Workforce participation crucial for economy

by 01 Apr 2008

THE FEDERAL Government is reviewing The Job Network, providing an extra 450,000 extra vocational education places and using tax breaks to encourage people back into work, in order to head off an expected 8 per cent decline in work participation in coming years, the recruitment industry was told recently.

Brendan O’Connor, Minister for Employment Participation, said that he saw his portfolio as an economic one with social dimensions.

“My primary aim is to boost workforce participation so that Australia can continue to be globally competitive; however, this has strong links to social inclusion as well, because employment helps to define us as individuals,” he said.

“Most people want to answer the question ‘what do you do?’ by naming a job, not an income payment.”

Speaking at the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association’s (RCSA’s) annual symposium in Canberra, Minister O’Connor said the skills shortage has exploded in the past decade, with the migration occupations in demand list increasing from 19 roles in 1999 to the current 95 – more than a fourfold increase.

“While our employment participation rate has increased in recent years, we are still behind other countries. We are ranked 25th out of 30 OECD countries in the participation rate of prime-age men, and 22nd for women 25–44 years. The previous government failed to recognise the importance of this issue and invest accordingly, so we have to address it urgently now,” he said.

Solving these issues and boosting participation will also be crucial for the recruitment profession in unlocking new talent pools, according to the minister.

“Meeting the future needs of employers, in 5–10 years’ time is the domain of education and training, and that’s why Labor has brought it all under one portfolio,” he said.

A panel of recruitment professionals also discussed the issue of how employers can increase talent pools, with a focus on those not currently working, or not working as much as they wish.

Karen Twitchett, executive leader of HR at Mission Australia, said that many people who are listed as long-term unemployed have multiple barriers to getting work.

“They may be struggling with mental illness, addiction, low confidence or disabilities. But perhaps one of the key barriers is the unconscious attitude of employers, who imagine that the person won’t stay in the job, will increase the cost and time of training or accuse them of breaching discrimination laws,”she said.

David Burrell, founder of LDKS Consulting, said that business needs to be more open to people who have barriers to employment.

“Working with providers in the Job Network is pretty low on the agenda of most HR directors in Australia. They appear to have ticked the boxes in the corporate social responsibility report, but at the ground level it’s simply not top of mind. And as they aren’t looking at alternatives, they find themselves with an empty talent pool,” he said.

Stephen Shepherd, president of the RCSA, said employers are keeping their head in the sand. “Despite the growing skills shortage, talent attraction programs haven’t changed: they are still looking at the traditional employment market, and failing to reach out to groups such as workers with a disability or long-term unemployed people.”

The speakers agreed that flexibility is crucial to meeting the challenges ahead. “We found advertising for full-time permanent roles produced a poor response,”said Deborah Wilson CEO of Hamilton James Bruce.

“So we changed our mindset, thought about the roles and offered them as flexible, part-time and contract positions. All of a sudden, the response was increased – candidates came out of the woodwork.”

Wilson said that neither employees nor employers should be ashamed of the part-time work option, noting that “we need to get rid of the notion that part-time work means you aren’t serious about your career”.


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