Looming Labour Crisis in Queensland will force new wave of Immigration

A LOOMING skills crisis will force Queensland to look to overseas migration to supply thousands of skilled workers.

The shortage is the result of a booming mining industry and the imminent retirement of waves of baby boomers, and flies in the face of growing calls for migration caps.

The lack of skills has already led to an admission from the mining sector some coal mines could be forced to close because of a lack of highly qualified safety officers who must be on site at all hours of operation.

Business expects more than 4.4 million workers will be needed nationally over the next 15 years simply to replace retiring baby boomers, while another 4.8 million workers will be needed to deal with growth.

Huge amounts of money are being thrown at the problem, with a government-industry advisory body, Skills Queensland, getting a $100 million investment fund to find a solution.

A KPMG survey said Queensland could expect to be among the hardest hit by the ageing workforce in the next five years, with about a quarter of the state’s companies predicting a significant impact.

And the Australian Industry Group believes the emotional debate over asylum seekers was affecting skilled migration.

It also said education standards in Australia had left the country unable to cope with a growing economy.

“Too many Australians do not have even the language, literacy and numeracy skills of a level sufficient to meet the demands of the modern economy,” AI Group’s outgoing president Don Matthews said.

“Instead we have seen an apparent wilting of the commitment to skilled migration and its confusion with the sometimes tawdry and emotional political debate on asylum seekers.

The fact is we need a substantial immigration program if we don’t want a lack of capacity to force interest rates and wages higher and skill shortages to intensify.”

He was backed by Chamber of Commerce president David Goodwin, who said people needed to invest more intellectual capital into the debate and consider that a boiler maker or engineer from overseas would help the economy.

“We are lucky enough to be able to decide who comes here and we should exercise that,” Mr Goodwin said.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the Federal Government’s reforms delivered a sustainable level of immigration while responding to labour market needs.

Immigration has fallen significantly from its highs in 2008 of 253,400 people to about 180,000 this year and became a hot issue during the election campaign when Prime Minister Julia Gillard abandoned the “Big Australia” policy of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, in favour of a more sustainable approach, while the Opposition promised big cuts to the intake.

“Policy reforms to the temporary skilled worker (457 visa) program have made this program genuinely responsive to labour market needs by ensuring that temporary overseas workers are paid at market rates and do not take jobs that could be done by Australian workers,” Mr Bowen said.

In the year to the end of May, Queensland’s net overseas migration was down by one-third.

The KPMG survey found that Queensland business planned to rectify its skills shortage with immigration.

Engineers were the most highly sought with a predicted gap of 5000 by 2015.

The Santos-led GLNG project said its focus would be on local training but there would be a mix of imported staff for its massive project in Gladstone.

Construction Skills Queensland said the problem would hit when the housing sector and mining development picked up.

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