Ross McEwan op-ed – Jobs and Skills Summit

An edited version of the editorial below by NAB CEO Ross McEwan appeared in age and Sydney Morning Herald Monday, August 29, 2022.

The challenge facing the Australian Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit is clear. We have an economy approaching full capacity with a shortage of workers now a critical problem. Nine out of ten companies surveyed by NAB say labor shortages are holding them back. A third of them are desperate to fill empty roles.

While inflation and cost-of-living pressures are having a real impact on many Australians, the main impediment to growth is labor shortages. It’s about getting more people to work.
As Australia’s largest merchant bank and one of the country’s largest employers, we have every interest in seeing the Jobs and Skills Summit succeed. The Summit is an important initiative bringing together government, unions and business to find concrete actions that can be implemented quickly.

Traveling the country over the past few weeks and months, our customers and colleagues have told us that there are three areas that need to be addressed.

The first is skills and work. Australian businesses and institutions need to identify the skills and workforce needed for the future. Then we have to plan how to get them.

Our curricula need to be modernized. This is the only way to keep pace in the technological fields. NAB works hard to develop talent through our internships and technology training. But we still can’t fill the positions – in fact, we currently have about 800 vacancies in technology and operations. And our brand for recruiting is good. This is a problem that requires much more than training provided by companies.

The renewable energy sector is another area that requires us to equip Australians with new skills. This will help us achieve net zero emissions and make the most of environmental and economic opportunities. We can also do more to expand employment opportunities to give every Australian, especially the most disadvantaged, a chance. University places and career opportunities for Indigenous Australians should be demand driven and not subject to caps.

Beyond how we educate and train people, we need to facilitate the arrival of skilled and unskilled migrants here. We welcome the government’s efforts to eliminate backlogs in priority qualified areas, and all visa applications must be processed more quickly. We need to counter fears about border closures and signal that Australia is open for business. When I was in Europe and the US last month, some of the people I spoke to weren’t sure if we were really back to ‘normal’, with open borders and loosened restrictions. In the longer term, we need faster and easier paths to permanency.

The second area of ​​intervention is productivity and wage growth. Productivity improvements are the only way to achieve sustainable wage increases. We could achieve this by removing unnecessary regulations and making it easier to run a business. Many small business owners told NAB they have to spend 12 hours a week on government administration. Let’s cut red tape and give them back hours to grow their business and invest in their people.

The rewards system is complex and time-consuming for small businesses. A small business like an independent supermarket can pay a total of 126 different pay rates. It makes it too easy to be wrong. There must be a better way.

We need to make corporate bargaining simpler and more efficient so that corporate productivity gains can translate into real wage growth. To address the complexity of our own business, NAB is in discussion with our colleagues and the union as we work to simplify our corporate reward and facilitate understanding and fair compensation for our colleagues.

The third key issue for economic growth is equal opportunities for women. We must transform paid parental leave in favor of an approach of shared responsibility between men and women. We must provide all parents with equal access to parental leave rights, including primary, secondary, adoption, foster and kinship caregivers. NAB has taken this approach because it reflects diverse needs and ensures families can manage their lives and jobs. We must also support government policies aimed at subsidizing and improving access to childcare services. Cheaper child care removes financial disincentives to returning to work.

This National Jobs Conversation is timely and what Australia needs right now is action to remedy the situation. To sustain strong growth and competitive advantage, we need national leadership. This summit can produce swift and coordinated action, such as we have seen during the pandemic. Business, government and labor must – and can – come together to keep the economy going.