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“The market is going nuts”

“I have never been so busy”

“Do you know any recruiters; I can‘t find any”

“I can’t believe how we have gone from famine to feast in what seems like weeks”

“Are other agencies just as busy as we are? What happening out there?”

These are the most common things I have heard over the past couple of months.

Recruitment agencies are the canary in the coalmine of the economy as the job flow of agencies provides a more reliable early indicator of employer confidence levels than any other economic barometer.

Recruitment agencies were reporting significantly improved job flow (to me at least) back in October but there was nothing much by way of official or traditional data to validate this as a nationwide trend.

The most recent data releases support what recruiters were experiencing six months ago.

1) Job vacancies: Job vacancies in Australia increased by 26.8% between February 2020 and February 2021, according to new seasonally adjusted figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The total number of job vacancies stood at 288,700, 24% higher than the previous high of 232,700 in February 2019 (see graph). Private sector job vacancies increased by 28.5% while public sector vacancies increased by 12.8% over the year.








2) Job advertisements: Job advertisements in Australia rose by 39.7% in March 2021 on a seasonally adjusted basis when compared to March 2020, according to data from ANZ Bank. The total number of job ads recorded in March 2021 stood at 190,542. This was the highest level since November 2008.When compared to the previous month, the number of job ads rose by 7.4%. The National Skills Commission reported in seasonally adjusted terms, job advertisements increased by 19.1% (or 38,200 job advertisements) in March 2021 to stand at 238,700, compared to the previous month and a 50 per cent increase since October 2020. SEEK reported that March 2021 postings to represented the highest number of job ads posted in a month in their 23+ year history and applications per ad declined 14 per cent from February 2021 to reach their lowest level since 2012.








3) State-by-state economic data: Deloitte reports that some Australian states boast economies that are bigger than when the pandemic hit. Each of the ACT, Tasmania, and Western Australia have equalled or bettered the performance of China, which was the fastest growing national economy across the globe through 2020 (see graph).







4) Total employment: Has now returned to pre-pandemic levels. Total Australian employment in February 2020 was 13,011,700 and February 2021 it reached 13,016,600, having bottomed out at 12,117,700 in May 2020. Over the year to February 2021 employment increased in 11 industries and declined in eight.

Defying conventional wisdom (given the COVID-19 enforced retail shutdowns) the largest largest gain was recorded in the Retail Trade sector (up by 77,600 or 6.2 per cent). The largest gains in the industry were recorded in Supermarket and Grocery Stores (up by 21,400 or 7.7 per cent), Hardware, Building and Garden Supplies Retailing (up by 17,500 or 19.4 per cent)

Second-highest was Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (up by 57,100 or 4.9 per cent) with The Computer System Design and Related Services sub-sector led this growth, recording employment gains of 26,100 (or 9.5 per cent), followed by Legal and Accounting Services sub-sector (23,100 or 8.3 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, the largest fall in seasonally adjusted employment was recorded in the Accommodation and Food Services sector (down by 86,200 or 9.2 per cent).








5) Employment by Occupation Group: Over the year to February 2021, employment decreased in 174 of the 358 detailed occupation groups, increased in 178, and remained steady in six.

Six of the ten occupations with the largest increase in employment over the year to February 2021 were in Skill Level 1. These include Accountants (up by 31,700), Software and Applications Programmers (22,100), Other Information and Organisation Professionals (19,300) and Multimedia Specialists and Web Developers (18,900), representing the strong growth in the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services industry over the period.

The strong employment growth recorded in the Retail Trade industry over the last year has provided opportunities across a range of Skill Levels, with strong growth for Sales Assistants (General) (up by 38,100, Skill Level 5), Storepersons (32,600, Skill Level 4), Retail Managers (22,300, Skill Level 2) and Shelf Fillers (14,900, Skill Level 5).

Further evidence that the demand for labour is outpacing supply is this week’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s inquiry, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urging the Federal Government to make skilled migration more immediately accessible so employers can access critical skills.

Of greatest relevance to agency recruiters were the ACCI’s call for immediate changes to the priority list of occupations that can be sponsored, and changing visa conditions for current international students and working holidaymakers to alleviate labour shortages in specific regions and industries.

As I flagged ten weeks ago the largest-ever candidate shortage is looming and all the data that has been released since that blog was published would suggest that it’s going to be even more extreme and last for even longer than I suspected.

Forget the new normal, we are now entering the new not-even-close-to-normal phase of labour market demand and supply.

Hang on; it’s going to get real ugly, real fast.

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