In this opinion piece, Damion Brown, managing director, Australia & New Zealand, Jellyfish discusses how Australia’s climate has developed during an unprecedented time.
Like many countries, Australia had the finish line in its sights. The pandemic recovery was on, with workers returning to their offices, masks worn only for public transport and travel plans gearing back up.
In an ironic twist, the most difficult 18 months imaginable had slightly boosted the country’s economy, a jump mostly attributed to retailers moving successfully online, including traditional brick and mortars who may never have embraced a virtual business model prior to 2020.
At the same time, the pandemic lockdown accelerated federally sponsored digital transformation initiatives that had begun two years prior with the goal of making Australia one of the top three digital governments in the world by 2025.
It turns out the finish line was a mirage.
While Australians were ready to reclaim normal and forge ahead through the end of 2021 and into 2022, Covid had other plans. The latest Delta virus variant has re-closed our borders, brought restrictions and curfews back and frozen a workforce seized by uncertainty.
Given a dubious landscape, businesses and employees alike seem to be taking a wait and see approach, sticking with what works for now on both sides of the table. Companies are keen on retaining staff rather than devoting time and resources to on-boarding new talent; a process made more costly and time-consuming in a remote environment.
In addition, creating the cultural connection needed to successfully onboard employees has proven challenging throughout the pandemic.
Given the myriad of challenges, many businesses are choosing to upskill their present tech staff rather than add skill via new employees. To that end, training budgets remain healthy within the corporate landscape.
Particularly at a time when traditional in-person workshops and seminars aren’t attractive to hesitant professionals, or they’re canceled altogether, being able to host a one-on-one or advanced session allows a business to train existing staff on how to use different platforms or how to interpret their company’s digital properties and assets.
Another way businesses are able to retain workers while growing their internal capabilities is through in-housing. As digital transformation reaches its adolescence, companies that may have relied on outside agencies to manage business imperatives like data collection and analysis or media assets allocation are moving those teams in-house, upskilling existing staff to take the reigns.
Doing so puts more control back in the hands of the business, while offering a cost savings and enriching staff expertise.
Workers, meanwhile, seem to be in alignment with Australian employers’ stance on upskilling rather than hiring anew. While one report estimated that upwards of 40 per cent of workers globally were considering leaving their jobs this year, Australia is experiencing just the opposite.
Here, there are so few job seekers on the market that even Seek, the nation’s largest job-search website, has added a disclaimer for employers who post openings for available positions. It reads: Candidate cautiousness and high demand is currently resulting in fewer applications for some jobs.
Why are so many employees refraining from seeking new opportunities? The uncertainty of the pandemic is surely a factor. Another variable, one which affects both workers and employers, is the opportunity cost of border closings.
Prior to 2020, Australia enjoyed a large migrant population, many of whom were post-graduates and established professionals looking to raise families and further their careers in metropolitan areas like Sydney and Melbourne. In 2019 alone, an estimated 210,700 migrants came to the country; the 2020 number represented a mere fraction of that amount.
Further hindering the influx of talent is a visa sponsorship process that has become muddled and slow, impacting turnaround time for job candidates coming from outside Australia. Particularly impacted are those from the U.K.
Two-way talent exchange between Australia and the U.K. has always been a known quantity, with mid-senior level professionals moving freely between the two countries for months- or years-long stretches covered by work visas. With the sponsorship process now holding candidates up indefinitely, Australian companies are finding they can’t afford the wait time, and are opting instead to promote or train from within.
In essence, a highly enthusiastic, knowledgeable, employable talent stream orbiting the two countries has disappeared, with limited sight on when it will fully return.
No doubt Australians are ready to work globally again as much as those overseas are ready to come back to Australia. When the borders finally open for good there will be an interesting migration pattern as people go, in some cases literally, anywhere they can.
But within our current parameters, while there may be workers who are looking for a change or companies that are eyeing a talent refresh for their future plans, we remain on hold for the time being. Here’s hoping the next finish line we see is the real one.
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