Solving the skills shortage in Australia’s project management industry

08 January 2023 5 min. read
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According to the Australian Institute of Project Management’s latest ‘State of Project Management’ report, project management organisations across Australia face increased competition for labour and skills, and need to work harder than ever to attract, engage and retain people.

Based on the views of 300 respondents (most of which serve as project or portfolio manager), the report by the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) and KPMG found that currently 73% of project teams experience staff shortages. Over half of respondents said that skills shortages have directly impacted project timelines and on-time project delivery.

As a result, answering the questions of how to attract and retain the right people – and keep them away from (too much) stress and burnout – is high on the strategic agenda of project management organisations.

So what can project management organisations do to fill the skills gap and win over the right project people? Jody Blinco and Petria Paynter from Proximity outline six possible solutions.

Organisation culture matters

Organisations need to understand what motivates employees today. We are seeing – in our recruitment of people in general, not just project manager roles – that aspects such as flexible working options and environment, social and governance (ESG) policies are what candidates expect employers to have; they are not differentiators.

According to McKinsey & Company, up to 55% of employee engagement is driven by non-financial recognition. Sure, there needs to be a financial reward given the cost-of-living pressures, but it’s being weighed heavily against being felt valued by the organisation and delivering meaningful work.

McKinsey’s research also showed that the strongest indicators of a positive work experience came from aspects such as quality relationships with leaders, trust, caring teams, and the overall social climate.

Recruiting needs to change

It is crucial for organisations to create a more complete employee value proposition, and this includes employees looking for non-traditional work options, such as freelancers. Organisations should adapt their recruitment strategies to encompass both the customary and non-traditional approaches to work.

Using freelancers or contract project managers for example, allows you to scale your project quickly and gives you agility when things need to change. But it will be important to integrate these people into your organisation, not just the project – just as if they were an employee. The focus should be on promoting an atmosphere of inclusion.

Interviewing in reverse

The notion that companies are doing the interviewing has faded, with Australia’s unemployment rate at 3.4%, a 48-year low and over 470,000 job vacancies, according to the most recent data release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Q4 2022). Good candidates now have the upper hand, with the dynamic almost shifting towards interviewing the organisations.

Skill-based recruitment

In looking for new people, carefully consider what you need in an employee to deliver your project. We have seen a trend towards skill-based recruitment. Glassdoor reports that companies including Google, Hilton and Apple, are offering well-paying jobs to those possessing in-demand skills but lacking a degree.

We have also seen a shift to the practice of setting specific skills and competency requirements for a job rather than only looking at a candidate’s credentials. This shouldn’t be seen as devaluing a formal degree but to increase your options while ensuring you have the right skills to meet your project needs.

What actions does your organisation undertake to be attractive to aspiring or young project professionals

Encouraging mentoring

Another driver behind the skills gap within the project management profession is the 13 million people that are predicted to retire from the profession over the next eight years, according to Project Management Institute’s Talent Gap Report 2021. The wealth of knowledge and experience stored in the top-tiers of the industry has become a valuable asset to a business.

Yet, in the AIPM’s recent report with KPMG, 42% said their organisation wasn’t doing anything (or they didn’t know what they were doing) to attract and encourage emerging project professionals.

The transfer of knowledge down to new entrants should be leveraged in learning and development frameworks in addition to increasing stakeholder engagement in training processes. Finding the right people is a challenge at best, but shifting towards valuing a new entrants potential can broaden the candidate pool.


All employees expect learning and development, including freelancers and part- timers. But despite companies spending an average of $1,308 (USD) per worker on learning and development activities, only 12% of employees can apply these skills to their jobs, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Traditional learning and development frameworks have become stale in today’s skills short climate; we have already seen changes in learning delivery with online and artificial intelligence models available.

Research shows that industry, vocational education, and university providers should be considering ‘micro-credentialling’, which are qualifications that can target skills gaps, in a short term, focused manner. This is especially relevant in the project management space, as the practice is upheld by a framework of principles and methodologies.