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Ready, aim … hire

Ready, aim … hire

Originally published Sydney Morning Herald 24 June 2006 (** SMH link no longer available)

Times are good for qualified job hunters in Australia, but the unskilled risk being left behind.

Skilled job hunters in Australia have probably never had it so good. The confluence of a mining boom, more than a decade of strong economic growth and a slowing birthrate has conspired with other factors to create a jobs market heavily skewed in favour of candidates, with employers fighting to attract and retain a shrinking pool of available talent.

But while job-hunting good times may be the rule, there are exceptions. The latest Sydney Morning Herald Employment Forecast reveals the jobs boom is not shared equally across the country, with NSW losing jobs to other states – a trend that started in 2000 and continues to gather pace.

Michael Emerson, author of the forecast and director of Economic and Market Development Advisers, says mining is at the forefront of the jobs boom – recording 19.5 per cent jobs growth in the year to February 2006. Resource-rich states – Queensland and Western Australia – are benefitting most, but the picture is not quite as rosy elsewhere. “NSW is really still struggling overall for employment growth. [It] is actually losing its share of jobs and has been for a long time.”

One area in which NSW is experiencing some growth – though at a slower rate than in other states – is for professionals and managers. This, Emerson says, is because “NSW is the centre of finance and property investments in Australia … more head offices are centred there”.

In the past few months the number of Australians in full or part-time employment passed the 10 million mark for the first time, Emerson says. Just a decade ago, the labour force numbered 8.3 million.

Jobs growth has outpaced the birthrate and immigration, so while there may not be significant numbers of new jobs in NSW, in many cases employers are struggling to find candidates for existing jobs.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a market as strong as this if you are a candidate,” says Stephen Cartwright, managing director of Chandler Macleod, one of Australia’s largest recruitment firms.

“Once … there were more candidates than there were jobs and at that point you very much sought to win the confidence of the [employer] and then went out and decided which of the multitude of candidates you would give to the client,” he says. “Now there are fewer candidates than there are jobs – the saying at the moment in the recruitment industry is ‘he who has the best candidates wins’ – so therefore you have to be doing everything you can to satisfy the candidate.”

Emerson agrees. “Even in NSW there is a candidate-short market … It’s a good time to be looking for a job, particularly if you are in the professionals and managers area.”

For Rachel Quinnell, 28, who works in IT hardware sales, the hunt for a new job saw her become the hunted.

“It was a bit of a shock,” she says. “People had heard I had left [my former employer] and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this job going, why don’t you put your name forward?”‘

Quinnell says the jobs she considered all paid $100,000 or more, but it was the training and development prospects that influenced her decision to accept a role with Ingram Micro, the world’s largest technology distributor. “It came down to the job I was happy with; obviously pay was a factor, but I took this job more because of the role than the money.”

The candidate shortage primarily applies to skilled workers – those with qualifications or on-the-job experience and training, Cartright says. He says candidates who are skilled and qualified will enjoy a much stronger bargaining position with their employer than unskilled workers under the new industrial relations laws.

“Accounting, engineering, IT … all of those areas will continue to remain strong for the foreseeable future,” he says. “There are boom jobs everywhere: lawyers, anything in health – because we have an ageing population.

“What that’s saying very much to people with no skills is go out there and get trained in something.”


Australia’s unemployment rate is 4.9 per cent, a 30-year low.

* A decade ago, the jobless rate was 11 per cent.

* Female workforce participation has risen from 43 per cent to 57 per cent in the past 27 years.

* The male participation rate has dropped from 79 per cent to 73 per cent in the same period.

* 14.2 per cent of workers are aged 50 and over, up from 8.6 per cent in 1994.

* Union membership has fallen to 22.4 per cent from 41 per cent of workers in 1990.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald Employment Forecast, June-August 2006


30%: The percentage of the Australian workforce in part-time jobs

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald Employment Forecast

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