Jobwatch: Job losses, who's to blame?

The finance industry can take full credit for bringing the world economy to its knees, but should it take the full blame for the drop in demand for jobs.
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

First, an admission: I hate banks. From where I sit, their speculative lending overstretched debt around the world to a tipping point, and the people suffering the consequences are those lower down the economic food chain.

Secondly, I love technology. It continues to deliver productivity gains that means, in theory, more people can be gainfully employed, irrespective of where they live. Investment in the sector would see economy growth and, hopefully, greater social benefits, too.

So, when I was presented with the six years of job vacancy statistics from Australia's DEEWR (the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations) I expected to see ICT taking a hit and finance holding ground. After all, finance was the wrecking ball and they didn't feel the consequences, right?

The facts tell a different story. Both sectors have been hit hard. In fact, across all sectors, jobs advertised in the year to January 2013 are 40 percent down on where they were five years ago. Demand for ICT managers has dropped 67 percent. But there's been an even bigger drop (80 percent) in demand for financial dealers. Jobs for bank workers have fallen 73 percent, and the finance industry has been slugged just as hard, if not harder, than ICT.

(Credit: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

What is interesting is where the cuts are being made. In both industries, it's happening closest to the coalface (not literally, of course — there's plenty of jobs there). ICT business analysts and finance managers have been steering companies through the economic downturn, driving efficiencies and productivity gains to improve business fitness. Relative to the overall decline in jobs, they've held their own. In other words, the drop in advertised jobs for these roles is in line with the reduction across all sectors.

Lower down the pecking order, the fall in advertised jobs is disproportionately high. We need far fewer ICT managers and systems administrators, just as we can apparently get by with less bank workers and financial advisers.

In general, it seems that the more administrative the function, the less we need it. That probably applies across all sectors, and it's hard to blame the finance industry for it. It's more likely to be the result of technological innovation. We need fewer systems administrators because the cloud and virtualisation have reduced the need for in-house maintenance. We need fewer bank workers because we're all banking online.

This creates a real problem for entry-level workers. There simply aren't the jobs there for them to do — the roles that give them the experience to go on to bigger and better things. Perhaps that's why the unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds is hovering around 17 percent, four points higher than it was five years ago when there was also a much higher participation rate.

At the other end of the scale, CEOs and managing directors don't seem to be struggling. They've increased their share of total jobs advertised by almost 60 percent since 2008.

As the finance sector ignored the vagaries of capitalism and we all suffered, it is technology that is the real driving force behind structural change.

I fear that part of that change is the creation of fewer jobs for those starting out. The travesty is that nobody seems to know how to fix the problem.

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