The latest regional employment breakdown in the release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey data for April 2022 has shown the labour market in the Hunter region is still throwing up curve balls at a time when the number one issue for business is staff shortages according to the regions peak business group, Business Hunter.
The NSW monthly unemployment rate that declined by 0.4 per cent to 3.5 per cent in April, fell by 1.6 percent to just 2.5 percent in the Hunter Valley, but rose by 0.3 percent to 4.7 per cent in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. The monthly rate for the Hunter Valley has not been at this level since 2016.
“We know the monthly figures can be volatile and the average annual rates for the Hunter Valley still showed a fall by 0.1 percent to 3.9 percent while Newcastle and Lake Macquarie a rise of 0.1 percent to 4.1 per cent reinforcing very low figures for the Hunter by historical standards” said Business Hunter CEO Bob Hawes.
“Of concern however is the continuing trend of sagging workforce participation rates remaining at or less than pre-Covid levels.
“This means that our Hunter workforce is still nearly 20,000 workers less compared to what it was in February 2020 when the pandemic began to bite. This is in complete contrast to NSW which has recovered its pre -pandemic participation rate”, Mr Hawes added.
“Businesses and recruitment consultants are frustrated by the challenges in finding and placing people in roles, and online job vacancies in the Hunter peaked in March 2022 at over 6,200 positions, nearly double the rate of ads seen in the months in early 2020.
“The relatively low participation rate won’t be helping people looking for staff and can be viewed as indicative of people either choosing to sit on the sidelines or leave the workforce for the time being or permanently,” Mr Hawes said.
“There are a lot of things not adding up and a conversation at the regional level needs to be had to understand how we might address the situation and get a better balance across workforce demand. The situation we have in the Hunter is not just about wages, we know there are businesses out there offering well above award rates.
“It’s also not about skill levels as nearly 40 per cent of jobs in the market are skill level 4 or 5 which require certificate level III qualifications or less.”
“We understand from businesses the shortage is particularly acute for roles in the $70,000 and below salary range, which includes many entry level roles.
“Youth unemployment (15-to-24-year old’s) remains stubbornly high in the region and across the state and the Hunter’s Jobactive case load has grown from 19,500 in March 2020 to 25,400 in March 2022. Clearly there are people out there looking for work and I’m at a loss to explain why we are struggling to match them up with positions that remain vacant.”
“Business Hunter is seeing a real appetite from the region’s business and industry leaders to address these issues and workshop solutions,” Mr Hawes said.
“There has been strong support for the Powering Business 2050 Summit being held in late-June, with organisations such as Ampcontrol, Port of Newcastle, Astra Aerolab and the University of Newcastle all backing a program that will really tease out the issues and solutions in worker shortages we are facing in the region today, and will continue to face without coordination.”
For more information about the Powering Business 2050 Summit visit:
MORE LABOUR FORCE STATISTICS
Job gains across NSW were mainly driven by full-time employment, while underemployment continued to fall. Full-time employment increased significantly by 92,000 while part-time employment fell sharply by 88,000 as employers increased their ask of the market.
A further drop in underemployment across NSW to 6.1 per cent is another indicator that the labour market has continued to tighten.
Hours worked in NSW increased by 2.5 per cent which shows a rebound from the -1.0 per cent decline in March when the state was affected by the floods. Total hours worked in NSW was 2.4 per cent above the pre-pandemic level in February 2020.