Today’s Labour Market: 3 Things Employers Should Know

An ageing workforce, balance between men and women and immigration are all shaping the talent landscape.

Businesses are faced with an unprecedented employment landscape. The combination of an ageing workforce, a need for work/life balance and an increasing number of immigrants are factors forcing Australian companies to revisit how they attract talent. Even with unemployment standing near a 12-year high, employers looking to fill positions may find it challenging to find the right fit.

The wisest businesses are adjusting to the changes older workers, families and immigrants are bringing to the workplace and implementing policies that satisfy the needs of these major demographic segments. Here are three things employers should keep an eye on:

People are staying in the workforce longer

Implementing practices that serve the needs of older workers is one way progressive businesses are improving their recruiting efforts. According to the Australian Government’s 2015 Intergenerational Report (IGR), between now and 2040 every State and Territory is expected to see a significant ageing of its population. The report predicts that within the next 40 years, those 65 years and older will make up 25 per cent of the population—almost double today’s rate. Even more concerning is the population that represents the traditional workforce age: their rate of growth is expected to slow to near zero.

Baby Boomers have been the drivers of the job market since they first came of working-age in the 1960s. Lots of Boomers say they aren’t ready to retire—for some because they cannot afford it. For others, pay isn’t the issue.

These seniors have families and obligations, including caring for ageing parents, which make their lives complicated. Attracting older workers in these circumstances means offering flexibility—adjustable or part-time work hours, work from home arrangements and appropriate time-off policies.

Men and women crave better balance

The IGR predicts that the percentage of women making up the workforce will continue to increase. In 1975, 46 per cent of women aged 15 to 64 were working outside the home. In 2015, that number is 66 per cent. By 2055, it’s expected that 70 per cent of women will be part of Australia’s working population.

Two-thirds of working-age women are already employed. For them, work/life balance is elusive. Women continue to carry the majority of household and family responsibilities. Out of necessity, companies are going to have to do more to encourage women to both enter and stay in the workforce. Like older workers, flexible schedules are attractive to female workers. Companies that are willing to innovate with programmes like flex time and work from home options will be better at attracting and retaining this major segment of the working population.

At the same time, men are taking on different roles within the family and both men and women report a need for more flexibility from employers. This stems from a need not only to care for young children but to also care for ageing parents or simply find a better balance between responsibilities at work and in the rest of their lives.

Responding to this call for flexibility could have additional benefits. Ernst and Young recently reported that women working part time are the most productive in the workforce. Providing more flexibility for employees of any gender could make the nation more productive on the whole, and we have a particularly long way to go—Australia is the least open to flexible working arrangements of any country in the Asia Pacific region.

Skilled migrants are filling talent gaps

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of June 2014 there were 6.6 million residents who were born outside of Australia. That’s more than one-quarter of the total population.

According to the Department of Parliamentary Services report on migration, overseas immigration has been the main driver of population growth in recent years. This population segment continues to increase and is helping to fill the gap between supply and demand for skilled workers.

The Government, recognising the importance of young, skilled migrants to Australia’s future, has used its Migration Program to raise the percentage of skilled workers from less than 30 per cent in 1996 to more than twice that in 2009. Weaker economic conditions in Australia have resulted in a decrease in overall immigration recently, however.  Last year, the net overseas migration—the increase or decrease to the population through immigration and emigration—was only 184,000, “down from 216,000 in 2013 and 235,000 in 2012,” according to the Financial Times.

Whether they have permanent or temporary resident status, this population will continue to be critical to sustaining Australia’s workforce. Most migrants are of prime working age. Many have advanced educations or are experienced in the workforce. The challenge for employers will be ensuring that enough skilled workers are coming to Australia to meet their demand. Employers who are flexible with their employment policies for the migrant demographic can also one-up the competition for skilled workers.

The bottom line: flexibility is key

For older Australians and women, to enter (or re-enter) the labour pool requires flexibility from employers. Barring an unexpected baby boom, companies are going to have to make permanent adjustments to the reality of Australia’s long-term population demographics. Attracting older workers, women and immigrants into the workforce can mean significant changes to employment practices that were acceptable even just 10 years ago.