The COVID recovery is under way, but work is changing

WAY FORWARD: With the job market as it is, it's important we make sure that people are not left behind. Picture: Shutterstock
WAY FORWARD: With the job market as it is, it's important we make sure that people are not left behind. Picture: Shutterstock

Before the pandemic, Australia's unemployment rate was sitting at about 5.2 per cent nationally.

At the height of the employment crisis in July last year, the unemployment rate hit 7.5 per cent according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

This month, we have seen the unemployment rate continue its trend down and it is currently sitting at 5.6 per cent.

These figures have left me wondering if we are still hurting in terms of pandemic-related employment and what this means in real-world context.

Perhaps we really are recovering from COVID-19?

Firstly, let's look at how the unemployment rate is determined by the ABS.

The ABS conducts the monthly Labour Force Survey, which asks 50,000 people about their labour market participation. This sample speaks for the nation.

From this data, the unemployment rate is calculated by determining the percentage of people currently in the labour force, but not working.

The ABS includes both employed people and people experiencing unemployment but actively seeking work in the definition of "labour force".

People who are retired, permanently unable to work or who are not looking for other reasons such as full-time parenting or study are not counted in the labour force figures.

To be considered "employed" you must work in a paid job for one or more hours in a week - the threshold is therefore not high, and this is why social researchers dispute the ABS findings.

Underemployment is another term often used in these discussions.

The ABS defines a person as underemployed if they are able and/or wanting to work more hours than they currently are.

The term is not to be confused with under-utilisation, meaning people who are employed in lower skilled jobs than they are capable of doing - this is also measured by the ABS.

In March 2021, we had 778,100 people who were not working one hour or more of paid work, reflecting a reduction of 27,100 people being classed as unemployed.

Our employed cohort was boosted by 70,700 people and our participation rate increased to 66.3 per cent from 66.1 per cent between February and March of this year.

Furthermore, underemployment decreased to 7.9 per cent.

Victoria's unemployment rate is sitting at 6.1 per cent, while, unsurprisingly, the lowest recorded unemployment rate finds its home in the ACT, at 3.4 per cent.

However, at the same time, full-time work decreased by 20,800 people and part-time work increased by 76,800 people, with the part-time labour employment share increasing over the last year by 0.4 per cent to 32.1 per cent.

The previous month, there was an increase in full-time jobs by 89,100 and part-time employment decreased by 500.

The month before that, full-time jobs increased again and part-time jobs decreased.

So, what do all these numbers mean?

It means that we are recovering from COVID-19, but things are changing.

The coming months will likely see a spike in unemployment and/or underemployment as we begin to feel the crunch of losing the JobKeeper support that has kept so many businesses afloat over the past year.

However, with the number of job advertisements trending up, I am hopeful that the expected dip will be short-lived.

The greatest challenge is to make sure that we don't leave anyone behind.

This labour market means that we have market flux - jobs are lost in one place and gained in another, with full and part-time work fluctuating. As such, we have lots of people in transition.

Those of us living with perceived employability challenges may find it particularly difficult to find new roles as they don't just need to find another job, they need to find an employer willing to see beyond the challenge of the hire.

The law is there to protect our workers from discrimination, but we all know that the reality is that businesses will often find a way around this in their hiring practices if they really want to.

But this isn't the time for exploiting loopholes.

We need to look at all candidates on their merit, for the perspectives and experiences that they offer and really see the value that all candidates hold, and hire people based on this.

Everything else can be worked out (and there is government support to help hirers do this).

As we move forward in this labour market that is still in flux, we need to remember that it's up to us to shape the future world of work. So let's do it inclusively.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au. Twitter: @ZoeWundenberg

This story The COVID recovery is under way, but work is changing first appeared on The Canberra Times.