Australia’s Lost Talent

Australia’s Lost Talent – Our recruitment practices are locking out the workers we need

Australia is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in almost 50 years. The employment rate is at-record highs. Employers are reporting they cannot fill vacancies and find suitable staff.

The situation is so dire that our federal government, as one of its first priorities on being elected, gathered more than one-hundred leaders and representatives from across employers, unions, experts, people with lived experience and the community together at the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra to discuss all aspects of employment.

At the same time we know there are more than 3 million people in Australia who are looking for work or want more work, those on the sidelines of a stretched and strained market, hearing headlines about worker shortages they want to, and can, fill.

This presents an opportunity and to make the most of it we need to understand who we are missing in our recruitment practices and what we are doing that is missing the mark in the way we recruit.

Who are we locking out?

In news that won’t come as a huge surprise, the vast majority of the 3 million unemployed and underemployed people in Australia come from marginalised diversity groups.

When we are talking about marginalised groups we mean Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, culturally or racially marginalised people, carers (of young children and sole parents), people from lower social classes, people with disability, trans and gender diverse people, as well as people who are older (over 55) or younger (under 25).

If someone belongs to more than one of these groups – for example young people from a racially marginalised background, younger women with caring responsibilities, or older men with disability – they’re even more likely to be left off employer’s recruitment radars.

How are we locking out the workers we need?  

In Diversity Council Australia research out this week we uncover the barriers locking people out of the recruitment process. Things employers are doing by both accident and design which leave people off recruitment radars and see them hit with bias and exclusion in the recruitment process itself.

And we reveal the ‘keys’ to making recruitment inclusive so that it can value diversity, is bias free, and enables a diversity of talent to be sourced, assessed, selected, and appointed.

In the pursuit of efficiency in recruitment many have lost focus on effectiveness – pressure in a tight labour market to use the easiest path to fill positions is resulting in bad hires and missed opportunities.

The way we imagine our ideal candidates can be outdated, biased and our thoughts about what is the right cultural fit can be a reflection of our organisational culture, not that of great applicants.

Our job advertisements, criteria, recruitment systems and narrow restricted processes are often arbitrary and are not designed to find the best person for the work, but rather constructed to attract the usual suspects.

Inclusive recruitment means making simple changes to your hiring practices, to attract more capable applicants. This could include encouraging people to apply, even if they don’t meet all job requirements. Or being flexible with how you conduct your interviews.

When something isn’t working – we need to change it.

Inclusive recruitment practices can help bridge the gap between job seekers and employers. The place to start is with some basic principles – focus on fair treatment not same treatment, be flexible, approach “merit” with caution because it is subjective, listen to and learn from those with lived experiences of bias and marginalisation, and remember next month’s dream worker may be last month’s not-quite-perfect candidate.

Rethinking and redesigning how we recruit is the right thing to for the 3 million job seekers who are currently overlocked and underleveraged in this tight market. It is also good for business and delivers for the community and the economy. This moment in time is an opportunity and in unlocking it, we are creating a more equitable job market for all Australians.

This piece was originally published in Women’s Agenda, and Smart Company.