The last 24 months have changed everything. For businesses. For employers. For workers. Now, as the dust settles, employers are by and large having to weather the unusual burden of convincing workers to fill a historically high level of job openings.

This morning I was lucky enough to catch up socially with a group of other Geelong business owners. Occasions that always leave me exuberant. But in step with celebrating recent successes this morning, so too did conversation turn to challenges being experienced across the board, regardless of industry, in recruiting and finding workers (both temporary/ casual and permanent/ ongoing). Why this is happening and what to do about it, are questions reverberating not just across Geelong, but in most corners of the globe.

The answers are complex. This has been a pandemic of perspective for most and a seismic change in how people view work and the meaning work brings to their lives. Unlike our allies in the US and UK, the ripple effect we’re experiencing here in Australia (and more locally in Geelong) has been less big quit and more better fit, with workers insisting on improved working conditions. This has meant some significant candidate abandonment of high burnout roles such as property management, retail, fast food and teaching, and the disruption of the lockdowns, the spread of COVID, and the closing and reopening of the country’s borders have all affected candidate pools.

Save for a bit of Government assistance, those working casual or temporary roles were left relatively stranded during COVID, with layoffs, rolling lockdowns and no sick leave or annual leave meaning a significant cohort have now sought out more stable part time or full time work, so they’re not left high and dry again.

Two years of no schoolies and no gap year has meant Gen Z have higher discretionary income in the bank and extra itchy feet to now spend travelling and backpacking, and are doing so in droves. No international students has particularly affected temporary and casual markets and sectors like hospitality; whereas young baby boomers have decided to move into retirement early which has meant internal promotions and hiring at entry level or backfilling roles, pulling on available worker resources.

This pandemic of perspective has also ignited a fire in others who are seizing the day and taking advantage of some currently available grants and funding and deciding to dive into that start up or business idea. That means even more workers out of the actively looking market.

But along with perspective, the pandemic has also brought about some panic, and that has meant that for some, who might have otherwise been thinking of a career change right about now, that riding out these choppy times seems the safer option, so there are many who are clinging onto their current roles, whether they want to or not – for familiarity, for runs already on the board, for the sense of security. These people won’t be your applicants either.

With direct to consumer and digital-first online now the order of the day, businesses are also having to flex their online presence to stay competitive, and those that might have outsourced their technology or marketing pre-pandemic are now investing in-house, taking on more workers directly than ever before.

48% of candidates feel that looking for a job is more overwhelming since COVID and there’s a lack of confidence driving reluctance to take a leap; counteroffers are getting really competitive, especially in candidate short markets and this winter has been particularly punishing with colds, flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and others making the rounds, with young children and families being heavily impacted. Some stay at home Mums are choosing to pick their battles and stay at home to hunker down, whereas others are leaving their jobs, lest they take yet another unpaid carers day.

If 2020 and 2021 were years of unplanned reinvention, 2022 is where it gets intentional, and this will partly be about personalisation. Working arrangements. Career paths. Learning and development. All will need to be increasingly tailored to the individual. Employees will need to be given more freedom and support to do their jobs the way they want. We now have to get creative about how we reengage, reappeal, recruit, retrain and reskill our people and we have to adjust and improve recruitment processes to be able to move quickly in these game changing times.

While it may feel like employers are having to try and buy back applicants’ new COVID lifestyle, gone are the days where just a coffee machine made a workplace desirable. Today if a business wants to snag top talent (and keep the staff they have) they’re having to get savvier with the benefits they offer. This includes offering special incentives or bonuses outside of regular bonus programs, retention bonuses, sign-on bonuses and increased use of internal referral bonuses. Consideration to working remotely, embracing flexible working and hybrid working. Providing learning credits or education spend per head. Birthdays off, health and wellbeing memberships on.

Otherwise, aside from focusing on the value proposition, employers looking for workers could stand out by getting certified by ‘Great Place to Work’ Australia,’ they could seek out graduating talent and they could leverage social media platforms to get in front of the right eyes. That, and a good job advert is the key – dropping traditional qualification requirements or lengthy wishlists that may disproportionately exclude underrepresented talent.

So, the time is now to level up, widen the net and go catch yourself some talent. Because only dead fish go with the flow.

— Lauren Hogan
Director, Talent Acquisition & Advisory
Fruition Recruitment