Country Snapshot: Australia
In response to the rapid growth in the region, Australian organisations continue to look to new opportunities in burgeoning Asian markets — shifting their focus away from traditional export destinations such as the United States and Europe who have experienced ongoing economic turmoil over the last 12 months. As a growing middle class emerges across Asia, the region is seen as an important source of demand for Australia’s rural, manufactured and service exports. Australian business leaders are committed to strengthening economic and cultural ties with Asia, backed by a raft of free-trade agreements with economies in the region, including Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
As Australian organisations adjust to new global and regional realities, the primary focus of HR and business leaders is recalibrating their workforce for high performance in a new world order. A quarter of those surveyed in the 2013/14 Randstad World of Work Report say increasing performance and productivity is their single biggest challenge, while 18% point to managing internal change as merger and acquisition activity increases in key sectors such as energy and resources, mining services, agribusiness and financial services. Like much of the region, Australia also faces significant demographic change such as an ageing population, falling birth rates and lower than desired workforce participation among women.
As Australia adapts to strong competition from Asia in labour-intensive and low-skilled manufactured exports, large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled workers are also joining the long-term unemployed, further reducing the nation’s participation rate. Given these market dynamics — and despite an improvement in overall business confidence since the recent Federal election brought a conservative Government to power in Australia — industrial relations policy remains a vexed issue for many employers, with 26% of employers saying government legislation impacting workforce flexibility and costs will be a key productivity challenge over the next 12 months.
It’s clear the Government will have to quickly address the re-skilling of industrial workers for jobs in the knowledge economy or be left with a group of people who may never re-join the workforce. While Australia’s unemployment rate has risen to 5.6% in September 2013, traditional manufacturing industries and the public sector have borne the brunt of job losses, leaving skilled knowledge workers in strong demand in industries such as pharmaceutical, financial and technology services. As it stands today, just 46% of employers in these sectors are confident the skills they need over the next decade will be delivered by the education system in Australia, suggesting a significant shake-up is required.
The next five years will be all about finding the right people at the right time, and managing their transition through the leadership pipeline in changing and emerging sectors — rather than simply sourcing a huge volume of talent across all areas, as was the case during the boom years. This will make practical tools like talent analytics increasingly important for Australian employers. Yet our research shows they are less likely to take-up talent management strategies such as recruitment process outsourcing and talent analytics than their Asian neighbours. This may in some part be due to the high number of small businesses in the Australian market, and the high quality of HR skills and expertise already existing inside organisations.Despite these capabilities, it’s clear the need to find critical niche skills in white collar industries on the one hand, while helping entire workforces in traditional industries to re-skill on the other, will require Australian employers to be leaders in talent strategy — constantly embracing new technologies and approaches.
About the World of Work Report
The 2013/14 Randstad World of Work Report: Talent Strategy Game-Changer Series stems from over 14,000 survey respondents (more than 7,000 employers & over 7,500 employees) across seven countries in Asia Pacific – Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand & Singapore.