2021 business growth prospects & demand for talent

By Robert Half on 26 January 2021

Australia’s latest budget update has revealed better-than-expected economic performance as well as rising employment since October 2020,1 and this is reflected in the nation’s business growth confidence.

The latest independent C-suite research across six major international markets by specialised recruiter Robert Half indicates that more than three-out-of-four (77%) Australian business leaders are somewhat-to-very confident about their growth prospects going into the first half of 2021. Growth sentiment is highest in Brazil (88%), followed by France and the UK (78%), Germany (72%) and Belgium (69%).

Factors influencing growth sentiment for the first half of 2021

Expanding business opportunities (56%), a stabilising economy post-COVID-19 (51%) and adoption of new technologies (38%) were cited by Australian business leaders among the top influences on increasing growth prospects in 2021. Meanwhile, 48% of survey respondents respectively said a lack of financial resources and reduced business opportunities were factors limiting their level of confidence in growth prospects for 2021. The top factors affecting confidence in Australia are in line with global averages, according to the survey results.

This latest employment market data suggests a mixed commercial picture at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic cycle. Across the Continental Europe and the UK, multiple markets have recently found themselves back in lockdown as COVID-19 infection rates hit new mid-winter highs, whilst summer in the Southern Hemisphere has helped mitigate the effects of the pandemic across much of the Asia Pacific region and South America. Hence there is no single, over-arching business trend evident because COVID-19’s impact has been far from uniform across various industries and countries.

That said, the global shift to remote- and hybrid working and the pivot as well towards online and e-commerce revenue generation, nationally and internationally, are all influencing the hiring intentions and priorities Robert Half is seeing going into the New Year. Early indications are that 2021 is going to be a year of recovery and rebuilding for both companies and individual workers alike.

Demand for talent in 2021

According to the December budget update, 90,000 jobs were added to the Australian market in November while unemployment has fallen from 7% to 6.8% since October. The recent Robert Half survey confirms the positive trend.

Whilst continued pandemic-induced market uncertainty sees 44% of Australian employers planning to maintain headcounts2 (against a six-market average of 66%), almost a third (32%) of those companies surveyed plan to expand their workforces in Australia in the first half of 2021 by actively adding new positions – significantly higher than Continental Europe and the UK (with an average of 18%). Conversely, 14% of Australian companies intend to freeze headcounts entirely (compared to a six-market average of 8%) and an even smaller number (6%) plan to reduce workforce numbers during the first months of 2021.

The top five sectors currently driving demand for talent in Australia include:

  1. Information Technology
  2. Healthcare, Hospitals and Social Assistance
  3. Retail
  4. Financial Services
  5. Non-Profit

The top 5 priority hires* for the first half of 2021 spanning technology, finance and accounting and business support are:

For CIO/CTOs For CFOs For general hiring managers
Helpdesk Support Officer Financial Accountant Customer Services Officer
Systems Engineer Financial Planning & Analysis Manager Administrative Assistant/Coordinator
Security Engineer Financial Analyst Facilities Coordinator
Cloud Engineer Financial Manager Operations Manager
Developer Financial Controller HR Manager
*Permanent/full-time positions

Pandemic-related business recovery priorities for 2021 

Business agility, adaptability, and increasing both risk management and forward planning propensities continue to be top priorities for many companies as they implement their COVID-19 recovery and rebuilding strategies going into the New Year. These same attributes are also likely to be hallmarks of the evolving future of work in the longer term.  

During what remains a volatile business environment in which change remains the only constant, many companies are struggling to find the talent they need to support new business priorities sparked by the pandemic. Professionals with in-demand skills know they still have options, and employers should realise they need to offer competitive salaries and benefits to retain key personnel as well as attract and secure top candidates during this calendar year – and beyond. 

Robert Half understands that it takes time and effort to evaluate the best talent strategy for different businesses. Contact us for further independent advice to assist with your recruitment and workforce planning efforts. 

(1) ABC, 2020, What does the mid-year budget update mean for the economy?
(2) Only filling vacated positions over coming months due to voluntary quits or involuntary terminations

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