Evolving workforce challenges in Australia: Local needs and global solutions

October 31, 2021

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By Diego Ascani, Chief executive officer, Australia

With its wide array of mountains, rain forests, beaches and deserts, Australia offers wide interest and appeal to those from around the world.

The impact of the pandemic has changed our lives, work and the vacation destination on a scale never seen before. What might surprise people is that Australia is only just now beginning to come out of lockdown from COVID-19 after 20 months. After an extensive period of quiet, Australians are beginning to transition from combatting COVID-19 to learning how to live with the coronavirus — learning lessons from other regions to help in our reopening.

One of the biggest challenges facing Australia revolves around its workforce. Currently, there is a shortage of talent and skilled labor. This talent shortage is further exacerbated by COVID-19, particularly at a time when the Australian economy is attempting to reopen.

Many Australian companies and employees are struggling with how to address proposed vaccine mandates. While some have chosen to take the vaccine, there is a question of how to address situations where employees decline the vaccine or do not care to share their vaccination status. This poses issues for companies, particularly those with employees in client-facing roles.

Moreover, as the economy reopens, Australia expects to see an increase in both the number and complexity of claims reported. Establishing precautions and protocols to ensure a safe return to the workplace is at the forefront of many corporate discussions. Ideas range from cleaning and disinfecting procedures to ensure a safe re-opening of work facilities and offices to implementing safety and wellness protocols that employees should follow once onsite.

Safety protocols and procedures for re-opening offices and facilities are extremely important in the current phase. This helps protect those employees who are returning for onsite assignments. It also provides a greater peace of mind that the company is taking steps to care for their wellbeing. This can range from expert cleaning and disinfecting solutions to ensuring that those who come back to work are well and free from the virus.

Employers are also bracing to deal with more complex claims as many expect to see a rise in mental health claims. These claims may stem from increased stress and anxiety about returning to the workplace. Some employees may also fear exposure to the coronavirus and posing an increased risk to vulnerable family members.

In some cases, employees are simply exhausted from extended periods of work due to labor shortages. In other instances, employees are choosing not to return to work and instead retire to the countryside. Many are looking for a change, and they do not want the grind associated with previous employment. Like other countries around the globe, Australia in on the verge of experiencing the “great resignation.”

Businesses are further hammered by a rise in insurance costs, particularly in workers’ compensation. An increase in the frequency and complexity of claims leads to an increase in claims costs that puts upward pressure on premiums. As a result, more Australian companies are looking to self-insurance, establish captives and explore other alternative risk financing strategies.

If there is a silver lining for Australians amid these challenges, it is that many neighboring countries have faced similar issues and have developed solutions that can be applied on a localised basis.

Technology has been shown to be extremely effective in these types of situations to continue our work. Technology advancements are being used to detect patterns among large volumes of claims data, to capture and manage high volumes of claims intake information, and to provide enhanced communications and information among those reporting a property loss, an injury or illness.

Attracting and taking care of employees is paramount. Compassion for those struggling with making this transition is invaluable. Many companies have benefitted from increased awareness and offerings of mental health resources and assistance to employees impacted. This is one more way that companies can ensure they are doing the right thing and caring for their employees at a time of greatest need.

The next few months will be challenging for Australia as the economy transitions, businesses reopen and employees return to work. These challenges underscore the value of information exchange and global solutions we provide at Sedgwick. We are focusing on advocacy and support of people as we strive to regain our footing and find our stride.

Tags: Australia, claims data, COVID workforce challenges, COVID-19, Employees, international, Labor shortage, People + Productivity, Post-COVID reality, reopen, return, Return to work, safety protocols, talent, Technology, Trends + Transformation, workers' compensation, workers' comp