A shortage of labor is affecting almost every industry in Australia, but for removalists the problem is just one of many factors making everyday business more difficult.
- Removalists are in heavy demand all over Australia, but particularly in Queensland
- Many people moved north during COVID lockdowns
- Others are heading to the coast or country regions to improve their lifestyle
Grace Removals group ecommerce and marketing manager Andrew Wilson said COVID, the sheer number of people moving around the country — and more recently, the world — as well as fuel prices and an ageing workforce were all putting pressure on removalists, and there was still months before the peak summer season began.
In particular, Queensland recorded the biggest population growth, with Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data to September 2021 showing it had a 1.1 per cent increase in residents.
Victoria recorded the biggest exodus with a negative growth rate of -0.5 per cent.
The ABS said net interstate migration was the major contributor to population change in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Overall, Australia’s quarterly population growth was 12,100 people (0.05 per cent) with annual growth even smaller at 0.3 per cent.
Mr Wilson said the figures backed up his observations.
And the other thing was the well-spoken-about move to the regions and we are absolutely seeing regional centers pick up from the Central Coast of NSW, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay.
“Northern NSW, the south coast of NSW, Bendigo, Wangaratta and Wodonga are doing really well too.
“Tassie again is a bit of a beneficiary, with a lot of movement there.”
Western Australia’s open borders are also attracting some migration, and workers on sponsored visas are trickling back into the country from overseas.
Mr Wilson said there was a gradual return to Queensland of Australians who had been stuck overseas.
It pays to book ahead
James Morell operates Brisbane company Muval and said he too had noticed some movement back to states such as Victoria, but there were still plenty of people making tree-change and sea-change moves in Queensland.
His Muval Index reports on how, when, where and why Australians are moving, and this year a team of statisticians from the University of Queensland is helping to quantify the information in an annual report due out in the coming weeks.
For those wanting to book a removalist, Mr Morell advised booking early, particularly ahead of the peak season.
“Availability starts to run out particularly in November and early December across the entire industry,” he said.
Worker search hampered by border closures
Grace Removals has at least 100 vacant positions in its 30 branches around Australia, according to Mr Wilson.
“It’s a problem that has been brewing for some time and the low unemployment rate is certainly exacerbating the issue,” he said.
“I’ve probably heard of it for 10 years, and it is getting harder and harder to attract people into the industry.
“We certainly do have a program in place that offers well-structured training from the ground up and we assist with forklift licenses.
“It’s been a challenge to recruit. People say it’s an immigration issue, and that is partly true, but it depends on the region.”
While removalists have not relied on backpackers, Mr Wilson said the exodus of overseas-born residents during COVID, particularly those from New Zealand, had caused some shortages.
Optimove office manager Laila Ali said the weekly struggle to find staff would be helped once international travel into Australia normalised.
She said international students, in particular, were a “big help in terms of staffing” and helped improve competition for jobs.
Ms Ali noticed a “huge amount” of work continuing to come out of Melbourne and Sydney with residents moving to Queensland.
“We offer services to regional Queensland but it’s not a big demand going out into the country,” she said.
“It’s more local moves in Brisbane because of the property market, or to the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast.”
Retaining staff an ongoing challenge
With an expertise in marketing, Mr Wilson has been called on to use his skills to advertise the industry to potential employees, not potential customers.
One of his tactics is to make moving into an attractive remote area by offering rental subsidies and offering all staff health insurance discounts and other perks.
“We’re really having to think quite differently about our recruitment strategy and I don’t think it’ll get resolved anytime soon,” Mr. Wilson said.
“The answer is employers like us really working extra hard to both attract and retain staff. That includes trying to bring on as many benefits as we can and trying to create as a positive environment as possible.
Mr Wilson said it took about four months to train a “valuable” worker and up to five years before a removalist could be described as highly skilled.
Mr Morell started Muval in 2016 and now employs about 50 staff, up from 10 people six years ago.
But he agreed retaining good staff was a challenge.
“It was easy for a second when businesses were laying people off and we took on quite a number of Flight Center employees, then it got really hard, but now it’s a bit easier again.
“After going through the last couple of years there were lots of people wanting to make a change, so it’s about trying to retain people while attracting people trying to make that change.”
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