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How the sector responded and led during COVID-19 and lessons moving forward

From a global alliance to several partnerships with government bodies, the actions of the agency sector were swift, strategic and collaborative in response to COVID-19. In this article we look at how the sector responded and the efforts required to lead the recovery through helping people into work, and sooner.

There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered one of the greatest economic crisis of the modern era, however the staffing and recruitment sector has been working tirelessly to help get our economy, businesses and the workforce back on track through a series of industry and government initiatives.

From a global alliance with leading HR companies, to a partnership with the Federal Government to ensure continuity of aged care staff and a collaboration with the Queensland Government to get job seekers back to work, the actions of the sector were swift, strategic and collaborative.

And the work has only just begun.

The Leveraging Australia’s Agency Workforce To Drive Economic Recovery report, commissioned by RCSA and conducted by FTI Consulting, estimates accessibility and leveraging of the agency workforce will boost the nation’s economic recovery by almost $1 billion.

It also states that around $200 million can be delivered to the Australian Government through Jobseeker savings and additional tax revenue generated from the extra jobs which will be created.

The report, which uses experience and evidence to assess the role of Australia’s agency workforce in accelerating our economic recovery, found businesses which drew on agency workers in challenging times were likely to recover at a faster pace than their competitors.

RCSA CEO Charles Cameron said while the pandemic was debilitating for many sectors and individuals, it has also seen a seismic shift in the way organisations, employers, industry groups and government work together towards economic recovery.

“This has been an important time in history for many reasons and has shown the remarkable resilience and adaptive capacity of our industry,” Charles reflected. “The role played by the sector in responding to the needs of Australia and New Zealand has been quite incredible.

“This has ranged from filling 25,000 critical aged care shifts in Melbourne, to finding people to fill supermarket shelves during panic buying and manning the phones to provide critical advice on behalf of government.

“Our support for one another in times of need has been nothing short of remarkable but there is more which still needs to be done. Our sector will play a huge role in leading the recovery through helping people into work, and sooner.

“The recovery of our economy and society will rest very much in jobs, jobs and more jobs and this is where we will continue to rise to do our part.”

Central to this are a number of new initiatives and partnerships RCSA has helped to drive.

Temporary Surge Workforce Initiative

The Temporary Surge Workforce Initiative is a partnership between the RCSA and the Federal Government designed to ensure continuity of aged care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is available to residential aged care providers, Home Care Package providers and providers of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program (NATSIFACP), in cases where there is a COVID-19 outbreak.

The initiative includes access to a temporary surge workforce to fill critical roles where staff are prevented from working because of quarantine or infection in addition to access to emergency response teams and remote locums.

Under the Temporary Surge Workforce Initiative, members, particularly within RCSA’s Association of Nursing Recruitment Agencies (ANRA), have placed 2000 agency workers in 25,000 vital shifts in aged care, most notably throughout Victoria, which has helped fill the gaps left by workers who have needed to isolate and allowing permanent staff to take much-needed breaks.

“We are proud to be working with the Federal Government to help the aged care sector navigate the challenges of COVID-19,” Charles explained. “We welcomed the opportunity to leverage the breadth and depth of our member networks to help ensure there are no gaps in care for elderly residents.”

Jobs Finder Queensland

RCSA partnered with the Queensland Government to launch the Jobs Finder Queensland initiative in May 2020 which connects jobseekers with Queensland-based staffing and recruitment agencies to help businesses fill high demand, frontline roles during the pandemic.

The focus for the program is to support businesses in priority industries to connect with jobseekers who have been displaced from their jobs because of the pandemic.

The industries targeted for the program include health, the aged care sector, customer care medical, food production, logistics, manufacturing, fast moving consumer goods (FCMG), security, fresh produce and cleaning.

The Jobs Finder Queensland project has been extremely successful to date helping many jobseekers into work since being launched.

This included Matthew Abbott, a 49-year-old from North Booval who started a new logistics role one week before the pandemic resulted in Queensland going into lockdown. His employer struggled because of retractions and Matthew was subsequently let go.

Within 24 hours of registering on the Jobs Finder Queensland website, Matthew received a call from a registered agency and was placed into a role as a forklift driver and high-reach picker for Logan’s CEVA Logistics.

“I was a bit surprised they got me the job so quickly,” Matthew explained. “It saved my bacon and I’m really glad that I didn’t have to go crawling to the bank to put my mortgage on hold and that I’ve been able to keep everything going during this time.

“I was really worried due to my age and what was going on that I wouldn’t be able to find suitable employment ever again.

“These kind of programs are absolutely vital in this climate to get as many people working as quickly as possible. I just encouraged a mate to register just yesterday.”

Industry alliance

Just as the impact of COVID-19 was being felt across the globe, three of Australia’s largest HR and employment agencies - Randstad, Adecco Group and ManpowerGroup – joined forces to work with RCSA under an alliance to help get staff safely back in employment.

The global alliance, announced in April 2020, set to share industry best practices with its international partners to assist economic recovery by helping the workforce and employers adjust to a post-COVID world.

The alliance invited employers, unions, NGOs and government to join the collaboration, to facilitate the safe return to work for employees, allowing businesses and the economy to recover from the greatest economic crisis of modern times.

Working Sooner Campaign Shining a spotlight on this hard work and the pivotal role the sector played during the pandemic and beyond was a core focus for the launch of RCSA’s Working Sooner campaign in August.

RCSA’s Head of Advocacy Brooke Lord said the Working Sooner campaign, which ran across radio, television, social media and print media ads, was created to illustrate the value and importance of the sector to the workforce, decision makers and employers.

“Australian job agencies employ more than 350,000 people and we have connected more than 100,000 with work since the COVID-19 crisis began,” Brooke said of the role agencies play in economic recovery.

“FTI Consulting’s Leveraging Australia’s agency workforce to drive economic recovery report shows job agencies and the agency workforce plays a significant role in helping businesses and the labour market manage their way through economic downturns and to bounce back.

“As we work to recover from COVID-19, the most urgent need is to find jobs for people who need them,” Brooke said. “That’s exactly what agencies do every day.”

Australian job agencies generate $28.7 billion in revenue annually, paid $20 billion in wages last year and account for 1.25% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product.

Charles said agencies will play a vital role in leading economic recovery as they help to move displaced workers from impacted sectors into areas of demand, quickly and efficiently.

“Workforce flexibility will be an even greater factor in short-term decision-making,” Charles said.

“The last thing Australia and New Zealand needs right now is for business to put employment on hold until things look more certain, which would simply extend the downturn and stifle job creation at a time when it is most needed.

“Agencies support business to find flexible workforce solutions that support their recovery. We help them flex up, flex down and across to meet changes in demand and to pivot to new lines of business.

“This will be key to the speed of our economic recovery.”

While proud of the agility and willingness of RCSA to drive and embark on collaborations, partnerships and alliances to support employment and staffing agencies, Charles is also quick to point out there is plenty of hard work still ahead.

“We have achieved some truly remarkable outcomes in the most trying of times and that is something we should stop and acknowledge as a sector,” he continued. “The value of the agency workforce has never been clearer than it is today, including its work in supporting the labour market and businesses to bounce back from hard times.

“What has been achieved, across industry and government is a greater awareness of the ability and benefits of leveraging the sector to speed up economic recovery and to deliver tangible outcomes in key priority areas, such as youth unemployment.

“We don’t altogether know what the future holds; this year has made us all well aware of that. But what we do know is that we are ready, willing and able to expand our work with governments and business to address labour market priorities moving forward.

“Now is the time our industry can and will shine more than ever before as it becomes a cornerstone to our country’s economic recovery.”

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