Occupation shortages

State of Australia’s Skills 2021: now and into the future

Occupation shortages

SERA data to date for 2020-21, up to April, show that employers are having a similar level of success filling their vacancies for skilled occupations as they did in 2019-20. Employers reported that the most common reason vacancies were unfilled was due to the lack of suitable applicants, often due to a lack of experience or relevant qualification. Employers advertising for professional occupations generally recruited with greater ease than those recruiting for technician and trade occupations. Those recruiting in regional areas also had more difficulty recruiting compared with employers in capital cities.

The NSC’s Survey of Employers who have Recently Advertised (SERA) captures employers’ views through a dedicated survey that asks a range of questions about their recruitment experience for an advertised vacancy, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. The SERA is designed to assess occupational shortages and provides a direct measure of employer recruitment experiences. From June 2021 the SERA survey coverage was expanded from 80 occupations to around 250 occupations annually. Occupations selected for the SERA are typically skilled occupations which generally require at least three years of post-school education or training.

Examples of the quantitative data collected include the proportion of vacancies filled and the number of applicants, qualified applicants and suitable applicants.

Qualitative questions are asked, to identify key labour market issues, and include questions relating to reasons why vacancies are not filled, why applicants are considered unsuitable, and the impact of recruitment challenges on employers.

In 2020-21 to date (using data to April 2021), around 5,000 employers (representing almost 7,500 advertised vacancies) have been surveyed through the SERA, covering 80 skilled occupations.

SERA data from 2020-21 show that 61% of vacancies were filled, up slightly from 60% in 2019-20. (Note that the SERA was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic from April 2020 to July 2020.) There was an average of 12.8 applicants per vacancy, of whom 2.9 were considered by employers to be suitable (compared with 14.1 and 2.5 respectively in 2019-20).

Vacancies most commonly remained unfilled because the employer did not receive any applicants they considered to be suitable. Applicants were most commonly regarded as unsuitable because they lacked the required experience or qualification. Other regularly cited reasons included ‘poor application/interview or work history’, and ‘inadequate technical skills’.

The reasons why vacancies were unfilled are complex. Employers usually have very specific skills and experience requirements and, although they often attract qualified applicants, can be unwilling or unable to compromise those requirements. More than half of all qualified applicants were regarded as unsuitable. In addition, for some vacancies where employers attracted suitable candidates, vacancies were not filled for a range of reasons, most commonly because the suitable applicant accepted work elsewhere, or there was a lack of agreement on the terms and conditions of employment. Employers advertising for professional occupations generally recruited with greater ease than those recruiting for technician and trade occupations. Of professional vacancies, 69% were filled, compared with 54% of technician and trade vacancies. Professional vacancies generally attracted more candidates, with an average of 15.3 applicants per vacancy, of whom 3.6 were suitable (compared with 10.7 and 2.3, respectively for technicians and trades).

Regional employers generally had more difficulty recruiting, filling 57% of their vacancies, compared with 63% in capital cities.