Of all disciplines, HR appeared to be one of the hardest hit last year. Fairfax’s six-monthly Employment Forecast from November revealed the number of HR jobs fell by 10.2 per cent last year.
This is in stark contrast to engineering positions, which swelled by the same amount, and health and education, which grew by 2.3 per cent and 2.8 per cent respectively.
Even those industries whose markets softened considerably after the global financial crisis faired better than HR, with retail jobs growing 1.7 per cent and manufacturing dropping by the same amount.
Lisa Morris, regional director of HR firm Hays, explains why recruiting slowed down. “People were waiting for the federal election and were in a holding pattern or ‘wait and see’ mentality. They have been using this time to prepare themselves and plan what skills they need. But they will not take the next steps to hire until they see policy news from the government,” says Morris.
An ageing population
So far, diversity, the ageing workforce and boosting workers in remote areas appear high on the Abbott agenda. In recent months, the government committed $45 million to indigenous training, and offered a senior incentive payment of up to $3250 to encourage employers to take on workers aged 50 and over and financial assistance of up to $6000 for long-term unemployed people to take a job in a regional area.
Lyn Gunnell, national manager for executive recruitment firm Mercury, which specialises in the health sector, says the ageing population is impacting heavily on recruitment.
“Healthcare is a huge market for employment, but it is very tightly financially controlled. At the moment, the government funds 70 per cent of aged care, but they want that down to 30 per cent. There is also no way we will be able to fill all the positions we will need in the future,” says Gunnell, who adds HR professionals with IR skills are particularly highly sought after.
In terms of the types of jobs available, mining engineers, geologists and technical production staff are in high demand.
Nic Chambers, director of Michael Page’s mining and resources section, says “layers of middle management have been removed, with senior management taking on increased responsibilities, but organisations have been running lean for a number of quarters now and employees are starting to show signs of feeling the effects of doing so. As a result there has been an increase, albeit marginal, in recruitment activity.”
In other areas, construction reached record-breaking levels between January and August last year. The number of people employed in the industry rose by 55,800 to more than 1.063 million (ABS). But looking ahead, the statistics are not all positive.
Chris Grant, director at Michael Page, human resources and legal, has been mapping trends on the types of HR roles available on Seek and LinkedIn.
In the first half of last year, generalists made up 33 per cent of advertised jobs, which increased to 47 per cent by quarter three. The next most popular category was learning and development, then recruitment and OH&S.
“The focus probably ought to be on roles for organisational development and change management, as change seems to be the most common factor for most companies, but these positions take up only 3 per cent of the market,” says Grant, whose findings come from Melbourne data.
Perhaps because of all the uncertainty, staff turnover has remained modest and is expected to reduce further, according to an Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) survey.
In the year to September last year, the rate was 13 per cent compared to 18.5 per cent in 2008. “The relatively low rate might indicate that employees are showing a reluctance to move with confidence, as wages flatten in a prevailing mood of business uncertainty and significant risks of lower growth and higher unemployment,” says AHRI chairman Peter Wilson.