Jobwatch: 2013, the year of the specialist

There will be stiffer competition than ever for jobs next year. What's your strategy?
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

In case you haven't noticed, the world economy is stuffed and Australia is not exempt from the impact. The global financial crisis has now hit Wayne's world — the Treasurer Wayne Swan's announcement that he can't deliver his promised surplus because of reduced tax receipts (as people and companies are earning less) is the latest reminder that Australia isn't isolated from the rest of the world.

Whilst Australia's unemployment rate has sat at around 5.3 percent over the last year, the participation rate has slipped — more people have opted-out of looking for work. Those who are looking for work face a lot of competition. Seek's iPhone app is an indication of this. It was released last April and has already had more than a million downloads, which is surprising when you consider that there's only 15 million people of working age in the country.

Therefore, given a tough year ahead, what's your job strategy? One tactic would be to switch industries. Go and work for Gina. Work harder and get paid less, preferably in a tax-free haven in the Kimberley. Or, you could take a good look at yourself and say, "I work in the very industry that will get the world out of this mess."

Every company in every sector needs an online strategy, better communications, more efficient mobile-centric work processes, and business intelligence driven by big data. Not to put too fine a point on it, the whole world is dependent on ICT. Even though the job market might be tight, it's much better to have a technology background than, for example, being in car manufacturing. Or blacksmithery.

While being in IT is a good move, the shape of ICT is changing and you will need to adapt. Jobs are being outsourced more regularly, and offshoring is a trend that won't stop. As the graph below shows, job advertisements of all types have dropped significantly in the ICT sector over the last five years, according to data gathered by the Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations. And it's been a steady trend downwards, indicating that it's a lot more to do with structural shift than the vagaries of the economy. According to Hays, a third of Australian employers see temporary workers as a strategic solution for the long term, given the flexibility and specialist expertise they can provide. The figure could be much higher in the short term, as companies use short-term hires as a way to get round headcount restrictions.

(Credit: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)


This all seems to point to the need for specialist expertise. Whilst companies will still want generalists in-house, they will diminish in number. Instead, they'll want to buy-in expertise. For that, increasingly, you'll be competing against lower salaried workers overseas. The only way round this is to offer something different — a very specific skill and an understanding of how it can be applied in the Australian workplace. Being available and on-site is also a big bonus — it's a difficult commute for a programmer based in Bangalore.

Skilling-up means that you are positioning yourself for a perceived gap in the market. Despite the massive slide in job advertisements, recruiters are often complaining that they can't find the right skill set for the vacancies that do exist. The Hays Global Skills Index indicates that this is a bigger issue in Australia than in many other parts of the world.

Establishing your own company to contract out your services is a challenge that many ex-corporate types will have to face. The art of running the business will be an entire new skill set. The ABS's counts of Australia Businesses shows that in NSW, Victoria, and Queensland there were 26,500 single-person management advice and related consultancies at the start of the 2012 financial year, 1.4 percent up on the year before. In computer system design and related services the total was around 20,300, with 1.3 percent growth. The slow growth figures hide the attrition rate. For every 100 new single person business that is started in these two categories, 94 will close. That attrition rate is almost halved for businesses employing up to 19 people — there's safety in numbers.

The summer break is an opportunity to ask yourself a few soul-searching questions. Do I need to go out on my own? What is my specialist expertise that makes me unique? How can I skill-up to make myself more in demand? How confident am I about running my own business?

There's no denying that the demand is there, but the industry structure is changing quickly. Now we know that the Mayans were wrong and the world is still here, it's time to plan your own personal strategy for capitalising on the world's demand for ICT expertise.

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