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Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so the saying goes.

For over 30% of the Australian population who were born overseas and 50% who have at least one parent in a foreign country a slow vaccine roll out and little clarity around when borders may open is clearly causing much heartache and desire to see family abroad. 

Only the other day one of our top performers decided to leave Australia to return to loved ones overseas. Whilst I wished them well, we now have to find a replacement in a talent scarce market. I sense many Australian businesses may be experiencing something similar and it will cost us. Is there a risk that with borders closed that we may start losing talent to overseas countries where vaccination is well in advance and life is returning to normal? 

With closed borders, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the slowest increase in population since the end of World War I.  It was an incredible statistic that would have been unimaginable before the outbreak. An incredible statistic that would have been unimaginable before the outbreak. What’s more, Department of Home Affairs figures show that between July 2020 and May this year, 34,200 residents left Australia with the intention to be away for more than a year. According to assumptions in the latest Federal Budget, net overseas migration may reach a negative 72,000 in the financial year ending 2021. This is causing major issues across multiple sectors that rely on overseas workers to get the job done. 

Just before the most recent lockdowns, Australia’s job figures returned to pre-pandemic employment levels, but yet there were still many job vacancies. It’s a perfect storm of an economy trying to recover whilst talent is scarce. What’s more, rapid digitisation and uptake of technologies have meant an acute shortage of tech and specialised roles that companies need to manage current conditions and stay competitive. Usually, we would source talent from overseas with many seeing the Australian way of life as something they desired for themselves and their families. Clearly, we cannot plug that gap with international workers right now.

There are a few short term solutions that can be put into action to keep Australian organisations competitive. 

Firstly, it’s positive to see the government bringing in migration programs that retain some of our best.

Australia’s permanent Migration Program for 2021-2022 has been designed to support the country’s immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage workers to stay in the country rather than return home. However, more needs to be done to include more professions on the skills list who can come through hotel quarantine and start work here now to solve the acute shortage of workers.

Long term, when borders reopen the Australian government and business needs to work together to encourage people to return to Australia and bring in even more workers to come to our country. So what are people seeking? 

The pandemic has significantly impacted the global economy and our ways of working, but many of the things we value in our work lives remain the same. For instance, according to our latest Randstad Employer Brand Research, the top three most important attributes of an ideal employer are unchanged from before the pandemic. 

Our data indicate that a majority prioritise work-life balance and job security in their employment preferences. Salary and benefits also remain an important factor to the 7,000 working-age adults we surveyed in Australia. A closer examination of our research also shows clear variations among those in different age groups and geographies.

That doesn’t mean, however, that companies can follow the same recruitment playbook; they must consider what a post-pandemic labour market will look like. With the vaccine rollout now well underway and the government road map in place, it’s hoped that things will start changing in Q1 2022 as international travel resumes. 

No doubt many employees will rush to travel home.

To make sure they return, organisations will need to work hard to build strong employer brands that take into account the learnings from lockdowns and offer such things as flexibility, good work-life balance and COVID safe workplaces as standard. 

The pandemic has, if nothing else, heightened the need for organisations to work on their employer brands in a talent scarce market. The acceleration of digitalisation, the transformation of many jobs and the rise in wages demand a more coherent plan to manage workforces and attract and retain the best. If we fail to act, I believe there may be long-term negative consequences that will be difficult for Australia to recover from.