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December | Culture by Design | Read time: calculating...

Borders opening a win for business

An ongoing skills shortage that crippled many WA industries and businesses is set to end with the Premier announcing this week that State border controls are to be relaxed in February.


As Keogh Principal & Innovation Lead Margit Mansfield discusses, access to a larger people pool will give businesses and leaders confidence they can stay diverse and agile in the new year.

Some may say it has come belatedly, but news that WA will re-open to the rest of Australia on 5 February 2022 gives reason for many families that have been separated for long periods to rejoice and look forward to reuniting with loved ones.

It also gives the business community – which has been presented significant challenges reacting and adapting to border controls and the restrictiveness of lockdowns – reason to celebrate.

Australia is in an enviable position when it comes, to revive an old phrase – the global war for talent.

Our advantage is that people want to come to Australia and particularly WA, which is viewed as a safe haven that has weathered the storm of COVID-19 better than anywhere else in the world.

Lessons learned by the business community in other states opening their borders will play an important role in WA as preparation for a wave of visitors takes place.

Queensland’s re-opening on Monday 13 December triggered a mass influx of visitors and was broadly welcomed by those living in a State that had been under lockdown for more than 400 days since COVID-19 arrived in Australia.

It spurred significant movement in the east, with 50,000 vehicles expected to cross the border north as people embrace Queensland’s world-renowned tourism offerings as Christmas holidays kick off.

Last month Peter Gutwein announced Tasmania would re-open on 15 December, a pleasant Christmas gift from its Premier. It has allowed businesses in the Apple Isle plenty of time to prepare for the expected influx of visitors during the festive season, update COVID-safe management plans and roster staff with plenty of notice.

Reactions of the business community in those states has been broadly positive.

Although the Golden State hasn’t been significantly restricted by internal lockdowns, it has implemented the tightest border closures in the nation, presenting considerable frustration to the business community grappling with people problems.

Considerable workforce shortages – up to 55,000 to be exact – have proved challenging, particularly to the State’s booming resources, tourism and hospitality, agriculture and health care sectors.

Whether in a global or domestic context, borders need to be permeable to allow jurisdictions to realise their full potential.

Without the flow of people, politics, culture and the countless other factors influencing our communities, the pillars of society – social, economic and environmental – eventually crumble.

Similarly, businesses and organisations must remain accessible and agile – growing their collective skillset so their teams remain diverse, vibrant and of course, competitive.

Among the challenges of workforce shortfalls and renewal during COVID-19, many of our clients have cited the diminished pool of talent they are able to draw from in order to keep thriving.

Premier McGowan’s announcement on 13 December gives the WA business community close to three months to prepare in readiness for the State re-opening.

And from an international border perspective, the Federal Government has indicated it will be relaxing restrictions to a range of nations imminently, allowing the flow of about 200,000 people – many of whom will be skilled workers and international students – into Australia.

Life returning somewhat to normalcy will be welcomed by many businesses, however one of the more important learnings out of a period ruled by border controls and lockdowns, is the resilience and adaptiveness of the business community in uncertain times.

And in a red-hot job market, the onus is well and truly back on employers to ensure they provide good conditions, sound leadership and demonstrate strong, attractive and contemporary workplace culture.

Organisations without those demonstrable qualities will find it hard to capitalise on the veritable surge in people and talent likely to descend on WA.

Those that have learned to be creative with who they choose, rather than what skills they specifically require are better positioned to benefit above organisations not willing to bend their prerequisite skillsets and experience.

As much, if not more, value can be gained from energetic workers with a semi-transferable skillset and curiosity to learn – they may just be a great fit for an organisation looking to refresh and bring new dynamism to their team.

To that end, making use of professional placements, work experience and internship opportunities as a way of bolstering workforces and producing the next generation of professionals is a great alternative to traditional and regimented recruitment criteria.

This is particularly important across burgeoning industries like tech, where demand for people resources is going to be worldwide. Companies searching for people won’t only be competing with others in Australia, they’ll be up against international organisations wanting the same thing.

While some sectors will enjoy relative ease in accessing a renewed workforce, other industries will be up against a longer pipeline for people, particularly areas requiring deeply specialised people that can’t be manufactured or sourced overnight.  Specialist medicos and instrumentation specialists are among them.

And finally, even with domestic borders down, international arrival gates open and organisations waiting open armed to embrace the wave of potential new workers, there will need to be serious consideration to get all business settings right if employees are to be retained once gained.

An appetite to invest in their training and upskilling, negotiating agreeable conditions such as flexible working arrangements, part-time work and even inflated wages are all becoming part of the natural equation for companies that want ongoing workforce engagement and performance.

If nothing else, COVID has demonstrated to businesses in WA why culture transformation and leadership are so important in an everchanging and fast-moving business environment.


This thought leadership piece has been picked up by the Triple M radio station and the full interview can be listened to on their catch up podcast.