How TA can use the employment data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is a treasure-trove of quality employment data but people don’t often understand how the data is collected, what it means, and ways that Talent Teams and Organisations can use this data to their advantage.

On Tuesday 1st August, ATC General Manager Jo Vohland sat down with Bjorn Jarvis, Head of Labour Statistics at the ABS and Nadine O’Regan, GM of People Solutions at TQ solutions to discuss:

  • the data and statistics collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
  • how to understand and interpret the employment rate, unemployment rate, underemployment rate, and productivity rate, and
  • what that data means in context of Talent Acquisition, and how recruiters can apply this information to their talent strategies and workforce planning.

Here are our 4 key takeaways from the conversation.

(It’s worth noting that this is a very small list of some of the great conversation points raised around the ABS data, how it will impact the Australian labour market in the near future, and what it means for talent strategies. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to watch the full conversation and access the slide deck – it’s well worth the watch.)

1. Understanding ABS stats are integral to providing value in your talent function

According to TQ Solutions GM of People Solutions Nadine O’Regan, TA have traditionally been quite lax when it comes to working with external data, which is a mindset that needs to shift.

“I say to my kids when they whinge that they don’t want to go to bed at night that “there’s no downsides to you going to bed tonight, there’s nothing that sleep is bad for.” And data and metrics are the same. There’s nothing that won’t benefit us in TA or the business by looking at ABS stats.

“They impact everything including our ability to source, our sourcing strategies, and our retention and mobility strategies.

“It also benefits us as TA leaders to look to external market metrics. We’ve always traditionally focused on the acquisition of external talent, which makes sense during a growth cycle. But we saw when Covid hit it made some TA functions irrelevant as we moved into a contracting business cycle.

“So, if we’re working with an unemployment rate of 3.5%, this market data allows us to immediately adapt, it helps to insulate you against further downsizing, and it really lifts you from being a talent acquisition specialist to moving into that talent advisory role.”

2. We need to look deeper than the top-level figures and think creatively about solutions

The current ABS employment statistics are at record rates. The unemployment rate (anyone over 16 years old who is not employed and currently looking for work) is 3.5%. The underemployment rate (anyone currently employed who is working less hours than they would like to be working) is 6.4%.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics, Head of Labour Statistics Bjorn Jarvis, it’s important to delve deeper into this data than just focussing on the top-level numbers. There are a number of characteristics within these data sets that shape different stories.

“Not everyone is the same age. You’ve got younger people who are unemployed and older age groups. You’ve got people with different experiences and in different parts of the country,” says Bjorn.

“That 500 thousand unemployed people aren’t 500 thousand who would step in and do any job; particularly in a tight talent market, where the highly mobile talent will already have been picked up and sucked into fill those vacancies.

“That’s an important part of layering on top of these numbers; saying not only is the market tight, but now a lot of the people that you’re looking to pick up to fill the jobs you want may not actually be there at all.”

In fact in 2021, there were more job vacancies in the Australian market than there were unemployed people, which is something that has never happened before.

According to Nadine, this means that TA need to get more creative with our existing talent to meet demand.

“Widening the talent pool will only do so much. We need to be looking at other things. Expanding our sphere of influence outside of TA, developing alternative pathways to careers (like micro-training or vocational training. We need to be more creative with the talent that we have right now.

“We need to recognise that developing the workforce we have right now is more important than building a new one.”

3. It’s time to remove the barriers for employment for those who aren’t working

The current unemployment rate of 3.5% translates to just over 500,000 people who are looking for work. But that doesn’t mean that all of those people are looking for full time work.

“Anything that TA can be doing to widen the talent pool is absolutely critical,” says Nadine.

“We need to look at removing a lot of the barriers for those who are not working, including retirees, migrants, and women. There’s so much economic potential if we can get more women into the labour force and they’re not necessarily looking for full time roles.”

This raises a key challenge point for TA: When roles are being discussed internally, is it just the default that it’s assumed that roles need to be full time, or is there ever any conscious thought as to whether they could be done part time?

ATC Events & Media GM Jo Vohland says that it’s time to bring that conversation to the forefront of hiring conversations.

“Is part-time something that’s considered only because the incumbent’s part-time, or only after you’ve gone to market full-time and haven’t been able to find the right candidate?”

4. Job Mobility is slowing down

It may be commonly thought that people these days don’t stay in jobs for very long and instead job-hop multiple times throughout their career, but actually the data shows that employees are moving less than at any other time.

“We often focus on people outside of employment and how to bring them into employment, but a key source of potential labour will be working in other businesses,” says Bjorn.

“If we asked 100 TA professionals whether they thought the population now were more mobile or less mobile, most people would say more mobile. There’s been decades of people saying that young people are going to do so many more jobs than their predecessors. But in reality, it’s the opposite.”

“The latest data shows that only around 10% of the population will have changed jobs in the last 12 months. This is about half of what it used to be compared to 30 years ago.”

“This means that in addition to being a tight labour market, there’s a lot less labour mobility than there has ever historically been.”

Watch the recording
How to understand and use ABS employment data

Click here to download the full slide deck.

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