fix it? Whilst there is no ‘quick fix’, Ged says there are a few things we can do to entice our skilled workers and potential employees to stay. The bonus? Businesses won’t have to put up crazy wages and workers can gain huge benefits themselves.

“We’re not saying that you should be paying more but what you need to be doing is aligning your talent strategy of retention and recruitment, not just with management of, or increasing of salaries, but very much aligning it to developing the capability of your staff,” says Ged.

“The reports and surveys that we’ve done recently related to staff engagement and talent retention, suggest that the employees in North Queensland are asking for their companies to invest in their capability at a level of 87%.”

Another report done by Hays suggests that 87% of workers actually want to view their boss as a friend and a confidante, as opposed to a leader or a director, which Ged says is “only the beginning of the understanding of this new relationship between employee and employer.”

“What we’re finding is that over the last five to six years the real decision makers have actually had an exceptionally tough time. They’ve been downsizing their departments around HR and marketing and they’ve lost a high level of senior people in their businesses. What tends to be left – especially in small to medium sized companies – is that quite often the employees, owner or general manager need to rebuild those relations. Salary increases are not the answer; it’s about investment and capability, investment in skills and treating the employee as a friend and as a confidante. That’s how they want to be treated. My advice is that you almost have to throw caution to the wind. If that employee leaves having been upskilled by you and treated well by you, in the long run they’re only ever going to talk well about your business and your leadership,” says Ged.

Townsville has a plethora of conveniences that the big cities simply can’t compete with, so the next step for our city is retaining our skilled staff so that we can keep moving forward as the best version of our city. Pay increases aren’t the answer – which is going to be music to a lot of small to medium business owners – so it’s about time we all jumped into the upskilling ring. After all, more knowledgeable staff can only ever benefit your business, so there’s no real reason to delay!




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