Job vacancies in Australia declined by 9 per cent from May to August 2023, marking the fifth consecutive quarter of decreasing demand for workers, despite still being relatively tighter than pre-COVID levels, according to most recent ABS data.

Both public and private sectors witnessed decreases in job vacancies, with the public sector showing resilience amid the downturn. Public sector job vacancies fell by 3,000, marking a 6 per cent decrease, while the private sector saw a more substantial decline of 35,000 job vacancies, equivalent to a 9 per cent decrease.

Kate Lamb, the ABS Head of Labour Statistics, said: ”The number of job vacancies fell by around 9 per cent between May and August, and has dropped by 18 per cent from the peak in May 2022.”

This decline in job vacancies corresponds with an increase in the unemployment rate over the three months leading up to August, indicating a tougher job market. However, Lamb pointed out that despite these changes, the labour market remains “tighter than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Job vacancies were still around 72 per cent higher than they were in February 2020,” Lamb noted. “That’s still around 160,000 more jobs that employers are looking for people to fill, as part of a pool of almost 400,000 vacancies.”


The shifts in job vacancies reflect the ongoing adjustments in the Australian labour market. While some sectors are facing challenges, others continue to provide opportunities for job seekers.

One notable sector to observe is the financial and insurance services industry. This industry has faced headwinds in recent times, with a 15 per cent drop in job vacancies this quarter. This decline is not only significant but also represents a unique distinction; it is the only sector with job vacancies lower than they were in February 2020.

The financial and insurance services sector’s struggles reflect broader economic dynamics. It’s a sector that has been navigating uncertainties stemming from the pandemic, changes in consumer behaviour, and evolving regulatory landscapes. These factors have led to a cautious approach by businesses, therefore, impacting their hiring decisions.


On the other end of the spectrum, the retail trade sector has shown remarkable resilience. With a promising 19 per cent increase in job vacancies, it stands out as one of the few sectors to experience growth during this period. The retail industry’s ability to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing landscape is evident in its hiring patterns.

The retail trade sector’s growth is emblematic of several factors at play. Consumer spending, supported by government stimulus measures, has remained robust. Additionally, the acceleration of e-commerce and changes in consumer preferences have driven demand for workers in the sector. The surge in job vacancies signals that retailers are actively expanding their teams to meet evolving customer needs.

Sector comparison to pre-COVID

Various industries have experienced significant changes compared to pre-COVID levels. Customer-facing sectors like arts and recreation services and accommodation and food services have shown impressive resilience, with job vacancies increasing substantially.


For example, the arts and recreation services sector has seen a remarkable 265.6 per cent increase in job vacancies since February 2020, reflecting renewed interest in leisure activities. Similarly, accommodation and food services have seen an 181 per cent increase in job vacancies as people return to dining out and travelling. Essential sectors like electricity, gas, water, and waste services have seen a 131.5 per cent increase in job vacancies, while health care and social assistance have experienced a 128.8 per cent increase. Manufacturing has also rebounded with a 104.8 per cent increase in job vacancies.

Despite recent growth, the retail trade sector has seen a 103.8 per cent increase since February 2020. Education and training, crucial to workforce development, has seen a 100.4 per cent increase in job vacancies. The demand for educators and trainers remains strong as Australia invests in its human capital.

While these sectors have seen growth in job vacancies compared to the pre-pandemic period, others have faced challenges. The financial and insurance services sector, as mentioned earlier, has seen a 5.2 per cent decrease in job vacancies since February 2020. This reflects the sector’s ongoing transformation in response to economic uncertainties and regulatory changes.


Beyond industry-specific trends, the data also provides insights into the state-by-state variations in job vacancies. Among the states and territories, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) recorded an 8 per cent decrease in job vacancies from previous quarter, marking the most substantial decline.

The ACT, home to the nation’s capital, has a unique economic landscape, heavily influenced by government activities and the public sector. The decline in job vacancies in this region may reflect adjustments within the public sector itself. As government departments and agencies adapt to changing priorities which can impact their hiring requirements.

However, Queensland’s performance stands out as a beacon of optimism. The Sunshine State recorded a 4 per cent growth in job vacancies since May, defying the broader trend of decline seen in other states and territories. Queensland’s resilience in the face of job market challenges suggests favourable economic conditions in the region.


A dynamic labour market

The ABS data suggests Australia’s labour market has been able to adapt and persevere.

While job vacancies have declined in recent months, the resilience of certain sectors and regions suggests opportunities for both employers and job seekers. Customer-facing industries continue to thrive as consumer confidence rebounds and restrictions ease, demonstrating resilience even in uncertain times.

As the nation navigates the post-pandemic landscape, the evolving job market reflects the broader economic adjustments taking place. It underscores the need for businesses to remain agile, employees to upskill, and policymakers to support sectors in transition.

For job seekers, the changing landscape means adapting to evolving job requirements and industry demands. While the labour market remains tighter than pre-pandemic levels, there are still opportunities for those willing to upskill and pursue employment in industries experiencing growth.

Employers, on the other hand, are navigating the complexities of hiring in a dynamic environment. The decrease in job vacancies may offer some respite, but the competition for talent remains fierce. Retaining skilled workers and attracting new talent remain key priorities for businesses across industries.

Main image by Marco Verch Professional/Flickr.