Jennifer Westacott interview with Leon Byner, FIVEaa

01 July 2022

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Leon Byner, FIVEaa
Speakers: Leon Byner, host, FIVEaa; Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Labour shortages; skilled migration; skills


Leon Byner, host, FIVEaa: The Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott. Jennifer, thank you for joining us today. Where do you see this problem?

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: We've now got a really serious crisis on our hands. Let's just go back to what’s caused this. So, over the years, we've taken permanent migrants, we've had temporary skilled migrants, we've had students on education visas, we've had backpackers. Now all of that stopped in COVID. That was about 230,000 people a year, and also then we've lost about 90,000 people, people who've left the country, we are about 300,000 people behind. We've actually got to bring some people into the country, and I think we've got to understand if we don't get this sorted now, to your point, this is really is hurting businesses. If you just think about it, if you can't get a chef or you can't get someone to do the waiting at a restaurant, you can't open five days a week. If you can't get a surveyor, you can't do a construction or a housing project. If you can't get an engineer, you can't get a big project going. The impact is being felt by people like truck drivers, you know, big shortage of truck drivers. You've talked about eggs a minute ago, I don't know what is causing the egg issue, but certainly, when I went to the supermarket the other day it was pretty short. People tell me they can't get truck drivers and that means things are taking longer to get to supermarkets and shops, that means the prices go up. People are waiting a long time at airport queues and are getting frustrated. Now that's not the fault of the airports, people have been trying to recruit people. We have got to, Leon, get some people into this country really fast, and there's a few ideas I can talk to you about how we do that. And of course, we've got to skill up Australians, that’s a top priority. We’ve got to get people that can work into work, but we've got a big problem on our hands.

Leon: Yeah, well truckies, for example, and we often don't understand how important they are. If you're in the trucking industry, particularly at the very pointy end, where you drive the truck, you've probably got a view on this, I'd love to hear it. So from your understanding, Jennifer, why is there a shortage of people inclined to drive for us? Because without those people, we haven't got anything on the shelves.

Jennifer: It's a really good point, we're trying to get to the bottom of this. But I think some of it is, you know, they just go to other jobs and truck driving is not an easy job. It's a pretty difficult job. My understanding also is that our standards, compared to the rest of the world, in terms of how you advance to larger vehicles take longer than anywhere else in the world, we're getting to the bottom of that. I mean, obviously you don't want 18-year-olds driving B-Doubles, but, you know, could we do that a bit faster. Can we encourage women to get into this by giving them short courses? By providing more training, can we get more people doing it? It's a real issue. We're doing a big look at this because I think we undervalue truck drivers; we forget how important they are to our day-to-day life.

Leon: Couldn’t agree with you more.

Jennifer: This is an area we should look at and it's not an easy job, I look at people at those truck stops on the way to Canberra, and you think, that's a hard job. If people have got an opportunity to get an easier job that's closer to home, maybe it's a better paid job, well they're going to do that. So how do we make that industry more attractive? There is a pile of things that we've just got to start doing.  We're got to fast track visa applications, make sure people can get in, make it as easy to get in as possible, we've got to send a message, ‘we're open.’ A lot of people are telling me that people won’t come because they think they're going to be locked down again. We've got to make it really easy for people to be attracted to come here, we've got, I reckon we have got to move to more of the four-year visas, particularly for skilled workers, but even maybe for unskilled workers, and then for skilled workers offer them a permanent pathway. Because frankly, you're not going to uproot your family and move to Australia for two years. I mean, you know when you've got options in other countries, and we've got to make sure that we - that's about migration, and then we've got to look at our stuff at home. Why aren't we giving people short courses? How do we get people back to work? How do we get women working? How do we get older people working? Everything should be on the table, and we just got to take some, I reckon, some really common-sense approaches here.

Leon: Jennifer Westacott Business Council. Thank you.


Latest news