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The contradictory messages being heard around the job market make for a confusing time for both jobseekers and employers.

Last month both vacancies and job ads reached record highs in Australia. Discouraged jobseekers have returned with the labour force participation rate also reaching a record high last month. The number of unemployed jobseekers per vacancy is well down; just 2.8 people per vacancy. Lower than was the case before the pandemic hit.

It would seem that finding a job has never been easier.

Yet behind the headline statistics there are substantial differences across sectors and job categories that provide an alternate story that is the reality for many jobseekers.

As respected economics journalist, Greg Jericho noted last month:

“ICT, and business, finance and HR professionals usually account for around 39% of all vacancies for all professionals, and yet they made up just 6% of the increase in vacancies over the past year. 

Conversely, there has been a big surge in vacancies for labourers, machinery operators, technicians and trade workers, and for community and personal service workers. 

So yes, lots of new jobs, but an unemployed accountant is hardly about to start applying for a job operating machinery. And saying “everyone should go pick fruit” sounds easy in a press release, but it’s not a realistic prospect if you have family commitments a long distance from a fruit orchard.” 

I had a close-up view of this reality from both sides; from clients on one had who tell me they can’t find suitable candidates and people in my personal network who have had contrasting job-seeking experiences.

My wife, an HR executive with over 20 years of commercial experience, has been contracting for over two years. As her various contracts have been heading to a close she has applied for a range of permanent roles; received acknowledgment of her application from fewer than half, interviewed for a handful, and received no offers (last month she started a new job within a different division of the company where she had been contracting).

Last month I spoke to a friend of mine in Sydney who has been out of work since last August. He is a CPA with excellent accounting and finance project experience across global companies.  Despite applying for many permanent and contract roles he remains without employment nearly nine months later.

My 21 year-old son, possessing less than a year’s office experience was made an offer for a new position at the end of a half-hour video interview.

Yet entry-level roles for recent graduates seem harder to obtain than ever.

In 2020 only 69% of Bachelor degree graduates from Australian universities were employed full-time 4 months after graduation. Although the COVID-19 pandemic clearly had an impact on hiring, the comparable 2019 result was only slightly better at 72.2% and a long way short of the 85.2% recorded in 2008. Even the GFC-hit year of 2009 produced a 79.2% hiring rate. Both 2014 (68.1%) and 2015 (68.8%) produced even worse rates of graduate full-time employment four months after graduation than were reported last year.

This trend is not just a local one.

A July 2018 post on the (US-based) Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website noted:

A recent analysis of over 95,000 job postings by job-matching software firm TalentWorks revealed how difficult it can be for newly minted grads to find an entry-level job within their experience level. The research found that 61 percent of all full-time jobs seeking entry-level employees required at least three years or more of experience. 

Similarly, when labor market analytics company Burning Glass Technologies analyzed 25 million entry-level job postings from 2010 to 2016, it found an increase in the number of soft and hard skills being demanded.

Earlier this week the World Economic Forum published Is the entry level job going extinct?

“The number of postings for entry-level jobs in the United States plunged nearly 68% last year, dashing the dreams of young job seekers across the country. 

While the drop was clearly driven by the pandemic, in many ways it was a continuation of a trend that began following the last recession, when companies looked to cut costs by reducing the number of low-level positions most suited for workers just starting their careers.”

Australia, like many other developed economics, is finding that aggregate demand and supply data often provides an inaccurate guide to the reality of sub-sectors of the economy.

The headline labour force statistics will continue to, for months and years to come, provide confusing and contrary messages to jobseekers and employers whose individual experiences reflect the dynamics of their specific market.


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