Wednesday, 4 September 2013

What is this survey picking up?

Rather to my surprise, I read in the Herald this morning that "Confidence in job hunting drops". As the paper reported it, the local jobs market appears to have weakened: "The latest Randstad Workmonitor report says that jobseeker confidence and mobility at the end of the first half of the year had dropped to its lowest level since 2011". Other media, in their usual bad news fashion, had also run with this, but in rather more apocalyptic terms than the Herald, for example, "Worker Job Security a Thing of the Past" or "Employee mobility decreases dramatically - survey".

My first reaction was scepticism:  I hadn't heard of this survey before, or indeed of Randstad itself. Perhaps I should have: it is (I discover from its website) a global HR services company (recruitment, staffing and the like) which is headquartered in the Netherlands, listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange, has over 29,000 employees and had revenue of over €17 billion last year. It says it's globally number two in its line of business.

All up, a solid looking organisation with the reach to conduct serious global surveys. So I read the report. You can find a link to the whole thing here.

It's actually a very interesting survey of aspects of the global labour market. I'll get to the New Zealand specifics in a minute, but here is their big headline finding on global labour market mobility.

It shows that job mobility (the percentage of people expecting to move during the next six months to doing either similar or different work with a different employer) has been gradually rising since the worst of the GFC, although in a two steps forward, one step backwards sort of way. It looks to me as if the Randstad mobility index is indeed tracking the global economic cycle quite well: business activity over this period had been following the same gradually firming pattern, and with the same backing and filling.

Overall, and overall is the important qualifier here, you'd conclude that mobility (as measured here) and the state of the labour market look to be positively correlated: people start to shop around more when they think the jobs landscape is getting better.

But it won't always be a perfect link everywhere, and may not be at the level of individual countries. You can also imagine that in some countries, people could be expecting to shift to new jobs because they increasingly fear that the horse they are currently riding is about to drop dead beneath them.
Here, for example, are the biggest country-level moves in job mobility in the June quarter (and also the actual questions that people were asked)

What's Australia doing there, with the biggest rise (9%) in the percentage of people expecting to shift jobs? I'm pretty sure it's because the folks who up till recently have been absorbed into the booming resources sector are now saying: this was a nice gig while it lasted, but I reckon I'm going to have to be on my way in the next wee while. And both Belgium and Greece also look to be examples of countries where respondents are saying, my current job at my current employer isn't going to be around in six months time. I'm on my bike (if I can find one).

Conversely, in all of the five countries where surveyed job mobility fell significantly, economic activity is looking pretty good. It's possible that what's coming through is people feeling relieved that they won't have to shift jobs after all (very likely true of China in particular, where there was the biggest drop in mobility, and where the economy now seems to be picking up after a period where people had been worried about a slowdown).

In fact, you can see this directly in the survey, in the part where they ask about respondents' fear of losing their current job.

Right - moving along to the findings on New Zealand that got the local media in a tizzy. They were about the degree of confidence people had about finding a similar kind of job with another employer (in the data below, this is marked with a single asterisk) and their degree of confidence of getting a different kind of job with another employer (two asterisks).

First, here's the global picture.

And here are the countries with the biggest quarterly moves - and up we pop.

To be honest, I don't know what explains this pattern, either at a global level or at a country level. Over the past year people globally have progressively become a bit less confident about actually finding a job somewhere else, even though labour markets have (as a generalisation) been getting gradually better. And it's very had to see (or at least I can't see) what might explain the country-by-country variations. And as for New Zealand, people's perceptions about job availability are flatly at odds with what the statistics are telling us - see, for example my earlier post about the latest vacancies data.

If you've got an explanation for what's going on here, I'd love to hear it!

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