SHORTAGE of skilled labour is a big impediment to business growth in the Falklands and a serious issue, according to the private sector.
The recently released Business Climate Survey 2016 results report revealed respondents concerns about the barrier to commercial progress. It was also identified as a barrier in the 2012 and 2014 editions but is now much more prominent.
Within that survey a total of 11 of the 15 industries identified it, and the top three that selected it most often were ‘business services’ followed by ‘agriculture’ and then ‘construction’.
Speaking to Penguin News this week, Ian Stewart of Ian Stewart Construction explained that although he had the right amount of workers on his current Malvina House Hotel Project, if (just for example) he was suddenly offered a government house building project it would be impossible to begin quickly.
“Everybody here is already employed,” he said; as such it would be a massive problem for his company if just two or three of his carpenters left, “we would have to close down.”
He said he had advertised recently for a carpenter and had no responses, and offers of apprenticeship places had similarly received no interest.
“School leavers can make the same amount of money in unskilled work or just doing bits here and there like squidding or a season of shearing,” said Ian.
He explained there were also big risks attached to importing labour. Having paid flights and arranged accommodation, “what if they don’t like it and want to leave straight away?”
Asked what he thought might help the situation Ian said obviously it was important to pay employees well and, “treat them properly,” but added, “improved incentives for apprentices,” might also help.
The joint second largest barrier identified in the survey was freight costs by sea (import). Members of the agriculture, business services, and construction industries were again very concerned.
Cost of fuel has tumbled down the rankings from second in the 2014 survey to 23rd in this year’s survey which illustrates the big decline in fuel prices experienced in the Falklands and worldwide. The barrier ‘access to finance’ also saw a decline in the rankings.
Falkland Islands Development Corporation (FIDC) Business Relations Manager Michael Betts, who is behind the Business Climate Survey, told Penguin News that addressing any skills gap was an island-wide issue, “and the survey results will inform a wider discussion on how to best address this and any other concerns identified in the survey.”
He said in the meantime, “the Innovation Council, which involves representatives from FIG and the business community, discussed the shortage of skilled labour barrier when the group met in June. The Council asked me to consult stakeholders on this issue and my findings will be presented at the next meeting in December.”
He added: “I would like to thank all the businesses who completed the survey, and the Chamber and the Rural Business Association for partnering FIDC to produce it. As a business community we managed to achieve a 43 per cent return rate, which is incredibly impressive, particularly for such a comprehensive survey. The importance of this biennial survey increases with each passing edition, and it provides vital feedback to FIDC and its partner organisations, which we take very seriously. FIDC will aim to implement initiatives to help the Falklands’ business community based on the results.”
What the survey said
The results strongly suggest 2014 and 2015 were two very good years for the business community. 68 per cent of respondents rated 2014 as a better year for the Falklands’ economy than 2013, and another 69 per cent felt 2015 was even better than 2014. However, the number of businesses predicting improved overall performances in 2016 decreased when compared to businesses that stated their performance improved in 2015 from 2014. The number of businesses forecasting an increase in turnover and investment levels decreased in number. In spite of these forecasts the number of businesses predicting to make a profit increase.