Recruiters and the more perceptive employers now realise how hard it is to attract staff.

A labour shortage that is currently a series of spot fires affecting specific skill sets — including panel beaters, retail planners and plumbers — and geography — mining-powered states — will become more widespread in 2007.

This is being driven by many factors, but the two largest are retiring baby boomers and a decade during which trade skills training was ignored.

In retail, the employment field that occupies my days, an unwanted and unforeseen consequence of 24/7 trading has been a lack of training for new entrants to the sector. The Australian Centre for Retail Studies at Monash University has recently conducted a study (Shopfloor to Boardroom) that paints a frightening picture of the looming shortage in the industry that employs almost 15% of the Australian workforce.

The inability to attract and retain staff will drive some retailers out of business. And this will be replicated in other sectors.

But as labour shortages bite, advertising a job and waiting for a response will be largely ineffective. It will only attract the unemployed and the desperates. The trick will be attracting the people who are by and large happy in their current gig. We call them semi-active and semi-passive candidates.

Head hunters are one approach, but really only effective and worthwhile for more senior roles. We are starting to see new types of job boards that don’t advertise jobs. One US model for attracting semi-active candidates is Quietagent. It works by allowing candidates to list themselves, using tight job wish list criteria, so that if their dream gig is listed, they will hear about it. And it has the benefit of anonymity.

Other tricks will emerge. Companies will access Gen Y via social networking sites. Even the US Marines are trying a MySpace profile.

As the talent drought bites, it will be interesting to see the impact of WorkChoices. When it gets hard to attract staff, retention will become more critical. Companies quick to adopt a draconian application of the new IR regime may find themselves at a huge disadvantage.

Peter Fray

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