February 2024 Market Update: What’s happening in the job market?

Ange Connor

Traditionally I’d say in Ballarat, hiring activity slows right down over the December and January period. During December we are all focused on simply making it through to Christmas and unless it’s an urgent business critical role, hiring is often deferred to the new year. During the first couple of weeks of January, many of the population are holidaying and so recruitment activity slows. Once the kids go back to school and after the Australia Day public holiday, it’s like Ballarat goes back to business as usual and away we go for another year. The last couple of months hiring activity I would say has been consistent with that theme.

Moving into February can be a time when people also start to look for a new job. For many they have holidayed over the Christmas – New Year period, maybe even set some new years resolutions or new year goals and decide it’s time to take the next step in their career, whether that’s career progression, a sideways step or a step in a completely new direction. For others they return to work after the break, have a couple of weeks back at work, and realise that they are already feeling disengaged and that they can’t keep doing what they are doing for the year ahead so they start to look for a new role.

Over the last few weeks, we have certainly seen increased activity from job seekers. There is a little bit of movement in the market with more people enquiring about vacancies and submitting applications. However, I would still absolutely describe the market as an employee’s market as skills in many industries are in demand. While it is an employee market, employers don’t seem quite so eager to hire. Employers are still willing to hire however mostly this seems to be as a result of turnover, replacing business critical roles. For some roles, businesses are assessing if they really need to re-hire or if the work can be distributed to others, restructured etc to reduce or eliminate the need to re-hire. Employers also seem to be a little bit tougher with their negotiating and what they are offering and not meeting candidate demands like they have had to in the past; unless of course, it’s a role with severe candidate shortages.

The opportunity for a hybrid working arrangement is still the number one question we are being asked by candidates, with most people wanting at least one or two days to work from home/remotely. Employers however seem to be reigning this in – not that it was ever to the extent of what was happening in Melbourne – cracking down on hybrid and requiring people in the office 100% of the time. There really seems a disconnect here between what employees and employers are wanting. My take is that employers will continue on with requiring people back in offices and hybrid working models regionally will continue to reduce.

Business confidence has definitely waned and some sectors are reporting significant downturns in business. This more so seems to be industry specific at this stage and not across the board with some industries and businesses reporting confidence. We have seen an increase in demand for outplacement and career transition services, mostly on an individual basis as opposed to groups of employees being made redundant however this indicates businesses are looking to reduce expenses. We are also seeing more businesses start to review business units or their organizational structures and look for ways to streamline and create efficiencies. While demand for outplacement and career transition services has increased, this to date has been in response to scenarios where businesses have been through a restructuring/streamlining process and not in immediate response or not a knee jerk reaction to sudden downturns in business.

For the roles we have recently been recruiting for, there has been an increase in applications through online job boards however online job boards are still only providing a limited pool of candidates and many applications that don’t meet the key selection criteria at all. Headhunting is a critical element of any recruitment campaign and is bringing high caliber candidates to the interview table, who wouldn’t have normally applied through an online job board. The, what we call, passive candidates in the market, are very open to considering new opportunities if it’s the right opportunity.

What lies ahead for 2024? My predictions are:

  • Hiring will continue to slow other than for business critical roles while businesses sit tight to see what plays out with the economy
  • It will continue to be a candidate short market in the majority of sectors, I don’t see this changing any time soon
  • With hiring activity slowing and the continued skills shortages, businesses will need to invest in engagement and retention strategies as well as strategies to develop their existing talent
  • Bridging the gap between employee expectations (the way people think and feel about work, what they want) and employer expectations (output, productivity, servicing clients – meeting client demands) and ensuring commercial viability will continue to be one of the biggest people challenges.
About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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