The Missing Middle

The biggest employment challenge we will face over the coming decade relates to what I call the ‘missing middle’. Sadly, I'm not talking about doughnuts.

The missing middle refers to people in our communities who are probably not at the beginning of their careers; they're not climbing the very first rung of the job's ladder but nor are they highly-educated professionals at the peak of their careers.

To give context, I’ve divided the Australian labour market into three main categories. Firstly, entry level positions are lower-paid roles which require fairly minimal training and skills. These positions are open to pretty much anyone and for many provide their first taste of the labour market. For example, teenage checkout assistants at your local grocery store or the university student working as a barista at your local café. These types of jobs are often taken by students, young people entering the workforce, migrants and refugees and disadvantaged groups.

On the opposite side, highly skilled jobs are those which require extensive experience and or advanced qualifications such as a university degree. These jobs might be doctors or lawyers (or economists!). The kind of professionals whom we expect to have some form of accreditation and barrier to entry for their profession.

The middle I’m concerned is increasingly missing fits between these two. It’s supervisors and managers, trades and vocationally qualified occupations. These types of jobs used to often be found in factories and manufacturing, the types of industries that produced items as opposed to services.

In Australia, our service industries are very heavy on entry level and highly skilled jobs which are increasingly making up a large portion of Australia's economy. The challenge is that without training and jobs available, it becomes very challenging for people to climb the ladder of opportunity. It’s a big leap from the bottom to the top without clawing one’s way through the middle.

Ultimately this becomes a big issue for the government (particularly federal government) as we look to build a sustainable economy in the face of a recession and unexpected reduction in skilled migrants. Job Outlook is the federal government’s predicted demand for various occupations. If you have a noodle around the site, those jobs in the missing middle – particularly trades – they are predicted to be very highly demanded and highly paid in the future, if not already. However, we're not training enough of these people. 

The recent changes to our economy would indicate that there's a pretty simple two-fold way through. Ok, it’s much more complex than that, but these two areas would make a very hefty start. The first is VET reform where we look at how vocational training model works and whether it's meeting the needs of our economy and our students. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has strongly advocated on this issue and I have hope that the new National Skills Commission will make some inroads. Secondly, considering our new-found focus and interest in local manufacturing, perhaps we’ll see local entrepreneurs bring back jobs to fill in the missing middle and create the ladder of opportunity again.