Why it’s Time to Stop Ignoring Australia’s Supply Chain Workers

As skills shortages continue to dominate most, if not all sectors of the Australian economy, it’s more important than ever to ensure our supply chain is well resourced, in order to avoid a return to the significant delays and congestion of previous years.

I think it’s fair to say that before the pandemic started to make a significant impact in 2020, the majority of people hadn’t given much thought to the global supply chain and how it operates.

However, as world-wide lockdowns resulted in the supply chain all but grinding to a sudden halt, people found themselves forced to pay greater attention to exactly where consumer goods come from, and how they end up either on store shelves, or delivered directly to the front door.

Whether it be produce on supermarket shelves, consumer goods in shopping centres, or your online shopping haul arriving directly to your home, these items only arrive due to a number of professions – and that includes seafarers, port workers, bio-security inspectors, truck drivers and freight-forwarders, among others.

With Western Australia’s unemployment rate sitting at 3.4% in September, and the national rate only slightly higher at 3.5%, it makes sense that the Government is trying to encourage workers to the state.

But, for all the discussion around boosting hospitality staff, and getting people out into the regions to assist the agricultural sector during harvest, where is the increased push to get more workers back into the supply chain?

Pandemic-related layoffs, vaccine mandates and the increasing cost of doing business has seen the freight and logistics industry lose highly experienced workers over the past two years, and while some of those people may have been replaced, it takes time to rebuild the required knowledge and expertise.

Loading and unloading vessels safely, yet quickly, takes skill. Driving heavy vehicles requires expertise. Knowing the intimate details of import and export rules and regulations from memory takes years of doing it over and over again, and yet this is the kind of industry knowledge that is all too often overlooked and taken for granted.

Add to this an overall shortage of staff, and it suddenly starts to make sense as to why there remains some delays and bottlenecks throughout the supply chain, even as COVID-related restrictions are removed.

Ignorance about how the supply chain functions can no longer be an excuse for anyone, especially as there’s now an entire generation who have only ever known the convenience of making purchases online.

I believe that all consumers have a responsibility to better inform themselves about how the supply chain moves items around the globe, and how a lack of staff can and will slow down processes across sea, land, and air freight.

My concern is that as life starts to look increasingly like it did ‘pre-pandemic’, supply chain workers are once again at risk of becoming invisible.

Whether it be a truck driver, customs broker, quarantine inspector or ship’s Captain, it’s time to recognise these workers as playing an essential role in our community, whether that be through a Government funded awareness campaign, or greater public recognition for workers in the sector.

We rightly encourage our young people to take up a trade or university qualifications, but I say we can do that AND also encourage more workers into the supply-chain, knowing their roles are valued and appreciated by all.