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Job mobility falls to pre-pandemic levels

By Kace O'Neill | |6 minute read
Job Mobility Falls To Pre Pandemic Levels

Australia’s job mobility rate has fallen for the first time in three years, bringing it back to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to the ABS.

Job mobility was the “highest in a decade” just last year, when the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the statistics relating to Aussie workers switching employers. Now, only a year later, Australia’s job mobility rate has, surprisingly, plummeted back to pre-pandemic levels.

“In the 12 months to February 2024, around 8 per cent of employed people, or 1.1 million people, changed their employer or business,” said Bjorn Jarvis, ABShead of labour statistics.

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“This was down 1.5 percentage points from 9.6 per cent in February 2023 and back to around what we typically saw during the five years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Job mobility rates have fallen for both men and women but fell slightly more for men over the time frame. As a result, job mobility over the past year was higher for women at 8.2 per cent, compared to 7.9 per cent for men. This is a drastic change as it’s been higher for men for the majority of the past decade.

“Younger workers are still more mobile than older workers, with 12.6 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds changing jobs. However, youth job mobility was noticeably lower than the high of 15.9 per cent we saw in 2022 during the pandemic, and well below rates of more than 20 per cent seen 20 years ago,” Jarvis said.

“Falls in job mobility over the past year were seen across all age groups, though they remained slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels in the older age groups.”

In terms of specific job movement, sales workers remained as the role that had the highest mobility rate, with 9.7 per cent changing jobs. Community and personal service workers followed closely at 9.6 per cent.

“Over the year, 36 per cent of people changed to a job with the same usual hours, while 33 per cent changed to a job with fewer hours and 32 per cent changed to a job with more hours,” Jarvis said.

All industries experienced job mobility rates dropping, except for information media and telecommunications (+1.9 percentage points. Yet the largest of the falls affected the arts and recreation services, with a 5.4 percentage point drop, followed by transport, postal and warehouse.

The potential worker – people who were not working but who wanted to work – rate from the previous year has also grown from 1.8 million to 1.9 million.

“Of the people who wanted to work, just over 1 million people were available to start work straight away, and an additional 483,000 people were available to start within four weeks but not immediately. The remaining 330,000 people said they weren’t going to be available for more than a month,” Jarvis said.

In total, there were 810,000 people in February 2024 who wanted to work, and were available to start immediately or within four weeks, but did not actively look for work. The main reasons for this were because they were attending an educational institution (24 per cent), caring for children (14 per cent), or had a long-term health condition or disability (12 per cent).

There was a noted difficulty in finding work, with around 82 per cent of unemployed people reporting that it was a struggle, similar statistics to the year prior. The main roadblocks reported were that there were too many applicants (10.8 per cent) or that ill health or disability was a factor (10.7 per cent).

“More people reported difficulties related to labour market conditions in February 2024, compared with February 2023, when the labour market was particularly tight,” Jarvis said.

“While generally still low, more unemployed people in 2024 said the main difficulty was that there were too many applicants for available jobs, that they didn’t have enough work experience, and that there were no vacancies in their line of work.”

A number of different reasons could be pinpointed for the drop in job mobility, with the cost-of-living crisis being an obvious one. A steady income is a necessity for Australian workers during the current economic climate, and disrupting that by looking for new employers is a risk a lot of them can’t afford.

An interesting takeaway from this data is the reaction of businesses and organisations. If they look upon the data and introduce a lackadaisical mindset in terms of their retention strategies, it could prove to be costly for them in the long run.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.