Unknown outside China until last December, COVID-19 has propelled countries and communities around the world into a state of emergency – all within a matter of weeks.
Across Australia, businesses large and small, have been forced to stand down or lay off part or all of their workforces in response to drastic government shutdown measures designed to slow the spread of the virus.
Seek’s March Employment Report showed jobs ads were down by 7.4% overall in February already. Numbers are likely to plummet next month, as more employers reduce their operations or shut their businesses entirely.
Indeed data showed job postings in Australia in late March were around 12% lower than the same time last year, according to the site’s APAC Economist Callam Pickering.
The travel and hospitality sectors have been hard hit, with the introduction of international and national travel restrictions and a ban on gatherings in pubs, clubs and restaurants making business as usual impossible. Although some establishments are continuing to offer takeaway service, others have found it an unviable proposition.
Several retail chains, including jeweller Michael Hill, Rivers, Noni B and Sportscraft, have also shut up shop, with many more likely to follow suit.
It’s a pattern that may be reflected in other sectors, according to Kendra Banks, Seek managing director for Australia and New Zealand.
“We expect many industries to be significantly disrupted as this unprecedented scenario continues to unfold,” Banks says.
Hiring, not firing
Conversely, the COVID-19 virus has sent a number of industries into growth mode, Pickering notes. As is usual in times of significant economic uncertainty, new roles created are likely to be casual and contract.
A national spate of panic buying throughout March has resulted in increased demand for workers in the packing, warehousing and transport sectors.
There’s also been no shortage of work for cleaners, as businesses and organisations ramp up their efforts to reduce infection risk.
“We’re all a bit more concerned about hygiene, so there’s been strong demand for them in March,” Pickering says.
Making things makes jobs
In the manufacturing sector, businesses which are able to pivot into the production of high-demand items will need more hands to the pumps, on factory floors and assembly lines in the upcoming months.
In mid-March, the Federal Government put out a request for information to identify local businesses with the capacity to supply urgently needed personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, including gloves, gowns, goggles and waste disposal bags.
Local surgical mask maker Med-Con has reportedly expanded its workforce from two employees to 24, to meet the burgeoning demand. Meanwhile, businesses like Newcastle’s Earp Distilling Co. are repurposing the ethanol used in gin production to create hand sanitiser.
“We’re seeing evidence of some businesses being quite clever in changing their operations in order to thrive in an environment when people may not be willing to buy what they normally produce,” Pickering says.
Rural industries, which have historically relied on backpackers and foreign workers to bring in the harvest, may also have temporary openings for locals in the coming months.
ICT support businesses, too, are likely to find themselves in hiring mode, as companies which have asked employees to work from home seek help to upgrade their systems and iron out bugs.
“This isn’t reflected in the digital postings data yet, but it makes sense,” Pickering says. “With so many Australians shifting to remote work, often for the first time, there are going to be technical issues, and businesses are going to require more people to help with that.”
Businesses can scale up their workforce with employees who have been affected by COVID-19, for example: if they have been stood down from their existing employment. Look for online solutions like The COVID-19 Labour Exchange, powered by Hatch. This portal can help connect businesses looking for an extra pair of hands with those who are in need of employment. The portal allows employers to hire stood-down staff, or redeploy their staff to new opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the disappearance of swathes of jobs across the country. Many of those roles may not return until the crisis has passed, but as businesses adapt to the country’s temporary ‘new normal’, other hiring opportunities will continue to emerge.
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment has a comprehensive list of businesses looking to boost their workforce.