There has possibly never been a better time to be a job seeker, but it’s hard work being an employer. GROW Greater Shepparton, an initiative to connect employers with employees and vice versa, is meeting urgent demands to keep the wheels turning for some businesses.
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said so in his economic update during the past week, and he pointed to regional unemployment sitting at a near-record low of 3.3 per cent.
Unemployment is one side of the coin.
The other side is the labour market, which is currently going through a pandemic-induced slump.
GROW Greater Shepparton, an initiative to connect employers with employees and vice versa, is meeting urgent demands to keep the wheels turning for some businesses.
GROW program manager Leanne Hulm gave the example of a manufacturer needing six workers the following day to be able to run a shift.
While the staffing issues in the hospitality industry are well known, there are unfilled vacancies for engineers, welders, boilermakers and health workers.
Unskilled labourers are needed, especially on farms and in factories, and it will only get more challenging as the fruit harvest approaches.
Despite coming out the other side of the pandemic, the opening of borders is slow, and we don’t yet fully understand how it has changed behaviour.
I suspect the same is true everywhere, and most people will take time to resume old ways or implement new ones.
Parts of our economy, including the jobs Australians no longer want to do, such as picking fruit, pivoted — supported by government policy — to instead rely on imported labour.
The scheme to allow backpackers to stay longer in return for farm work, the Pacific Island worker visa and the availability of new migrant workers helped supplement the local workforce.
Border closures and pandemic restrictions turned off the tap and it is being turned back on slowly.
At the start of July, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe addressed labour market issues in a speech to the Economic Society of Australia.
At the time, unemployment had dropped below pre-pandemic levels after a surge in jobs growth, which Mr Lowe said was “remarkable”.
In 2016 there were around 430,000 people working in Australia on temporary visas. In the food trades, these workers filled 18 per cent of all jobs; and in the hospitality sector, they filled 13 per cent of jobs.
Most of these workers were on either temporary visas for skilled workers or student visas. In contrast, in the farm sector it was more common for workers to be on working holiday visas.
“Whereas previously some of these vacancies could have been filled by people on visas, this is now more difficult to do,” Mr Lowe said.
“Since March, 2020, the number of people in Australia on a visa with the right to work has fallen by over 250,000, which is a significant decline.”
The question remains, how do we fill the gaps in the short term and what do we do if the overseas labour pool doesn’t return to pre-pandemic levels?