Retail skills shortage mounts
Concern is mounting that the Australian retail sector is heading for a skill shortage in 2018 as demand for retail buyers and planners with local experience builds following visa changes announced by the Federal Government last year.
The Australian Retailers Association has declared a ‘critical skills need’ for mid-level retail buyers and merchandise planners, fearing the fall-out from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s decision to scrap the 457 skilled visa program last year.
Under the changes the requirements for hiring skilled workers from overseas increased and the number of occupations that can be sponsored decreased, with 457-visas replaced by the short-term skilled occupation list (STSOL) and the medium-and-long-term strategic skills list (MLTSSL).
The roles of Merchandise Planner, Merchandise Designer and several Digital commerce roles have not yet been added to the STSOL list, which means that online retailers are unable to sponsor overseas workers for these roles.
Hays Recruitment has been tracking skill shortages in the retail sector and says the changes have been a shock to employers, with senior manager Craig Turton noting that buying and planning roles were already in high demand before the changes.
“There’s just not enough people to fill the roles, we can place a candidate within 48-hours of application,” he said.
Turton explained that the visa changes have resulted in employers, concerned that there may be further changes or that those on older visas may be unable to renew, have decided that hiring from overseas is “too much hassle”, driving a market correction towards home grown talent.
“We are also seeing growing demand for Merchandise Planners with e-commerce and online experience. With more businesses operating online, candidates with experience in planning across an online outlet as well as traditional retail are increasingly sought,” Hays said.
Retail Buyers were listed on the STSOL last year following negotiations between the department and ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman, but the ARA remains concerned that those workers are restricted to a two-year stay, one renewal and no pathway to permanent residency.
“The Government re-instated the Retail Buyer to the STSOL, however the ARA were disappointed that Merchandise Planners, Merchandise Designers and Digital Commerce roles were not added to the list as well,” Zimmerman said.
It is now seeking to move Retail Buyers onto the medium-term list, which enables a 4-year stay and pathways to permanent residency, with a subset for Retail Merchandisers also in its most recent submission.
In response to growing demand for local skills the ARA said it has also developed a Diploma of Retail Merchandise Management to address what it calls a growing skill-gap.