Job market strengthens as skilled vacancies rise

New figures show job vacancies fell in the three months to February but remain 12.3% higher than the previous year, indicating conditions in the labour market have improved.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the seasonally adjusted number of vacancies fell from 193,000 in November to 190,000 in February, a drop of 1.7%.


Separate data by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations found the number of positions advertised on the internet jumped 2.3% last month.


The data shows the number of skilled job vacancies advertised in newspapers rose by 0.6%.


Meanwhile, the latest labour force figures show the number of unemployed people fell from 625,000 in November to 604,800 in February, falling 2.8%.


The mixed results suggest that although the pace of employment growth has slowed significantly since mid-2010 demand for workers rebounded last month, particularly in disaster-stricken Queensland.


The DEEWR data shows demand for professionals, machinery operators, drivers and clerical workers is particularly strong across the country.


The figures come on the back of an announcement by the Federal Government to provide employers with training and support incentives to encourage older people back into the workforce.


The measures, recently announced by Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis, include a payment to employers of $4,950 for training workers over the age of 50.


Incentives for employers are expected to feature heavily in the Federal Budget in May, in an effort to attract the two million Australians that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has identified as being out of the labour market.


According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, older workers are projected to provide up to 85% of workforce growth in the next decade, with recent ABS data showing 264,000 older workers in part-time positions want to work longer hours.


Heidi Holmes, managing director of online job board, which specifically targets older people, says many employers are still hesitant to hire mature workers.


But Vicki Crowe of Canon Recruitment says older workers represent a valuable talent pool as they are typically hard-working and long-serving employees.


Meanwhile, Opposition leader Tony Abbott has recently outlined a plan to cut welfare payments and force unemployed people into work, arguing the move is a “good social policy”.


“Because most people derive much of their sense of self from what they do, attracting more people into the workforce is likely to improve the country’s morale and to help people feel more comfortable in their own skins,” Abbott said.


In a separate move, the Coalition has called for an overhaul of the skilled migration program as part of a wider plan to address skills shortages in growth industries.


Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison criticised the Federal Government for slowing down the processing of skilled 457 visas, arguing the system needs to be liberalised so employers can hire skilled workers.


The liberalisation could be targeted at small business or in regions with the greatest shortages, such as WA.


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