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Staff Shortages: A Look at the State of the Worker Drought

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Businesses struggling to find the right staff are growing evidence of the tightening labour market. But labour shortages aren't a new challenge for Australia. Immigration had successfully helped fill the gaps over decades, but the sudden halt due to border closures has left a gaping hole in the candidate market.

Networking site LinkedIn shows more than 3000 professional vacant roles available among ASX's top 20 companies, with big banks each posting hundreds of jobs trying to cover a large number of vacancies. 

In this blog, we take a look at the impact of the pandemic on the supply of staff and what the worker drought looks like for some industries.


A constant inflow of international workers ensured staff availability for the hospitality business. Students, backpackers and skilled sponsored workers kept the kitchens going. As a result of the pandemic, between December 2019 and May 2021, more than 660,000 temporary visa holders left Australia, many of them being restaurant workers. AVC's chief executive, Paul Waterson, says that approximately 20% of Australia's hospitality workforce were working holiday visa holders before the pandemic.  

In a bid to get workers, some hospitality businesses are offering free flights and $1000 vouchers to lure staff for the 2021 Christmas period. But another challenge facing the hospitality business is that workers are not so keen on picking these jobs because of the unpredictability and inconsistency of the industry.


In the last two years, nurses and healthcare workers have been on the front lines of every aspect of the COVID-19 response. Added to this is the existing non-COVID-related work, a backlog of which continues to build up. With ever-increasing demand, healthcare workers are feeling stretched to the limit.

On a broader scale, seasonally adjusted estimates by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed 333,700 total job vacancies for the August 2021 quarter. The top two reasons for those vacancies were replacement/resignation and increased workload.


With the holiday season coming in, businesses have to compete much harder to recruit and retain staff for their retail business. 

Major businesses, including Kmart, Officeworks, Kathmandu and Adairs, have all admitted they are stretching to fill positions both in-store and in warehouses, with thousands of jobs still unfilled just weeks away from the all-important Christmas period.

Ahead of the holiday season, about 2500 jobs are being advertised on company websites, predominantly from retailers such as Woolworths, Coles and Wesfarmers

Finance and Technology

Financial services companies face severe skills shortages forcing them to offer generous pay rises to attract candidates.

In November, Accenture, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC had almost 3,200 open job ads. The actual number of vacancies is much higher. Dozens of the ads are open calls for auditors, technology and policy experts to get in touch.

In October, this year, Macquarie posted 766 job listings on LinkedIn, most of them based in Sydney.

The Commonwealth Bank is recruiting for more than 600 workers, including 103 in IT engineering, 57 in risk management and 37 in analytics. In June, the company announced it would hire upwards of 600 engineers.

A spokeswoman for Westpac said there had been more demand for specialist roles such as engineers, risk, compliance and financial crime in 2021. There are more than 570 jobs listed on the bank's website.

The effect of staff shortage

Adding to the staff shortage is The Great Resignation trend, which has seen many people reassess their lives and move locations and jobs as they emerge from lockdown. This is forcing many businesses to relook at workplace conditions and wages to hold on to staff in a hyper-competitive hiring market.

Employers are being forced to throw money at their employees or offer huge pay packets to entice newcomers. People working in tech, finance, business support and marketing are expected to negotiate huge pay rises worth tens of thousands on the back of fierce competition for talent.

Specialists can expect a mega bump to their pay packet with investment bankers, marketing executives, accountants and construction managers predicted to see a boost to their salary of tens of thousands or more in the coming year.

According to some recruiters, a specialist skill, such as cyber security, data analytics or financial crime, could bargain a whopping $60,000 and $80,000 to $280,000 and $300,000. Meanwhile, communication directors could see a bump from $180,000 to a massive $250,000. HR business partners are also in demand, with salaries increasing by 20 per cent up to $100,000 and $150,000. Talent acquisition managers are offered top dollars with a pay packet of between $130,000 and $180,000.

It no accident that Jeff Bezos has just increased the pay rate at Amazon and offered special bonuses in locations where staff shortages were particularly acute.

What can businesses do?

The uncertainty of border closers has pushed organisations to think and hire differently. 

As remote working becomes the norm, companies are investing in reliable technology for their business operations. This also includes HR processes like hiring, reference checking and onboarding.

In order to overcome the hiring challenges facing recruitment teams and agencies, some organisations have leveraged purpose and their network of relationships to hire quality candidates.

The team at Life Without Barriers have been able to recruit despite talent shortages. In the past two years, 58,015 people applied to work with the nonprofit and 3,468 people accepted positions with the organisation. About 99% of offers made by Life Without Barriers have been accepted, which is an enviable conversion rate.

At APM, over 700 job offers have been accepted in the last 18 months. The team had to get very creative and think up new recruitment strategies to achieve this success. 

Final thoughts

Devising new ways of working is challenging, but it also brought a lot of opportunities for recruiters. Maybe it's a good time for HR teams to stop and think about what they are trying to achieve with their workforce strategy. The outcome of this introspection will lead teams to create a more streamlined online recruitment process and new communication strategies. Building talent pools and pipelines will be the biggest priority for companies in 2022. A solution, we can offer is Xref’s People Search tool that allows referees to opt in as potential candidates, giving recruiters an easy way to create a quality talent pool. 

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