This time last year we were talking about the emerging pandemic and what support was needed just to hold our society together. Thankfully along came Jobkeeper, a major boost to JobSeeker, and a myriad of economic stimulus measures driven by all three levels Government.
Fast forward twelve months and that massive cash injection has the economy humming, and mostly the health crisis is being managed in Australia.
Now the conversation has moved on from the last crisis to the next. Now we are focused on a shortage of workers and concern about whether our infrastructure can be delivered, and our crops can be picked, just to name two areas of worry.
We should not be surprised. And we should not be looking to criticise our governments.
We have just moved on to a new set of challenges. Ones which are way better frankly than those we confronted this time last year.
The truth is that a humming economy is a good thing. Though it will create demand for more hours to be worked, plain and simple. It could mean you and I working some more, or producing more from each hour, or adding more people to our workforce, or a combination of all of the above.
But after just experiencing a pandemic employers will be reluctant to add extra hours on to their books when those extra hours cost considerably more. They will rightly be worried about their competitiveness.
And employees will be reluctant to move to new jobs too. Who wants to go on ‘probation’ with lockdowns still happening, or consider uplifting their family at these times?
Our normal circuit breaker for those challenges has been our successful migration program. We have used it since World War 2 to manage the strains and stresses in our economy. It has worked very well for this country, and it has worked well for those new arrivals too! But right now, that option is not available. Australia remains essentially closed. And the reality is that we are still working to bring back Australians looking to get home.
Those returning ex-pats will add a little workforce capacity, but it simply won’t be enough.
Shortages can force perverse outcomes.
Like investors, Governments’ and businesses making decisions to defer projects or their new ideas and initiatives. That will simply create another crisis a bit further down the track. We have to find ways to sensibly expand our output.
As many have suggested we could look to re-start our immigration program in a pandemic-sensible way.
We also need to look at some of our program rules and relax those that are preventing people already here from working. Changes to visa conditions are potentially the best option there.
The Territory also needs to be mercilessly self-interested and continue to promote the hell out of our opportunities. Even a relatively small number of people choosing to move to the Territory can make a huge difference.
There is also a great opportunity to double-down on building the skill level of our existing workforce and in getting more Territorians in work.
At Master Builders we are especially passionate about apprentices and trainees. So many of our industry leaders and industry success stories were once young Australians trotting off to trade school. And their personal success stories point to what a good trade education can deliver.
I know that trade training takes years to complete and that our challenges are very much here and now. But just imagine if we could reduce the number of young men and women who currently give up on their trade for example.
There are a lot of very good people working hard on that already, but they are working within the system. How good would it be to give them fresh tools? Like a bonus payment to apprentices once they complete their trade.
Sensibly re-starting migration, loosening visa rules, promoting NT opportunities, and supporting our next generation all look to me like viable strategies.
If Alvin Toffler was right, then adapting is our key challenge. We just need to do it all over again.
Dave Malone is Chief Executive Officer of Master Builders NT.