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Canberra’s SMEs battling to find and keep skilled staff, survey finds

Ian Bushnell 5 February 2019

Many businesses are looking at on-the-job training to beat the skills shortage.

Finding skilled staff at an affordable price and the increasing costs of doing business remain key concerns for the ACT’s small to medium enterprises (SMEs) seeking to grow, according to a new survey.

The results of the latest Canberra Business Chamber – Deloitte SME Survey show that while many businesses continue to expand and have taken on new workers, signing skilled staff for the long-term is a problem, with many not being able to compete with the capital’s large government agencies and other organisations.

The survey found that the solution for some may be to hire lower-skilled workers and train them on the job.

Canberra Business chamber CEO Dr Michael Schaper said long-term access to skilled labour continued to be one of the major challenges for ACT small businesses.

“Canberra currently has low unemployment, so competition for available workers is strong,” Dr Schaper said. “Small businesses in the ACT have to compete with large organisations for skilled staff. This can push up wages to a point where small firms can no longer afford to offer jobs.

“As a result, many businesses are considering employing lower-skilled workers and training them up. Over two-thirds of businesses are considering new models for acquiring the right workforce composition and skills needs.”

Dr Schaper said addressing skills and workforce shortages was a priority for Chamber.

“We are working with local businesses, government and our tertiary education sector to provide more opportunities for work-integrated learning for people studying in the ACT, and to match courses with local business needs.”

Dr Schaper said local businesses were increasing products and services, as well as adapting to rapid changes in the marketplace and in society, with 80 per cent of respondents considering ways to manage marketplace changes arising from smart and autonomous technology and cyber risk, including investment in new technology.

He said the good news was that respondents had sufficient access to financial and physical capital for their anticipated growth.

“Many barriers to growth still exist, however. A key one is owners finding time to work on the business rather than in the business. Operating margins and profits are also tight. Cost inflation in the ACT is currently running slightly higher than top line revenue growth,” he said.

The survey covers a wide range of industries with the top five being professional services, health care and social assistance, construction, education and training, and wholesale and retail trade.
The majority of respondents have 1-10 employees and around 70 per cent sell their product or service within Canberra and externally. More than a quarter sell overseas.

Canberra Business Chamber has partnered with Deloitte to undertake regular surveys of local businesses. These findings are from the fourth survey in this series.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on The RiotACT.

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