Job ads rise but candidates less optimistic
As we head further into the new year, taking note of how 2020 ended can help us better determine the road to recovery that’s ahead.

After much uncertainty and hardship last year, it’s welcome news that the job market is seeing positive signs, with job ads rising month-on-month. New Zealand’s economy has also shown signs of recovery.

But research conducted for SEEK reveals that the feeling among candidates remains mixed, with some Kiwis less optimistic about their job prospects.

Here’s a look at the key insights, and how they may shape your approach to attracting and retaining talent in 2021.

SEEK job ads continued month-on-month gains toward the end of 2020, with a 6.9% increase in November. This brought job ads to sit 5.1% below where they were in November 2019.

Doug Steel, Senior Economist at BNZ, says the country's economic recovery has been stronger than expected.

"We saw a big bounce back in GDP in the third quarter," he says. "The level of activity was actually getting back to pre-COVID times, which is quite astounding. However, I think in the first quarter of this year, we are going to see the full effect of the lack of foreign tourists in the country and how this impacts the economy."

While there are positive signs across the economy, Steel points to significant differences in recovery across industries. "It's not a 'one-size fits all' sort of recovery," he says. “Industries hardest hit are those most dependent on foreign business, like travel, but sectors like construction are booming."

Industries with the highest month-on-month growth on SEEK in November were Banking & Financial Services (20%), Call Centre & Customer Service (17%) and Advertising, Arts & Media (16%).

Steel says that while it's difficult to discern trends in month-on-month changes, growth in Banking & Financial Services may be due to a boost in the housing market. "Activity in housing is generally a good sign for the banking industry," he says.

"Growth in call centre job ads may be due to more roles coming back onshore," Steel explains.

As the job market opens up again, candidate sentiment is mixed. Research conducted on behalf of SEEK shows 59% of candidates agree with the statement that “looking for a job is overwhelming” while 60% are “optimistic about their future employment and their job prospects”, which is a decrease from 68% in August last year.

Almost 40% think “there are not enough jobs out there” and 52% say they are confident of finding a job, which is slightly down from 54% in August.

Roman Rogers, Regional General Manager – New Zealand, Hudson, says the recovery varies across industries and this may be influencing candidate sentiment.

“While we are seeing the number of vacancies on the rise, opportunities for job seekers are typically in response to how different industries are responding to the impact of COVID-19,” he says.

“Hiring across industries that reflect increased customer demand or indicate longer-term planning will be a better indicator of improved confidence.”

Rogers adds that people are more circumspect during times of uncertainty. “There is still uncertainty as to what 2021 might bring, so people will be cautious about changing jobs and are likely to spend much more time investigating the merits of a new opportunity. The old saying, ‘better the devil you know’ will ring true for most people right now.”

So how can employers navigate this candidate caution when trying to attract the best talent? Start by showing candidates who you really are, says Rogers.

“To attract great talent, you need to clearly and confidently articulate your business strategy so that candidate can see how the opportunity aligns with their skills and aspirations."

“The clearer you are, the stronger your EVP is likely to be. Candidates will have a deeper understanding of where the organisation is going and how they can contribute to the organisation’s future success.”

It could be an ideal time to review and revamp your Employee Value Proposition in light of the current climate and consider how your business communicates this to candidates.

Prioritise training and flexibility

The pandemic saw many people picking up new skills as they adapted to changes in their work situation. In fact, 2 in 5 Kiwis say they learned new skills they wouldn’t have if it weren’t for COVID-19. Rogers says people want upskilling to continue and it’s a growing priority among candidates.

Flexibility is also high on the candidate agenda.

“The pandemic has caused people to reconsider what is more important to them, and flexible work options will be an influential factor for many,” he says.

“Hiring managers need to be really clear about what their organisation's stance on flexible work is, in order to avoid impacting employee engagement downstream, should definitions differ in practice. This could be a derailer for someone who's joined your organisation,” he says.

Transparency around flexibility may help you to retain staff this year, adds Rogers.

“Some options like working from home don’t always turn out to be so flexible, and this could be a negative to someone who's joined your organisation,” he says. “Or, if you haven’t got your culture right, working from home may feel too flexible and people won’t feel like they belong to your organisation because they never see anyone.”

After a tumultuous and challenging year, New Zealand is seeing positive signs of economic recovery and increasing job ad numbers. But when it comes to attracting talent, the significance of COVID-19’s ongoing impact on Kiwis’ working lives can’t be underestimated. Considering candidates’ desire for flexibility and organisational aspirations that align with their own may be key to a successful talent strategy in 2021.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published November 2020.

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