Employment Trends: Australia
by Mary Anne Thompson
With a strong economy and low unemployment, the future looks bright for Australia, especially for adaptable workers willing to learn new skills.
Australia has an enviable, strong economy with the world’s fifth-highest per capita GDP, just behind Switzerland and outranking Sweden, the UAE and the United States. The country’s GDP is estimated at more than 1.2 billion USD, with a per capita GDP of 33,300 USD. Its exports, services sector and agriculture and mining sector provide the country with stability contributing much of its GDP.
Australia is often described as having a ‘two-speed economy.’ In fact, some economists even say there are now two Australias: the explosively growing mining sector, and manufacturing, tourism and other sectors hurt by “the distorting impact of China,” according to The Financial Post. The Australian dollar has soared nearly 50 percent in the last six years, pushing up labor and other costs in the manufacturing sector. The result is that about 100,000 (10 percent of the total) manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the last two years, according to the Australian Industry Group.
The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) expects the growth of the Australian economy, which was slowed by natural disasters last year, to pick up this year and next. Buoyed by the mining boom, vigorous investment and exports should offset the negative impact. Unemployment is expected to stay low and underlying inflation should be contained. Australia will continue to be strong for the foreseeable future.
Areas of Job Promise
Australia’s two-speed economy has created inconsistencies in the country’s employment market, according to recruiting firm Robert Walters. Parts of Western Australia and Queensland are experiencing wage inflation and labor shortages for both skilled and unskilled workers. Mining professionals willing to work in remote areas can command ‘significant salaries.’ But these workers are only a small part of Australia’s work force.
Other sectors are suffering from slowdowns. The financial services and property sectors are facing challenges that are likely to result in lower recruiting. Small to medium enterprises (SMEs), which employ the majority of Australia’s workers, lack confidence.
Employers are likely to remain cautious about hiring this year. “Australian employers remain optimistic overall, although somewhat more cautious following economic data and news of job cuts in some industries during the first quarter, particularly the financial services and manufacturing sectors,” said Mark Steyn, CEO of Hudson Asia Pacific.
Temporary and contract recruiting is expected to remain high this year, according to Robert Walters, as it alleviates skills shortages in high demand sectors, such as engineering and resources. Temporary hiring will be the ‘preferred option’ for risk-averse employers seeking to expand their secretarial and business support staff, says Robert Walters.
Four out of five companies in Western Australia (WA) plan to hire foreign workers to help fill skills gaps, according to new research by global consultancy services firm KPMG. The KPMG report found growing skills shortages in every Australian state except Queensland. The number of temporary visa holders in WA rose 85 percent in the past year.
Increases in skilled migrants are most prevalent in mining, construction and manufacturing. The energy, resources and business and consulting services sectors also saw increases. The demand for engineering and mining was at least double the demand in other areas. However, the shortage of accountants and other financial professions, IT specialists and senior executives with experience in management and planning policy is also growing.
The shortage of senior executives with experience in management and planning policy is becoming more pronounced, according to KPMG’s recent Skilled Migration Survey.
Executive recruiter Hays reports demand for executives and professionals with a variety of skills. Mining and resources companies across Australia are eager to find leadership talent in accounting, international tax consulting, and mergers and acquisitions. Retail is experiencing moderate demand for senior marketing executives, senior merchandising managers and strategic operational leaders.
Perhaps surprisingly, Australia’s not-for-profit sector is seeing the greatest demand for CEOs and general managers. Non-profit employers are seeking executives with experience delivering key programs of transformation and organizational growth. State government and statutory authorities are driving demand for interim CFOs and other finance leadership positions.
Demand also exists for business executives with strong change and project management experience who can consult and assist in the commercialization and transformation of organizations. Experience in systems implementations and process and cultural change is also highly desirable. Driving this demand in the not-for-profit sector are changes in not-for-profit legislation requiring organizations to become more effective and organizations’ own needs to reduce costs.
Australia’s Long-Term Outlook
Global employment services firm Manpower reports structural changes are occurring in the employment market. Some sectors are flourishing, while others are shrinking, according to Lincoln Crawley, managing director, Manpower Group Australia and New Zealand.
Although the outlook is subdued this year, “plenty of employers are still hiring and skills shortages continue to bite,” said Crawley. And as long as jobseekers are “open to changing direction, there are plenty of flourishing industry sectors and job families, especially if they are willing to learn new skills and adapt to a different environment,” he said.
Skills in Demand
Hiring managers are now ranking the importance of good cultural fit as high as essential technical skills, according to recruiter Hays. In fact, Hays reports some employers are willing to train candidates in the necessary technical skills if they are the right cultural fit for the business. This trend is occurring across both the private and public sectors and for candidates across a number of different skill sets.
“The focus on cultural fit is to ensure a new recruit will integrate into the existing team, has an intrinsic understanding of the way the business operates and is more likely to be retained long-term. There is a belief that technical skills can be taught, but cultural fit cannot,” said Nick Deligiannis, director of Hays. “Considering the demand for skilled professionals in many industries, it is vital for employers to get cultural fit right to ensure business continuity and productivity is maintained. It’s also encouraging to see cultural fit acknowledged as strategically important.”
In addition to cultural fit, other ‘soft’ skills are in demand, such as language, communication, management and leadership. Hard skills needed include those in emerging industries such as green energy and building, health care and R&D, according to global specialist recruiting firm Hays.
- Languages: The need for additional language skills is a common theme across all sectors. For those whose first language is English, ability to speak a second or third language with any ability is prized.
- People and communications: The ability to work efficiently as part of a team, build relationships and make effective presentations to clients and senior managers is essential.
- Team management and leadership: Hays reports these skills are lacking across the board. There is strong need for investment in education and professional training.
- Organization: Organizational skills are highly valued. Employers look for candidates who can organize their time efficiently, make the greatest possible contribution and add the greatest value to the company.
- Financial and budgetary: Organizations are seeking candidates with greater financial and budgetary awareness; often there is a shortage of local candidates with these skills.
- Information Technology: Specific IT skills in short supply include knowledge of JAVA, .NET and C++.
- Green skills: This growing area is seeing particular demand in green energy and construction.
- Procurement and negotiation: Demand is soaring for skilled professionals who can create savings and get the best deals.
- R&D: Technology, consumer goods, industrial and life science companies all forecast severe R&D skill shortages.
- Health care: As people live longer, the requirement for health care grows.
Jobs in Demand in Major Industries
Australian employers are experiencing the highest demand for IT professionals above all other professions, according to the international recruitment consultancy Robert Walters. Now that projects put on hold last year are being restarted, demand for IT professionals is likely to spike. Other drivers of IT recruitment include demand from projects related to the country’s National Broadband Network (NBN) and continued investment in mining and infrastructure. IT professionals with online production, design and development experience will be highly sought as many organizations expand their online and social networking capabilities. The market is expected to be particularly buoyant in the telecommunications, utilities, digital media and education sectors.
The shortage of experienced candidates, particularly highly-skilled business analysts, those with resources experience, and professionals with financial services experience, could actually “constrain project deadlines,” according to Robert Walters, though the demand will increase salaries and career opportunities for top talent.
The shortage of candidates in the mining, engineering and construction industries could also affect project deadlines, according to Robert Walters. The number of resource projects is expected to continue to increase this year, driving demand for labor.
However, “the industry is struggling to ensure availability of skilled professionals to meet its business needs... Large skills gaps are set to emerge as new resources and major construction projects commence” this year, says Robert Walters. People with very specific skills are needed, and it is likely employers will increasingly look overseas to fill the talent gaps. Salaries are also expected to rise, with professionals in mining operations and site-based engineering roles likely to see the biggest increases.
The resources boom is expected to continue to drive demand for accounting and finance professionals this year, according to Robert Walters. Strong demand is expected to increase for high-quality accounting professionals, resulting in a shortage of talented candidates and higher salaries.
A significant number of candidates will be recruited by employers in mining, engineering and construction. Post natural disaster rebuilding in Queensland and major investments in liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal seam gas (CSG) developments will ensure ongoing demand for talented accounting and finance professionals, Robert Walters says. Since last year’s increased demands led to a shortage of quality professionals, competition for them is likely to continue throughout this year.
The Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms and implementation of Basel III are likely to drive demand for risk management and project management specialists, according to Robert Walters. Increased hiring is likely, particularly in the second half of this year. However, salaries are not expected to increase much if at all.
Demand for online and technology marketing is expected to increase sharply this year, according to Robert Walters. Last year saw high demand for professionals with SEO and SEM skills as businesses worked to grow their social media channels. This trend is likely to continue. “[C]andidates with skills in online, technology and IT&T will be most sought after as companies seek to support their growing online operations. We believe these professionals will be able to command higher salaries and other non-financial benefits as market confidence continues to grow,” said Robert Walters’ associate director of sales and marketing Chris Newsham.
Revenue generating roles are also in demand, specifically business development professionals. Project communications professionals are also needed by mining, engineering and construction companies beginning major infrastructure projects.
With procurement and cost controls high on organizations’ agendas, strong procurement analysts and strategic category managers will be in high demand, according to Robert Walters. And, although employers’ focus on cost reduction may result in professionals having to broaden their skills to coordinate end-to-end control to secure employment, skilled professionals will continue to be needed.
Overall, Australia remains in a positive economic and employment position moving into the future. Those workers who are willing to learn new skills have an advantage in Australia’s workforce. Those who possess soft skills and fit into the culture of a company will do well in the job market, also. Many job sectors are hiring and demand remains high for skilled workers in upper management positions. With low unemployment and growing demand in the job market, Australia proves a ripe place for a job search these days.
Mary Anne Thompson is the Founder and President of Going Global, Inc. (www.goinglobal.com) a subscription database service that contains career and employment information for more than 80 locations. More than one million users enjoy Going Global’s unique content, which is researched in-country by local career experts and updated annually. She is also an author, lecturer and frequent guest on various media outlets, including NBC and CNN International. Previously, Mary Anne served as an attorney and advisor to President Ronald Reagan in the White House.