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Australian businesses need to find more time to cultivate their talent

By Shandel McAuliffe | |7 minute read
Australian businesses need to find more time to cultivate their talent

While there’s only so many hours in a day, some organisations are smarter than others at allocating capacity between business-as-usual and more future-facing strategic work. Here’s what we can learn from them.

It is hard to have a business conversation these days without the topic of talent shortages arising.

There’s a reason it’s top of mind for just about every Australian business leader: it’s been reported almost one third are having difficulty finding staff. And that could be overly conservative, considering the ongoing rapid rise in vacancy numbers.


We’re seeing a two-fold impact from the ongoing skills crisis within the B2B organisations we speak to in Australia.

First, organisations are adopting a preservation mindset, working to keep their existing staff in in-demand functions happy, while also retraining and re-skilling people from other parts of the organisation to fill their most pressing needs for talent.

Within that effort, there’s a greater push to help people upskill internally, by empowering them with the tools they need to do so. Reflecting the ongoing difficulty in sourcing new people, organisations are working to make existing teams more efficient. This often leads to the use of solutions that enable them to be effective even with a smaller ongoing team size.

Second, organisations are now increasingly leaning on digital transformation to ensure there are no breaks in their customer experience or reliability as a result of temporary skills shortages.

This was a hard lesson learned for many organisations over the past couple of years, where front-facing customer experience suffered due to increased workload that staffing levels could not keep pace with.

Technology that enables self-service, digital containment of customer enquiries, or end-to-end automatic processing of transactions, can augment the capacity of existing teams, while affording the people in those teams the chance to do more challenging and strategic work.

Making time for talent

There’s a strong appetite among many staff to learn new skills. They are also likely to be motivated to move into emerging high-growth – technology-driven – areas of the business, as these areas correlate with in-demand skills.

But many staff are currently not being afforded these opportunities, because their employers have not found ways to enable it to happen.

A recent survey found 61 per cent of people are ‘too busy’ to upskill; that is, there are other demands currently being placed on their time that would prevent them from learning new skills. This is up from 41 per cent last year, and speaks both to the additional demands being placed on the existing workforce by skills shortages, and the challenge B2B organisations have in re-gearing their workforces.

Handling business-as-usual work volumes is of course critically important during this time, but the fact is that some of this work can be handled in smarter ways that frees up employees’ time.

We’re observing companies investing in tooling that eliminates the need for operational grunt work, and instead creates opportunities 1) for the organisation to be creative and experimental in strategy, and 2) for employees to upskill or re-skill. It’s a simple equation: if organisations want to be able to experiment, they need to carve out time for employees to participate.

Technologies such as business process automation are able to assume some of the transactional workload, freeing staff to focus on more challenging tasks that aren’t necessarily conducive to being automated, to retrain, to work on more strategic initiatives – or a combination of the three.

This kind of technology augmentation is very appealing to workers.

Employees today, whether existing or new hires, want to be able to visualise their growth within the organisation. If their entire time is consumed by business-as-usual activities, they may stop viewing their presence with a long-term lens.

Simplified responsibilities at work could be the difference between them staying or going. The upskilling survey cited earlier found 40 per cent of technologists would leave a job over ‘lack of room for career growth’, and 33 per cent would leave due to a ‘lack of opportunity to develop new skills’.

These are non-trivial portions of the workforce, and organisations should take note and strategise accordingly.

Easing new staff into tech-led roles

In this day and age, encouraging staff to get familiar with IT tooling – such as digital or e-commerce – can increase their confidence in a time marked by skills shortages.

Technology is in a constant state of change, and will not leave people bored or doing the same thing for too long. There’s always something new in technology to be across, to keep skills current.

It’s important to note that developing technology skills today doesn’t mean becoming a software developer. The barriers to entry are now much lower, and technology-oriented careers are more accessible than ever.

Re-skilling should be an empowering rather than intimidating process. The right tooling can help accelerate this.

The rise of no-code tools reduces that learning curve. This is particularly useful when staff are brought in from other parts of the organisation to be retrained; they can get to grips with technology quickly, and then use translatable or business-domain skills they already have to make strategic decisions and drive the organisation in new and profitable directions.

Marcus McNamara is Sana Commerce’s head of APAC.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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