Widespread strikes and uncertainty throughout Europe loomed large in 2011 as the Eurozone hurtled towards catastrophe amid tough austerity measures. In Australia such scenes did not exist but did have an impact. Last year recruitment firms saw companies act cautiously and employees act restlessly. Now opinion is divided as to whether the market will continue to stagnate or whether optimism will emerge.
Outside the resources sector, Hudson Asia-Pacific CEO Mark Steyn believes Australia is experiencing a double dip in sentiment. “The uncertainty with Europe is the thing that’s hurting us,” he says. This instability is making it difficult for recruiters and HR departments alike to predict hiring intentions.
Lisa Morris, regional director at Hays Human Resources expects contractors will be particularly in demand in the public sector in 2012 but Karen Colfer, managing director of Kelly Services Australia, predicts that the pendulum will swing back soon.
Steyn says companies aren’t the only ones that have been pushing the market in the direction of more flexible work models in the past couple of years. Since the global financial crisis hit in 2009, Hudson has witnessed a shift in white-collar employee attitudes to work. “We’ve seen more people choosing work/life balance in a different way,” says Steyn.
This has contributed to what he describes as an ongoing “structural shift towards more part-time and contracting work” In the past five years, Hudson has seen part-time and contract work grow 3.3 per cent annually, while full-time positions have lagged at 2 per cent.
Indeed, Kelly Services’ Colfer highlights flexibility in the workplace as one way that employers can help make roles more appealing as Australia continues to face skills shortages in 2012. She believes employers need to look at incentives such as flexibility, remote working options, bonuses and opportunities for career development.
Colfer says companies need to embrace this older workforce in 2012 and beyond. “Unless we embrace and engage older workers — in combination with other things such as immigration — we’ll find ourselves with greater skills shortages in future,” she warns.
Inside the two-speed economy
It will come as no surprise that the resources sectors are expected to account for the lion’s share of hirings this year, while the industries stagnating are those worst hit. Many industries — such as retail, manufacturing, FMCG, tourism and financial services — are expected to remain subdued in 2012
IT professionals are expected to be in demand across the board in 2012, according to Steyn. “In the resources states we’re seeing strong hiring intentions in IT for the new projects they’re bringing online. In the non-resources states it’s to drive efficiencies,” he explains.
Banking could be a running theme in 2012; Butcher highlights wealth and investment professionals as one example of this, “as consumers focus on how best to manage their wealth”.
Though other business sectors remain cautious, the resources sector is galloping ahead. In Western Australia, Queensland and to a lesser extent the Northern Territory and New South Wales, business is booming and the only thing holding back projects is the speed they can be brought online.
“Right now the Western Australian resources industry is going through a huge amount of construction and this is increasingly rapidly. Queensland is really only just starting the construction to meet its forecast and will grow exponentially over the next few years,” says Adam Harris. The manpower and expertise required to support this mining, oil and gas boom is almost overwhelming.
Supporting industries, such as hospitality in associated regional areas, suppliers of goods and services to construction and professional services, will also continue to benefit. So many blue-collar workers are needed that Morris says the market is facing a skills shortage for HR managers with blue-collar recruitment experience.
Although Queensland’s resources projects are just beginning to get off the ground, Robert Walters is already seeing competition with Western Australia for recruits. “Five years ago there was virtually no one in Queensland in LNG [gas]. Now we have three or four mega projects being built over the next few years each employing many thousands of people in construction and thousands in operations. The industry has to go from almost no employees to several thousand in only a few years and many of the skills simply do not exist in Queensland or Australia,” warns Harris.
Harris believes that more recruits will be sought overseas to supplement the workforce in resource-rich areas. Indeed, last year the government announced it would loosen visa rules for Perth employers wanting to sponsor overseas workers for permanent residency in Australia after acknowledging the skills shortage in Western Australia’s resources sector was affecting other local industries too as employees move into the more lucrative resources sector.