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Bouncing back from the worldwide slide

 

NEXT year looks like a strong one for the recruitment sector if the strong growth enjoyed in 2002 continues to build.

After a difficult 2001, blighted by corporate collapses around the world and hit even harder by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, the recruitment industry was already starting from a low base.

Indeed, it had been languishing since the tech wreck of 2000.

This year banking and finance proved to be a strong area for recruiters and the commencement of major construction projects in the State has built on that.

From the employers’ side, however, 2002 was haunted by the industrial relations change, with many businesses struggling since the system of State-based workplace agreements was removed.

TMP Worldwide eResources general manager WA Barry Knight said 2002 had been a year of mixed results.

“The first quarter was a bit tough but the latter part of that quarter and the rest of the year was a lot better,” he said.

“Banking and finance is very strong but accounting has been up and down.

“Accounting has traditionally been the mainstay of our business but the contract side of it slowed down towards the end of the year.”

Mr Knight said the large projects starting around the State had given the contracting and technical skills sector a huge boost.

Information technology companies were also starting to hire again, he said.

“Last year there was a 70 per cent loss of jobs in that sector. It’s just starting to turn around,” Mr Knight said.

“The only dampener could be the shadow of a war with Iraq that we’re under at the moment.”

Robert Walters general manager Bruce Henderson said the recruitment business had faced a slow start following the September 11 attacks.

It had already been languishing for the past year due to the fallout from the dot.com driven stock market crash of 2000.

Mr Henderson said many senior executives had decided to reconsider their career options and had risked making some potentially disastrous choices.

“I think 2002 was approached in a fairly uncertain manner,” he said.

“A lot of mid-level and senior executives started looking for a seachange. These were people with 10 to 20 years’ experience with an organisation.

“We spent a lot of time preaching stability, telling them that the issues they saw in their organisation would be the same in others and that they risked their tenure and the conditions they had accrued through their service.”

Mr Henderson said there had also been a change in the job seeker market.

“A lot of people are trying to get work with a company because they think it is a good personal fit with them,” he said.

“However, these days employees have to think more about what values they can bring to the organisation. They have to be more strategic in how they approach their job seeking.”

Hays Personnel regional director Jane McNeill said 2002 had ended up being one of strong growth after a “diabolical 2001 that was demolished by September 11”.

She said the new privacy laws, which came into effect at the end of 2001, had caused some problems.

“It forced us to change some of our processes,” Ms McNeill said.

“The market really picked up about March or April in areas such as banking and financial services. The finance and accounting sectors picked up a bit later.”

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director employee relations Bruce Williams said the amendments to the Industrial Relations Act had been the key issue for many employers.

He said that, later in the year, two other legislative issues had emerged that were also potentially damaging to employers – the Government’s proposed changes to workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety laws.

“The workers’ compensation changes opens the risk of greater costs to employers. That is completely at odds with the Government’s promise that its changes would not increase costs,” Mr Williams said.

“With workplace agreements being abolished it made some employers realise how valuable they had been.

“It’s been brought into stark relief for some industries just how ineffective the award is for their business.”

UnionsWA acting secretary Dave Robinson said 2002 had been a fairly good year for unions, particularly with the Government’s new IR laws.

However, he said the Government’s persistence with individual contracts had taken some of the shine off the benefits of the new laws.

“I don’t know how successful their Employee Employer Agreements will be,” he said.

“We’re also happy with the Laing report into the Occupational Health and Safety Act but we were disappointed with the Guthrie report into workers’ compensation.”

The WA Government has not put the recommendations of either report into law as yet.

Mr Robinson said Rio Tinto’s failed attempt to set up a non-union Federally certified agreement had been good for the union movement.

“It’s given us a foothold in the mining areas,” he said.

One major concern for unions had been the horrific run of fatal workplace accidents that had occurred over the past few months, however.

Major issues for the union movements into 2003 would be paid maternity leave, reasonable working hours and award modernisation, Mr Robinson said.

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