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Australian CEOs warn of skilled-worker shortage ahead of election

Australian CEOs warn of skilled-worker shortage ahead of election
Reflected pedestrians along a road in Sydney, Australia, on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. Australia is scheduled to release gross domestic product (GDP) figures on March 2. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The heads of two of Australia’s biggest listed companies have revealed what’s top of their wish-list for the country’s economy in the run-up to the May 21 election: more people.

Australia urgently needs to ramp up migration levels after the pandemic virtually stopped the influx of skilled workers that are vital to the country’s growth, according to Scott Charlton, chief executive officer of toll-road giant Transurban Group.

To deliver large pipelines across the east coast of Australia including the 2032 Brisbane Olympics “we need development skills, we need construction skills and we need to increase that skilled migration”, he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the Macquarie Australia Conference.

His comments were echoed soon after by Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, CEO of Mirvac, the country’s largest diversified property group. When asked what keeps her awake at night, she was quick to respond:

“The thing that I worry about most all the time is people,” she said in a separate interview. “With skilled migration at the very low levels it has been for the last couple of years, we have a shortage of labor in Australia and so it’s a very hot labour market.”

Australian businesses are facing an acute labor crunch in a red-hot economy where the jobs market is the tightest it has been since 2008. The jobless rate is this month expected to fall below 4% for the first time since the early 1970s.

The country shut its international borders in March 2020 and saw its first drop in population since 1946, from an annual growth rate of around 1.5% before the pandemic. Australia then recorded negative net migration in each quarter from June 2020 through to mid-2021, during which time 97,000 people permanently left the country, according to official government figures.

The largest driver of negative net overseas migration was a fall in temporary visa holders which includes students and skilled workers.

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