Northern NSW job ads rise, but businesses concerned over high post-COVID unemployment

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Mechanic Kevin Flew has been trying all year to fill a vacancy at his automotive workshop in northern New South Wales, but has been unable to find anyone prepared to do the job.

“The money that they are getting offered up in this area particularly isn’t what they want to be paid, so they would rather do no work or just pick up some piecemeal work in another industry,” Mr Flew said.

Mr Flew’s experience is just one piece of a complex puzzle evolving as the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic appears to ease.

In the north coast region, stretching from Taree to the Queensland border, job vacancy ads for the month of October are up by a third compared with the same period last year.

More than twice as many jobs were advertised for medical professionals and nurses in October 2020 as were in October 2019.

Other jobs seeing a significant rise in advertisements include cleaners and laundry workers, carers and aid workers, call centre workers and receptionists.

JobSeeker ‘a concern’

Meanwhile, unemployment rates in the region are also up.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey figures released last week showed in the Richmond-Tweed region unemployment was at 5.6 per cent from April to October.

The average unemployment rate before the pandemic hit was 4.2 per cent.

In the Coffs-Grafton region, unemployment was at 9.8 per cent during COVID, compared with a 5.5 per cent average.

Jane Laverty, Business NSW regional manager Northern Rivers, said the equation of high unemployment rates plus high job vacancy ads did not necessarily add up to people choosing to sit at home enjoying the benefits of government welfare.

Ms Laverty said anecdotally, JobSeeker was “a concern” and Business NSW was looking to explore its impact on the economy and recruitment in its next Business Conditions Survey.

“We can all understand that if you are someone who has been on casual working conditions for some time, JobSeeker is probably the most consistent and reliable income you’ve had coming into your bank account.

“It’s not just something you want to walk away from and not get a higher level of job security.”

Ms Laverty said employers were starting to recognise the need to provide better job security and conditions.

In the hospitality sector, impacted by lockdowns and social distancing rules, job ads across the region went from 205 last October to 266 this year.

Ms Laverty said those figures showed the sector was rebounding.

“That sector is in a massive recruitment drive at the moment, waitresses, housing keeping, spa and cafe staff and chefs, although they are not all coming back to full capacity yet.”

“Some may be recruiting for a future time, so the people they are recruiting are still currently unemployed,” she said.

“It is all about supply and demand, and we’ve become very reliant on a transient workforce that is not here at the moment.

“I think we are going to see a lot of changes in the next 12 months, and this is where businesses are going to have to rethink their workforce development.”

‘Silver tsunami’ in aged care

Ms Laverty said analysts in the aged care sector were aware of a “silver tsunami” of workers looking to retire, and that COVID may have sped up the process.

She said some businesses were also responding to government subsidies to employ trainees.

“That has given businesses confidence and for those that are keen to grow and move forward, they a placing those job ads at the moment,” she said.

In Bangalow, Kevin Flew and his lone staff member cannot keep up with demand from people wanting their cars fixed in preparation for summer road trips.

His predicament is evident in the data: in October this year, 80 new jobs were advertised for mechanics in the North Coast region, up from 57 new jobs for the same period last year.

In his industry at least, he can see a need for change.

“To get an apprentice on board, the red tape is unbelievable,” he said.

By Hannah Ross (Original ABC Article)

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