Transferable skills will help address the skills shortage

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Graduates from the education and training system are the future workforce – in essence, the worker pipeline. In the Committee for Perth’s latest research into the current skills shortage, we have focused on these new market entrants and found three critical aspects.

First, the pandemic has demonstrated that access to workers and worker mobility are important to meeting labour demand; in turn, skills transferability is critical to this. Being mobile means workers possessing skills that enable them to move across occupations to take advantage of new job opportunities.

Transferability of Skills Across Occupations

Source: Snell et al. (2016).

Second, soft skills such as problem solving, digital competency, communication and the ability to work as part of a team are becoming increasingly important requirements across all jobs. In our consultations with employers and professional bodies, we have noticed a shift from seeking employees with technical excellence to wanting people with technical competence plus proficiency in communication-based skills in order to create high-performing teams and more resilient organisations.

Third, up to four years after graduating, nearly a quarter of undergraduates and postgraduates continued to work in occupations that did not fully utilise their skills and education.

The role of skills transferability is gaining importance as countries adjust to structural change and seek employment sustainability. The Western Australian economy has undergone its own structural changes, including those accentuated by COVID-19, which has shone a spotlight on what happens when we cannot access labour in a timely manner.

To turn out more rounded graduates with both hard and soft skills in equal measure, a different approach is needed in terms of how education is delivered in certain fields of study. Investment is also necessary in creating jobs for graduates, so that the transition from study to work is seamless and, importantly, so that we do not waste or under-utilise talent.

In courses where integrated work learning is offered, such as nursing and teaching, the success rates are high because there is a clear line of sight between course content and entry level requirements. In fields such as the arts, the pathway to employment is less clear, and therefore graduates often find themselves not working in the field or sector for which they originally studied, particularly during their first few years in the workforce.

A key finding is that a rethink is needed of the way graduates’ talents are used, so that the worker, employer and economy all benefit from the outset. Wasting talent is a handbrake on individual earnings, organisational profit and economic growth.

Access the research at

Published in Business News 11 April 2022.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Committee For Perth acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.