Australia's election of a new government, led by Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott, has taken the foot off the brakes on hiring ever so gently after skidding to a halt earlier this year when ousted Labour Party Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a general election.
At the eFinancialCareers bi-annual roundtable held in Sydney last week revealed a more positive, yet still cautious, view among the participants representing the hiring functions within a cross-section of local and foreign banks, insurance companies and professional services firms.
Even in the few weeks since the election in September, a number of recruiters present said they had started seeing a little hiring momentum, but all agreed that the costs constraints on financial institutions that have crimped recruitment around the world were here to stay. "It is BAU - business as usual from here on out," said one recruiter from the bank.
A common thread in the discussion was the concern around lengthy hiring processes to meet stricter compliance requirements. A number of the participants at the roundtable said that even lower-level roles required extensive approvals, and this was particularly onerous on those foreign banks that had headoffices in the US or Europe.
"This is only going to get worse, rather than better, which means longer lead times between identifying candidates and getting them started in the organisation," said one.
A significant change in the Australian business environment in the past year ,which was having a very tangible impact on hiring was the tightening of the country's 457 visa policy. These four-year visas are allocated to foreigners offered jobs by Australian firms, and have been a political hot potato in recent years due to a backlash in some quarters against rising immigration.
Several of the recruiters said the new restrictions and steeper costs related to the 457 visa had made their jobs a lot harder, and would make it much more difficult to hire non-residents, even in scarce skills areas. Furthermore, several of the global firms said it was becoming ever harder even to rotate global team members to Australia for short-term contracts, due to tough immigration laws.
The issues that attracted the most discussion were gender diversity and flexible working. Many of the recruiters who attended the event said that the leadership of their firms were extremely committed to achieving gender targets in their organisations, and they felt that this buy-in from the top was critical to success.
It was also clear from the contributions from those present that Australian financial institutions based in Sydney were keen to embrace flexible working policies on a more comprehensive basis, particularly as an alternative to paying higher salaries.
However, as one acknowledged, not every facet of a financial institution was suitable for flexible working, and for the most part, all arrangements with employees had to be negotiated on an individual basis.
Looking ahead to 2014, most of the participants present said they would be looking at promoting internal mobility in their individual businesses due to greater difficulties in making external hires. A number of the institutions present said that they would continue to offshore functions to India, the Philippines and other parts of Asia to keep a lid on costs.
"Even with the cultural differences," said one, "and the initial costs and difficulties in establishing an offshore operation, it has worked very well for us."
Several companies said that there would be hiring "in some pockets of the business", while others said there would be job losses.
"A lot of 2014 will be about rebalancing the business," said the representative from one of the foreign banks present, "so this means growth in some areas, and rationalisation in others."