Job ads rise but candidates less optimistic
As we head further into the new year, taking note of how 2020 ended can help us better determine the road to recovery that still lies ahead.

Given the employment market upheaval brought on by COVID-19, it’s welcome news to many that job ads at last saw a year-on-year rise by the year’s end.

But despite this lift in job ads, there hasn’t been a lift in applications to match, and research conducted for SEEK reveals that many candidates are feeling overwhelmed.

Here’s a look at the key insights, and how they may shape your approach to attracting and retaining talent in 2021.

In April last year, job ads on SEEK plummeted 64% year-on-year, but November delivered welcome news with a rise of just over 1% year-on-year.

This figure may be small, but Leigh Broderick, Senior Analytics Manager at SEEK, says it is in fact the first rise of its kind since well before the pandemic.

“It was quite a soft market coming into COVID and the increase we saw in November last year is actually the first year-on-year lift we’ve seen in two years.”

In good news for Victoria, the state continued to bounce back from its prolonged lockdown. It recorded it biggest month-on-month job ad rise in November (20.2%). This was its third consecutive month of double-digit growth. South Australia also rebounded well, despite the brief reintroduction of COVID-19 restrictions in November. It finished the month with a 2.5% month-on-month increase in job ads.

Across industries, recovery largely depends on exposure to the crisis, but Broderick says positive signs are emerging.

“In April, industries like retail and hospitality were down almost 80% year-on-year, but now we’re seeing growth.”

Job ads in Hospitality & Tourism were up 28% year-on-year in November while in Healthcare & Medical they were up by 9.1%. The Trades & Services industry was also a strong contributor to market growth with an increase in job ads of 34.5% year-on year.

David Hele, Executive General Manager – Industrial at staffing and recruitment firm Programmed, says demand for tradespeople is growing, especially in areas such as logistics, manufacturing and fast-moving consumer goods.

“Contingent labour demand in particular is really strong, because employers are still cautious about the economy and many are cautious about their fix their costs right now,” he says. “We’re seeing this across the board in the trades and services space.”

An enthusiastic response from candidates might have been expected, but despite the lift in job ads, November saw a decline in job applications.

In some instances, industries with customer-facing roles saw a drop in application volume of up to 30% year-on-year. While the number of people viewing ads was equal to the same time the previous year, the overall number that went on to apply was 15% lower year-on-year.

“I think there is some hesitancy in the job market,” says Hele. “A lot of people feel reluctant about moving jobs.”

Research conducted for SEEK shows while 60% of candidates were optimistic about their future employment or job prospects in July, only 50% felt this way in November, and just over half felt they were in control of their working life.

Almost 70% of active job seekers also agreed with the statement ‘looking for a job is overwhelming’, while 34% agree with the statement ‘I was planning to leave my current job but decided to stay because of COVID-19’.

However, there were some signs of improvement in sentiment with 55% of active jobseekers saying they are confident of finding a job. This is a lift from 43% in July.

For many businesses, making progress on the road to recovery will mean securing additional talent – but candidate sentiment around job security may prove an added challenge for those looking to recruit new staff.

Dean Davidson, Executive General Manager, Recruitment Australia & New Zealand at Hudson, says many people are cautious about moving roles due to concerns around job security, but there are ways to make them feel comfortable about making the switch.

“The best way to make candidates feel comfortable about job security is to highlight the diversity of opportunity beyond the role that you're hiring for,” Davidson says. “The appetite and willingness of people to change career directions has been accelerated by COVID, so along with job security, they value variety of opportunities.

“You need to be prepared to move people into completely different roles. If your organisation thinks and acts like that, it's a huge advantage over the competition.”

Hele says candidates also value transparency more than ever.

“Let applicants know about where your business is going and your plans for growth to offset the risk of potential economic bumps in the road,” he says. “No one can make guarantees, but it's important for organisations to explain where they are going, and how they are getting there to make people feel confident about going along for the ride.”

Make recruitment a smooth operation

There are also ways to make candidates feel less overwhelmed about the hiring process itself. Davidson says to start by keeping it simple.

“It's really important in today's market that employers don't make the recruitment process overwhelming,” he says. “Don't overengineer it and make them jump through hoops. Keep the process simple and communicate clearly with your candidates.”

Hele says companies should also emphasise what they value and what they stand for when attracting and recruiting talent.

“COVID has changed people’s attitudes – they want more than just to show up to work every day,” he says. “They want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger and they are looking for meaning in their work. Organisations need to demonstrate how they contribute to the community because it’s now a big part of what attracts candidates to an organisation, and keeps them there.”

This could mean reviewing and revamping your Employee Value Proposition in light of the current climate, and considering how your business communicates this to candidates.

The increase in job ads is one positive sign that points toward steps to recovery in the Australian employment market. But when it comes to attracting talent, the significance of COVID-19’s impact on Australians’ working lives can’t be underestimated.

And as we head further into 2021, considering candidates’ desire for job security and a smooth recruitment process may be key to a successful talent strategy.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published November 2020.

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