Australia’s unemployment rate continues to confound economists and labour market experts, and the July figures were no different.
Most pundits predicted we would see no change from the June figures and jobs growth of around 10,000 jobs, but they were wrong again, with 26,000 new jobs being created and a decline in the overall unemployment rate to 5.7 per cent nationally.
On the face of it, this seems like good news for the Turnbull government and for job seekers. But over the last few months, we have seen the majority of jobs growth coming from part-time roles rather than full-time work, and this raises more than a few questions about under employment, particularly as the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not measure jobs based on the nature of the contract you work under but the number of hours you work. Anything less than 35 hours a week is considered part-time whether it is 34 hours or one hour.
Although we are seeing jobs growth, we are not seeing real growth in the average number of hours worked. ABS data shows that in the last six months, we have seen an increase in 82,200 part-time jobs while the number of full-time jobs have declined by 21,200. In fact Australia’s part-time employment rate is now 31.9 per cent of the total number of people employed, which is more than four percentage points higher since the GFC. The number of males taking on part-time work has also grown by 11 per cent, more than double the growth in female part-time workers.
In the construction industry, this part-timism is not a new phenomenon. It is a growing trend as is the diversification of the types of labour contracts under which workers are now engaged drives greater levels of flexibility in the way people are engaged, and whilst this level of flexibility is good for the employer, it is not necessarily good for employees who are seeking more consistency in the hours they work.
However, the Seek New Jobs data shows that demand remains relatively high across the construction sector with an 18 per cent increase in the number of positions being advertised in design and architecture when compared to the same period last year. Roles in trades and services show an increase of 15 per cent and general construction an increase of 14 per cent.
Interestingly, despite New South Wales having the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 5.2 per cent, the Seek Jobs data shows that the growth in the number of jobs advertised year-on-year in the engineering and construction sector has declined. The same is true in Victoria, indicating that their early investment in infrastructure may be tailing off in terms of the number of jobs created. Yet confoundingly, in South Australia, where the unemployment rate is the highest in the country at 6.4 per cent, there seems to be more opportunity for those seeking work in the construction industry. The number of jobs there has surged by 80 per cent when compared to this time last year.