Job ads recover to pre-pandemic levels but low income workers still struggling

Job ads have returned to their pre-pandemic level in a fresh sign the recovery from the recession is consolidating but there are warnings people in low wage occupations are being left behind and could face extended periods out of work.

Data from SEEK shows ads on the online platform through February were 12.4 per cent up on the same month last year, when Australia started shutting its international border to protect the country from COVID-19.

Job ads in every state and territory have climbed back above their pre-virus levels for the first time.Credit:Louise Kennerley

Ads were 4.1 per cent up on January, with ads in every state and territory now showing annual job growth for the first time since the virus outbreak.

In NSW, ads lifted 7.4 per cent through February to be 3.6 per cent up over the past 12 months, while in Victoria the annual growth rate is now 7.8 per cent after a 7.1 per cent improvement last month.

Tasmania is leading the nation, with ads in the island state 40 per cent up over the past year, while in South Australia they have lifted by more than 37 per cent.

Only one industry sector, farming, had fewer ads over the past 12 months. The strongest growth has been in marketing and communications where ads are up 23 per cent.

SEEK Australia’s managing director Kendra Banks said the overall jobs market was mending quickly.

“It is close to 12 months since COVID-19 severely impacted the employment market, and we are pleased to observe continued improvement with the healthiest year-on-year job ad growth since the pandemic began,” she said.

But separate data from online employment site Indeed shows the jobs recovery is uneven, with people in high income work doing far better than those on much lower wages.

Employment in high income jobs (weekly earnings of at least $1712), such as the legal sector, computer software, finance and business management is 4.1 per cent up on its pre-pandemic level.

SEEK CEOs Kendra Banks says the lift in job ads shows the employment market is recovering.

But among low income earners, those on less than $864 a week, employment is still 3.2 per cent down on where it was in February last year. Restrictions in areas such as hospitality and recreation have dealt a large blow to occupations in these areas.

Among medium income jobs, employment is 2.1 per cent down.

Indeed’s Asia-Pacific economist Callam Pickering said there was a risk that those who had become unemployed during the crisis could face extended periods out of work.

“Australia’s economic recovery has progressed faster than policymakers anticipated. But naturally, it has been uneven and some sectors or industries have been left behind,” he said.

“Still, Australia must not lose sight of the fact that the COVID-19 recession has generally hit lower-wage and more vulnerable workers much harder than those higher on the income distribution.”

While job ads have recovered, the total number of people out of work is just under 900,000, a 150,000 increase over the past year. There are another 400,000 people on JobSeeker (which can supplement the income of people who work a few hours a week).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday outlined the government’s plan to offer businesses an extra $1.2 billion to hire 70,000 more apprentices over the next 12 months to prevent a youth unemployment crisis.

The Australian Industry Group said the policy would provide much-needed support for businesses and the youth labour market.

“At the start of the pandemic we saw thousands of apprentices laid off and a nose-dive in apprentice commencements. This led to predictions of a 50 per cent increase in school leavers not in employment, education or training,” group chief executive Innes Willox said.

“The new funding announced today will consolidate the gains and enable more employers to take on their usual annual intake of apprentices and trainees and in many instances increase apprenticeship numbers.“

HIA industry policy chief executive Kristin Brookfield said the extension of the scheme would keep people entering into apprenticeships.

“This will keep a pipeline of skilled workers in place as the housing industry navigates its way through the economic recovery,” she said.

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