3 October 2023

Bosses encouraged to hire more women and older workers to address skill shortage

| Jen White
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Michelle Gray at the computer.

Mature-age student Michelle Gray is one of the first TAFE NSW Information Technology students to gain an IT traineeship with BlueScope in Wollongong. Photo: TAFE NSW.

RDA Illawarra has called for employers to boost the number of women and older people in their workforces to boost the supply of skilled workers in the region.

Policy manager Alex Spillett said with investment in the region at unprecedented levels, RDA Illawarra is reiterating its calls for governments and businesses to consider engaging with an underutilised workforce -women of all ages and people over 65 who are willing and available to work.

He said the Illawarra was experiencing historically low unemployment of 2.7 per cent, creating an issue where businesses are desperate for labour but skilled workers are in short supply.

“We need fresh solutions. Let’s utilise the skills and experience we have now to fill the Illawarra’s short-term need and supplement that by investing in training our future workforce,” he said.

“If we could support and encourage more women to enter the workforce such that female participation was equal to that of men, we would increase the Illawarra’s available workforce by more than 9000.”

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“A similar picture exists for people over the age of 65. In the Illawarra, their participation rate is only 9.9 per cent – among the lowest in NSW – and lagging far behind countries such as New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, and the US.

“If we could achieve a workforce participation rate of 25 per cent for those aged 65 to 69, it would add 2950 more workers to the local workforce.

BlueScope recently took on three IT trainees, including two women who were the first TAFE NSW Information Technology students to gain an IT traineeship with the company.

Albion Park Rail’s Michelle Gray had a long career in administration and business analytics but was keen to change direction and move into IT services.

She began her TAFE course as a mature-age student, juggling study, work and family, but says the change has delivered everything she hoped for.

Alex Spillett.

Alex Spillett says the RDA wants government and businesses to consider employment for an underutilised workforce – women and people over 65. Photo: Supplied.

“It was challenging to learn skills and change jobs later in life but I’m so glad I did it,” she said.

“My studies at TAFE helped me to secure a foot in the door in Networking at BlueScope and hopefully provide an opportunity in the future to move into cloud platform services and cyber security, which is a booming industry with an exciting future.”

Fellow TAFE student Abigail Horley of Lake Heights, and Blake Agostini of Horsely made up the trio of trainees hired by BlueScope.

BlueScope IT’s organisational capability lead Katrina Hamer said providing traineeships was part of the company’s strategy to attract and retain a diverse and talented workforce.

“[Traineeships] do so by providing opportunities for newer generations and career shifters, such as Michelle, to start and grow a career in IT and the broader BlueScope business,” she said.

READ ALSO Illawarra businesses facing ‘extreme’ shortage of skilled workers

Mr Spillett says retraining some retired experts as TAFE teachers could go a long way towards educating the next generation in the core skills needed for the region’s emerging industries, especially renewable energy.

Encouraging the return of those who have foregone an early career and are struggling to re-enter the workforce could fill gaps in education, nursing, childcare and hospitality.

“Re-entering the workforce may not be for everyone but encouraging and supporting those who do want to contribute has benefits for the worker, their families and employers,” he said.

“We can make it easier for people who want to return to the workforce by improving access to childcare; offering flexible (re)training opportunities including short courses; creating adaptable government benefit programs and improving public transport.

“The solutions are there. We just need to work together.”

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