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Talent Shortages, Strategic Alliances And Flexible Work; Lessons And Learnings From 2021

By Raj Kutty on 08 December 2021

Family with sparklers spelling 2021
  • Ongoing Defence spending maintains stability in defence industry despite the ongoing talent shortage.

  • AUKUS pact, rise of cyber and space sectors brings major strategic shift.

  • Kinexus turned 20 in a year when mental health and flexible work dominated the conversations.

2021 was a big year for Kinexus. We entered our 21st year of business, which was a cause for great celebration and a moment for great reflection.

2021 was also a significant year for defence industry. A new strategic alliance was announced, the space sector continued to dominate conversation and all the while the COVID-19 pandemic found ways to disrupt business as usual practices.

So as 2021 comes to a close, it’s time to look back and reflect upon the lessons and learnings from the year that has passed.

The pandemic

Our hopes that ‘2021 couldn’t be as bad as 2020’ were quickly dashed, and despite beginning the year out of lockdown, much of Australian industry entered survival mode as COVID remained centre stage.

As a national business, the (what felt like constant) flip-flopping in and out of lockdowns was a logistical nightmare. I estimate that COVID planning took up approximately 20% of my time this year, as I considered:

  • How border closures were affecting both interstate travel but also the ability for companies to recruit hard to find skills in alternate states

  • Localised and wide-spread lockdowns

  • Changing vaccination requirements and finding timely and clear ways to communicate this.

The general sense of worry that permeated the workforce brought psychological health to the forefront of conversations; this will continue to play a part in how our business runs.

Supporting the Kinexus team through this period of change meant adopting alternate work practices, most obviously working from home, which many workers (at Kinexus and across defence industry) have embraced as an ongoing arrangement.

The changes the pandemic forced us to implement will have a lasting impact, and defence industry employers who seek to return to pre-pandemic work practices run the risk of being outpaced by their industry counterparts.

Talent shortage

Second only to the impact of the pandemic, conversations this year dwelled on the talent shortage and access to suitably skilled workers.

The $270 billion pledged by the Commonwealth to upgrade Australia’s Defence capability continues to bolster defence industry.

Released in April 2021, Kinexus’ latest Hiring Intentions and Workforce Report estimated the defence industry workforce would grow by over 10% by mid-2022. Even the AUKUS announcement in September 2021, which resulted in the scrapping of the SEA 1000 project, could not curb the industry’s resilience and growth.

Unable to access the usual supply of overseas talent, competition has grown for workers in adjacent industries such as rail and infrastructure, which has put pressure on an already stretched defence industry workforce.

Now, unlike in other recessions, labour is in short supply. The broader consequences of this include high employee turnover, higher salaries, project delays and increasing pressure on existing staff.

Finding the workers

The organisations that have been most successful in 2021 are those that have looked at recruitment holistically. When a company has a strategic approach to workforce growth, they can identify key skill sets needed for the future and go about identifying where and how they might acquire them.

In this ‘project’ mindset, talent pools are built and nurtured, alternate office locations considered and adjacent industry workers identified. For SMEs, who often don’t have access to talent acquisition or HR teams, outsourcing to a specialist can be an effective way to implement this.

Just in time recruitment is no longer a sufficient strategy.

Finding people to work for the Kinexus team has always been difficult, but our consistent focus on hiring ex-ADF members has stood us in good stead.

Our South Australia team, primarily made up of veterans and based on the coast south of Adelaide, has been an example of the success that comes from taking the work to the workers. Our recently opened office in Middleton gained us a mention in federal parliament.

Looking ahead

Despite high vaccination rates, the reopening of international borders and an increasing willingness to ‘live with COVID’, the labour market will continue to be impacted for at least the next 12 months.

Staff turnover should be anticipated and planned for. Even if Australia doesn’t see a tidal wave akin to the Great Resignation in the US, a natural human tendency to stretch our legs after long sedentary periods will stimulate movement.

2022 will bring with it a General Election, which historically we have found to slow down recruitment activity. Irrespective of your political leanings, fewer decisions seem to be made around election time.

The AUKUS security pact will improve the long-term security of Australians, and even now we are seeing defence industry organisations positioning themselves to benefit from the opportunities AUKUS will bring. We continue to see diversification into cyber and space sectors, and anticipate this will be a significant area of growth in the future.

Overall, the defence industry, and Kinexus along with it, is entering a period where risk and reward are greater than ever before. While further upheavals remain on the horizon, the primary focus should be on doing everything we can to look after the people that work for us.

After a year where survival was the primary aim, I’m looking forward to more medium and long term planning and who knows, even an overseas holiday.

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Photo by Tarryn Myburgh on Unsplash

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