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362,000 jobs: Vacancies 57% higher than pre-COVID

·3-min read
A man stands on a train platform in a suit and a construction worker prepping a pipe.
Aussie businesses are struggling to fill positions, with job vacancies rising 24 per cent from May (Source: Getty)

Businesses have been scrambling to fill jobs in recent months with 57 per cent more vacant jobs in may 2021 than February last year, according to fresh data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Job vacancies have continued to increase this year due to a lack of international migration because of closed borders, said Bjorn Jarvis, head of Labour Statistics at the ABS.

"There were around 362,000 job vacancies in May 2021, which was higher than we have ever seen in Australia. This was 69,000 more than February 2021 and 132,000 more than last February," Jarvis said.

In May 2021, 22 per cent of businesses reported at least one vacancy, double the level in February 2020.

“There has been a steady increase in the proportion of businesses reporting at least one vacancy, after it fell to 7 per cent in May 2020, early in the pandemic,” Jarvis said.

“Businesses across all industries have reported difficulties in filling vacancies.”

Where are the jobs?

The growth in Aussie job vacancies from May to now is predominantly concentrated in the private sector, which accounted for 66,000 (96 per cent) of the increase.

Jobs include those in manufacturing, financial services, professions, hospitality, or other non-government positions.

Private sector job vacancies increased by 25 per cent over the quarter and were 61 per cent above February 2020 levels.

The largest increase in job vacancies since last February was in the arts and recreation services sector (170 per cent), accommodation and food services (159 per cent), and rental, hiring and real estate services (144 per cent).

Public sector vacancies, or government jobs like teachers, police officers, firefighters, rose by 10 per cent over the quarter and were 24 per cent higher than February 2020.

Vacancies rose in every state and territory, but the largest growth was in Victoria, which boomed after the state came out of its most recent lockdown.

Over a quarter of all businesses (27 per cent) have reported issues with being able to fill positions.

Why are wages still so low?

The fresh data comes at a time of long-term wage stagnation, despite businesses facing a labour shortage.

The Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly called on businesses to increase wages to help fill labour shortages but has said there has been a reluctance from businesses.

Lowe said in the June minutes: “Members noted that the strong focus on cost containment by businesses meant that it would take some time for spare capacity to be reduced and the labour market to be tight enough to generate wage increases consistent with achieving the inflation target.”

Speaking at an event last month, Lowe said businesses’ “laser-like focus on costs” could be hamstringing the broader economic recovery.

“Most businesses feel they are operating in a very competitive marketplace and that they have little ability to raise prices. As a result, there is understandably a laser-like focus on costs: if profits can't be increased by expanding or by raising prices, then it has to be achieved by lowering costs,” Lowe said.

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