It's fair to say that the jobs outlook for manufacturing has been subdued in the past year. However, it appears to be recovering since hitting a low in September 2012.
The Manpower Employment Outlook survey, which measures employment sentiment and hiring intentions for the coming quarter, shows that the local manufacturing industry is slowly rebuilding its confidence.
The outlook has been on a downward trend but appears to have turned a corner.
Interestingly, while the jobs market has softened, we still hear clients tell us they can't find the right people for all of the roles they have open.
We also hear experienced people tell us that jobs are hard to find. So, what is going on here?
There are two trends shaping this jobs market, and they are related.
We know that manufacturing is undergoing a fundamental change, as low-value work goes to cheaper, off-shore markets.
Coupled with a persistently high Australian dollar, this trend is seeing the type of work we do here in Australia evolve over time, with the focus moving to more specialised manufacturing companies.
This has flow-on effects to the labour market, as the skills in demand change along with the type of work being done. This has helped to create what we call a 'talent mismatch'.
The Talent Mismatch: skills versus demand
As the nature of manufacturing work evolves to use more technology and rely less on unskilled or semi-skilled workers, there is a mismatch between the talent available and the talent needed by employers.
This is by no means restricted to manufacturers: our Talent Shortage Survey has found that around 1 in 2 Australian employers can't find the skills they need, with engineering, sales and skilled trades among the most acute shortages.
However, given the manufacturing sector's traditional need for less-skilled labour, the structural changes occurring at the moment make this trend even more pronounced. These trends impact both employers and job-seekers, who must navigate a changing job market.
Employers: investment in skills must be a priority
The key to creating a robust talent pool is to develop training strategies that build on the talent an organisation already has, and builds the skills it needs for the future.
Innovation and creative thinking can help to make this investment in training more cost-effective.
For example, ManpowerGroup has developed customised training programs that tap into programs and funding available through government and education institutions.
Over the last two years we've managed more than 250 traineeships through the Vocational Education and Training Solutions program, providing employees with qualifications from Diplomas in Frontline Management, to Certificate III and IV in Information Technology and in Warehouse and Logistics.
This partnership approach can resolve client issues around skills shortages, while providing nationally-accredited qualifications and skills growth for the individuals involved. Moreover, organisations that undertake these programs see reduced turnover, increased morale and improved productivity.
Jobseekers: skills and flexibility needed
For job seekers in the manufacturing sector, flexibility is critical.
In a constantly changing industry, individuals need to continue updating their skills, whether it's through external education or on-the-job programs.
The growth of online courses and government-funded training places means that education is more accessible than ever; the key is to find out which skills are in demand and focus your efforts in that direction.
When it comes to the job search process, it is increasingly important to develop an online presence.
Being active on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn will make you visible to recruiters, HR professionals, and people that might refer you to job openings.
There are various LinkedIn groups for manufacturing professionals that promote job openings, and also provide industry news and issues for discussion.
Another option is to look at temporary roles, especially if you're looking at moving into a different area within the industry.
Taking a contract role can be a good way to get a foot in the door.
Ultimately, the economy is undergoing significant change, so job seekers need to focus on the areas that are growing and be willing to adapt. That may mean moving locations, retraining or updating your skills. The key is to go where the work is and develop the skills that are in demand.
So what's next?
While employment in the manufacturing sector is under pressure, that doesn't mean there are no opportunities available.
There are still Australian businesses who believe that producing products locally is better suited to their customers, and these companies will continue to drive employment.
For employers, it is important not to lose sight of your long-term workforce strategy. Investing in people needs to be an ongoing focus for management and leaders if they are to find the talent needed for today and tomorrow's manufacturing sector.