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Credit: Marten Bjork

Younger workers still most mobile, but overall job switching drops in Australia

A shift in the Australian job market? The ABS reports a drop in job mobility, with experts suggesting a move away from “quiet quitting” and towards increased employee caution due to economic pressures.

New ABS data released reveals that Australia’s job mobility rate has fallen for the first time in three years, returning to pre-pandemic levels. In the 12 months to February 2024, about 8% of employed people, or 1.1 million, changed their employer or business, a drop from 9.6% in February 2023, according to ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis. “This marks a return to the typical range seen in the five years before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jarvis noted. The decline in job mobility was observed in both men and women, though it was more pronounced among men. Consequently, women’s job mobility slightly outpaced men’s at 8.2% compared to 7.9%, reversing the trend of the past decade. Younger workers remain more mobile than older workers, with 12.6% of 15 to 24-year-olds changing jobs, though this is lower than the 15.9% peak seen in 2022 and significantly below the rates of over 20% from 20 years ago.

Job mobility rates fell across all age groups but remained slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels among older workers. Sales workers had the highest mobility rate at 9.7%, followed closely by community and personal service workers at 9.6%. The only industries to see an increase in job mobility were information media and telecommunications (+1.8 percentage points) and other services (+0.1 percentage points), while the largest declines were in arts and recreation services (-5.4 percentage points) and transport, postal, and warehousing (-4.5 percentage points).

In February 2024, 1.9 million potential workers were not employed but wanted to work, up from 1.8 million in February 2023. Of these, around 555,000 were unemployed (actively looking for work and available), and 1.3 million were not in the labor force (not actively looking and/or not available to work).

“More than 1 million people were available to start work immediately, and an additional 483,000 could start within four weeks,” Jarvis said. “The remaining 330,000 were not available for over a month.”

Among those available but not actively looking for work, the main reasons were attending educational institutions (197,000 people, or 24%), caring for children (112,000, or 14%), or having a long-term health condition or disability (98,000, or 12%).

In February 2024, 82% of unemployed people reported difficulty finding work, with the primary challenge being too many applicants for available jobs (12.7%), insufficient work experience (10.8%), and health or disability issues (10.7%). Jarvis noted an increase in people reporting difficulties related to labor market conditions compared to February 2023, reflecting a less tight labor market.

 Kylie Green, Managing Director APAC at Reward Gateway: ““The sharp drop in job mobility for the first time in three years is a clear indication that the power balance in the Australian job market is shifting. Contrary to the ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘loud labouring’ trends that gathered steam during the pandemic, external pressures including the rising cost of living and widespread redundancies has led to a 4% increase in tenure across all age groups.

“While job mobility has remained highest among the youngest demographic with 13% of 15-24 year olds changing jobs over the course of a year, this represents a 3% drop for the cohort from 16% just two years before. This indicates Australia’s junior workforce – and consequently those most disproportionately impacted by high rents and energy costs – is becoming increasingly risk averse when it comes to switching roles in the current climate.

“Yet as employers begin to see the impact of this cautiousness on their retention rates, they should be conscious not to become complacent. Business leaders must acknowledge that high retention in the current environment may not necessarily correlate with high employee satisfaction. Whatever the economic environment, employees require acknowledgement and recognition to do their best at work, and employers should ensure they are on the front foot to deliver this. In fact, according to our recent Employee Engagement Report, people with high wellbeing report 2.3x higher engagement at work, and with the average cost of hiring has increasing from $10,000 to $23,000 per candidate in the past year, it pays to make employee wellbeing a core component of your business strategy.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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