Global uncertainty and local belt-tightening add up to an uncertain 2012 for job seekers
2011 was an annus horribilis for job hunters. Employees with excellent skills can almost always get work. Yet many job hunters, especially the under 25s, struggled to find suitable work.
Will 2012 be any better? Some recruitment and business people say: "yes". Others advise:
The words that loom large in employment for 2012 aren't warm fuzzy ones. They're: "Europe", "bankrupt", "volatile" and "Christchurch".
To look forward, it's necessary to look at what's happening at the moment. Employment prospects for Kiwi job hunters and employers were looking on the up at the beginning of 2011.
April proved to be a turning point for employment in New Zealand. A downward turn that is. And the remainder of 2011 wasn't much better, says James Brooke, principal at recruitment company Numero.
Employers are doing about 60-70% of employing that they would do in a strong market, says Brooke. "That is reflected in our work. We're at about 65 to 70% capacity."
Sadly Brooke believes the traditional February to June boost in employment markets isn't likely to eventuate in 2012. He believes that employers and employees may be looking at 2013 before there is a significant uplift in the job market.
Much of the problem is international volatility, says Bede Ashby, managing director at Momentum Consulting Group.
"No one can predict what the economic outlook is except that it will be volatile," says Ashby. "The best case scenario is that Europe settles down, the United States starts growing and Wellington gets very little wind.
"Alternatively the world tanks as Greece goes bankrupt, the US plummets into another recession; Spain, Portugal and Italy ask Germany to invade them and France goes to lunch because it's all too hard."
The reality is likely to be less dramatic, says Ashby. None-the-less volatility is here to stay and businesses need to plan around it however difficult that might be. "That means that you need to manage R and D, business costs, inventory and employment intentions very carefully," he says.
Recruiters can never win. Either there are too many applicants and too few jobs. Or as unemployment falls below pre-GFC levels of 5% again there will be talent puddles, not talent pools, says Ashby.
One of the big factors impacting the New Zealand job market is demand for workers from the other side of the Tasman.
Kelly Services managing director and country general manager Debbie Grenfell notes that "Australian business confidence has collapsed in the last quarter, and other than in the key mining sector, employment intentions have significantly reduced for early 2012."
She adds: "What this means is we are likely to see a lessening of international recruitment demand for highly skilled New Zealand workers, and an increased interest in local employment opportunities from both migrating workers, particularly from the UK, and a continuing return of expat Kiwis, looking to return home."
Work opportunities for those expats, especially in the international finance and banking sectors, are becoming more restricted overseas, says Grenfell.
The big boost for the job market will be the rebuilding of Christchurch. It has been documented that up to 30,000 additional workers will be needed in that city. That demand will help retain skilled tradespeople in New Zealand and attract new skilled migrants from overseas.
When that will really boost New Zealand's employment markets isn't universally agreed. Grenfell believes that the recovery of Christchurch is likely to exert significant pressure on the job market in 2012.
"This will not just be confined to the construction industry as builders, contractors and labourers become in demand for rebuilding, but in a wide range of specialist and support areas (ranging) from local government planning and engineering, to administration and HR."
However Manpower Group Australia and New Zealand's managing director, Lincoln Crawley says he expects the demand from Christchurch for more workers to kick in in the second half of 2012, not before.
"That will very much depend on the speed with which authorities will make funds available and (process) approvals for the rebuild."
Grenfell says that the employment demand for the rebuild will be felt nationwide. "But given continued uncertainty over insurance payments and city planning, it is not yet clear when it will kick in." It is possible that it might not even happen until after 2012, she says.
Two things that many commentators agree on is that New Zealand needs better workforce training and for the foreseeable future as well as more people willing to work on contract until the economic future becomes clearer.
Ashby says: "The last thing employers want to do is hire and fire - because of market volatility.
They and indeed the contractor can tolerate short term or project engagements that allow the employer to keep advancing and the contractor to keep earning with the knowledge that engagements can expediently be turned on or off depending on demand and growth or decline cycles."
There is more agreement among recruiters and business commentators about which skills will be in demand in 2012.
Grenfell says that across the country, demand will remain high in the ICT sector, with skill shortages still existing for experienced programmers and developers.
"The finance and professional services sector is forecasting improving revenues in the next two quarters. We've just seen record profits for both Westpac and ANZ, so demand is likely to lift there.
"Manufacturers are reporting more confidence in business for 2012, however whether that translates into large scale hiring will depend on the combined effects of the commodities market and the Kiwi dollar on export revenues." One area of particular growth she adds is in the hi-tech manufacturing field, which is going from strength to strength, and will continue to see strong demand for expert staff across a variety of disciplines.
Brooke adds that the market for back end roles such as accounting, supply chain, and procurement are responsible for cost sayings is likely to be busier.
On the other hand, he expects sales and marketing roles, which he recruits for through a sister company Gaulter Russell that require upfront spending by companies, are likely to be sluggish.
State of Play
* Kiwi employers and employees could be affected by gyrations in European economies
* The Christchurch rebuild will boost employment opportunities in New Zealand
* The employment market may continue to operate at 70% capacity until late 2012
* The February to June employment boom may not happen in 2012