Skills shortage 2021: If you want the talent, you have to sell the job

Ruth Callaghan

Ruth Callaghan 10 May 2021
4 mins

WA continues to lead the COVID-19 recovery – with all jobs lost due to the pandemic now recovered and a further 20,000 jobs created.

There are more than 1.4 million Western Australians now employed – the highest result on record.

Employers need skilled workers 

They are searching for sous chefs in Kununurra. They can’t get enough mechanics in Kal. And in the Great Southern, there’s a desperate need for farm workers, labourers, carpenters, waiters — anyone, really.  

The fears of aeconomic depression and mass unemployment a year ago suddenly seems overblown as WA enters a skill-shortage not seen since the days of the last mining boom.  

The reasons behind the shortage are varied.  

COVID has closed national borders and reduced the pool of international labour available to employers. Backpackers have gone home and the WA restrictions on travel have sharply limited the option of FIFO from other states.  

And as ‘normal’ drifts further into the distance, we face the potential return of tens of thousands of Aussies who see home as a safe haven; who will all need houses, cars, goods, services, schools, roads and other infrastructure – with the associated jobs that go with producing these 

Add in the booming commodities market, renewed demand for iron ore from countries looking to build their way back to recovery, and soaring salaries for skilled labour. 

How are employers selling the job?

Read a jobs board, though, and its clear that not all employers have got the memo. 

“Picking rocks, $24.86/hour. Starts next week. 8 hour days. All farm work subject to change.”  

That’s the enticing ad for one Great Southern business.  

“Immediate start. Minimum 40 hours a week. Weekend work and night work required. Must have access to a reliable vehicle and be willing to travel to site. The ability to work in hot, dirty, dusty environments, or work outside in all weather conditions.” 

That one is for the area around Perth. No suggested salary or conditions are provided.  

And then there are the ads that flout employment rules altogether.  

Learn to render … then earn some money with me once you gain competency. 

“Looking for a bubbly female that wants a small town café job.” 

“Cash in hand job, $20/hour.” 

Even in times of high unemployment, a lot of these pitches to potential employees would be unacceptable, but when workers are spoiled for choice, it’s no way to attract someone who will be reliable, will want to help you build your business, or will stick around for the long-haul.  

If you want the talent, you have to sell the job — or at least be clear about what a potential employee will gain from working with you.  

Step one: be clear about conditions

If your job involves scraping bird poo from concrete with a jet hose, it’s best to mention this up front. If you require people to work unsociable hours, or undertaking back-breaking labour, or dealing with difficult people, mention that as well.  

Once you have, outline the positive conditions that can be weighed against the downside. Too many job ads forget to see the position from the applicant’s side: what is in it for them?  

Is it above-award wage? Is it a commitment to regular hours so they can plan child care? Is it flexibility so they can work a second role if your job is less than full-time? What about on-the-job training? Can you provide accommodation or a living allowance if the work is remote, or cover a tank of fuel each month?  

And while it shouldn’t need to be said, be specific about physical safety if you are expecting young workers to live on site. If there’s accommodation, provide a link with a photograph, be clear if they will have their own room and facilities, and the cost — if any — you expect them to pay while they are there.  

Step two: set and meet salary expectations  

Job applications are time-consuming and often stressful. The would-be worker needs to get their documentation in a row. They have to think about whether this role will work for them. They have to weigh up whether they need to travel or relocate, and how this will fit with all the other commitments most people have in their lives. It’s not fair to ask them to do this without some idea of what they might get paid.  

Despite this, only about a quarter of jobs on some boards list any kind of salary expectation, but at the least you should provide an indication of how the work is paid, the likely hours, what award might apply and whether there’s an option for overtime, penalty rates or other conditions.  

Step three: tell your story 

Is your business a family owned venture, built up with a close-knit team over the past 20 years? Great – include this in the ad.  

Are you a new start-up, looking to find talent who will help you double the size of your digital business in a year? Mention this as well.  

Are you a caring company that believes in the value of the work you do for your local community, and wants people who share your passion for the environment or social cause or creative venture? Tell that story.  

Most people don’t just want to work in a job, they want to work somewhere they can contribute and feel like their efforts are worthwhile. Having a clearly articulated story and purpose helps them find your business amid the noise.   

Will including these three elements find you that rock picker you have been looking for? Perhaps not – but as the market tightens, it gives you a much better chance than the many other questionable advertisers chasing the same set of workers.  


Ruth Callaghan is Cannings Purple’s Chief Innovation Officer. She specialises in providing strategic digital and content services for clients, using the principles of newsworthy and engaging content to tell compelling stories.

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Ruth uses two decades of experience as a media strategist, communications adviser and journalist to develop, deliver and distribute messages that cut through.

She specialises in providing strategic digital and content services for clients, using the principles of newsworthy and engaging content to tell compelling stories. She is a skilled media trainer and works with professionals both within and outside the communications industry to develop their digital, writing and media skills.

Ruth’s work in this field has included developing digital and inbound marketing strategies for clients, including use of lead generation software, content marketing and social media. She works with emerging technologies including virtual reality in campaigns and continues to write for publications including the Australian Financial Review.

When not distracted by the next shiny digital tool, Ruth likes to holiday in cooler climates with her family or hang out with her stubborn Scottish Terrier Maisie.

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