Positive signs on the road to recovery
The Australian employment market took a serious blow in the wake of COVID-19. Many industries faced wide-scale job losses and stand-downs – and some industries almost ground to a halt. But now that lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease, the road to recovery is becoming clearer and some positive signs are emerging.

Job ad volumes on SEEK are slowly starting to return and industries that were among the hardest hit by the lockdown are showing signs of recovering. Job ads across the Hospitality & Tourism industry, for example, were up by 185% in the two weeks to the 24th of May compared to the April average. Positive signs have also been evident in Administration & Office Support, which recorded a 121% lift in job ads over the same period. Meanwhile, Education & Training was up by 105%.

“In the last two weeks of May, we have seen job ad volumes slowly creep back up, which aligns to the will of governments to get the economy moving and get people back into jobs,” says Kendra Banks, Managing Director, SEEK ANZ.

“As job ad volumes start to slowly return, candidate applications remain high, making the job seeking process even more competitive than usual.”

Candidates feel more secure

In another sign of recovery, candidates are starting to feel more confident about their job security, which may be linked to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. New research conducted on behalf of SEEK shows that job security is now slightly higher among candidates than it was before COVID-19 (67% in early May versus 66% in January).

While Australia is yet to see a significant change to working conditions – with many companies still operating remotely – momentum may be building. Now could be the time to start planning a smooth transition of your workforce back to the office or review processes for those who will continue to work from home.

A surge in demand for some sectors

Competition for roles at Compass Group has been strong since the coronavirus lockdown. The company provides catering and support services, such as cleaning, facilities management and security, across a range of sectors, including mining, defence, aged care and hospitals, education and business and industry.

Alissa Patoulios, National Talent & Sourcing Manager at Compass Group, says that while its business and industry and education sectors took a “massive hit” during the lockdown, demand for the company’s services in other sectors almost doubled overnight, which led to the pressing need for extra staff.

“A lot of that was due to the additional cleaning and sanitation staff required during this period, as well as contingency planning,” she says. “For example, if we had to swap out an entire crew because of coronavirus, we had to ensure that we could do it effectively.”

Even more top talent

Compass Group’s recruitment drive included filling 800 roles over a six-week period during the COVID-19 lockdown. Patoulios and her team also focused on redeploying hundreds of people from the company’s education and business and industry sectors. “About 2,000 people across these sectors were stood down, but we were able to redeploy 450 of them,” she says. “The main obstacle to redeployment was geography, but it was a priority to keep paying as many people as possible.”

Patoulios says the company received a “huge number” of applications for new roles. “For one role in Western Australia, for example, we received 1,200 applications,” she says.

Along with the boost in volume, Patoulios also saw an increase in the calibre of candidates. “Roles in some locations, such as regional Queensland, are typically difficult to recruit for, and we are often challenged to find high quality, skilled and experienced chefs,” says Patoulios. “But that just flipped on its head. The talent pool has been completely different in the past couple of months.”

Communication is key

SEEK’s research shows that communication is increasingly important to candidates. For the first time, it ranks among the top qualities candidates look for in an employer.

Compass Group changed its communication with candidates during the recruitment process to help set expectations. “We basically asked them to bear with us, because it was an unprecedented time,” Patoulios says. “We worked hard to get through applications as quickly as we could, but it was important that we communicated with candidates to help with their expectations.”

The company has also increased communication with new recruits. “We recently launched a survey for our new hires and the top three things they wanted were an opportunity to move into a permanent job, regular ongoing work or an opportunity to progress into supervisory or management roles,” Patoulios says. “About six months ago, money or benefits may have been the key drivers,” she adds.

“People are starting to value different things now – communicate with your candidates and your staff so you know what they really want.”

With such a high level of talent in the market, employers will need to consider how to attract the best of the best. As this latest research shows, clear communication should be high on the agenda.

The past few months have been undoubtedly tough on businesses and organisations, and the employment market as a whole. But with job ad volumes slowly returning, there are positive signs emerging. For now, focusing on how you can best communicate with employees and candidates is one action you can take as the market finds a road to recovery.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4800 Australians annually. May 2020 results refer to data collected from 4th – 17th May 2020