Change is the only constant in jobs market

I've been thinking a lot about jobs lately. Seems to me the changing nature of the Australian workforce has produced two big trends that, combined, are both unsettling in one sense, and exciting in another. The first big trend, for white collar workers in particular, has been the encroachment of our working lives into our private lives. Gone are the 9 to 5 jobs. The advent of smartphones and ''CrackBerries'' means barely an hour goes by when we're not in contact with our employers, colleagues and contacts. I'm fairly certain I spend more time each day talking to colleagues than to my actual family.

And yet, the more atomised nature of the workforce means we're also more likely than at any other time to change jobs and employers. Generation Ys were never meant to stay in one place for too long. It is estimated Gen Ys will have about 10 career or job changes in their lifetime.

So at the same time we are spending more time with our colleagues, we are also more likely to up and leave them. It can be wrenching.

But it's not just young people. There is a massive churn that goes on every month in the jobs market that is hidden in the official stats.

The latest official jobs report, released by the Bureau of Statistics on Thursday, conveys an overly simplified view of the real flux and change that goes on in the jobs market.

Or perhaps you didn't hear there was a jobs report out this week. Bad job reports will always get more attention than good reports. And this week's report was a zinger.

In the face of global storm clouds, the Australian economy remains doggedly resilient. Despite high-profile job losses at Caltex and Darrell Lea, the national jobless rate dropped from 5.3 per cent to 5.2 per cent. In total, 14,000 more people were employed last month than the month before.

But it's more complicated than that.

Keep in mind that saying 14,000 more people were employed is not the same as saying 14,000 jobs were created in the month. The headline jobs figure of 14,000 is a ''net'' figure - the balance of all the jobs created and all the jobs destroyed in the month. In fact, many tens of thousands of jobs were both created and destroyed. But on balance, there were more gains than losses.

For every job lost at Caltex or Darrell Lea, another job was created in health services, mining and other industries, and then some.

To get a real picture of the constant flux and change always under way in the labour market, it is necessary to delve into the bureau's ''gross flows'' data.

The monthly labour force report is compiled through a survey of a sample of Australians asking them if they were employed or not in the previous week (and yes, it's true that it counts anyone as working one hour or more as employed, in line with international standards). Respondents typically participate in the monthly survey for eight consecutive months before dropping out.

It is possible, then, to track individuals to see, over time, how many who were employed in one month were suddenly not employed the next. Or vice versa, jobless one month, and employed the next.

Economist Bruce Chapman had a look at the monthly gross flows data in a paper last year for The Australia Institute. His findings are astonishing.

On average in every month between 1998 to 2010 about 372,000 people who were jobless in one month were employed the following month.

Conversely, about 368,000 people who were employed in each month were jobless in the following month.

Breaking that down from monthly into hourly figures, that means that every working hour of every day, about 1530 Australians lose their jobs. But it's OK. Every working hour of every day, about 1550 Australians get a new job.

Change is the only constant when it comes to the modern jobs market.

The story Change is the only constant in jobs market first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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