JPGbPresented exclusively by the Top Office Group, Executive Outlook is our annual study, based on in-depth interviews with over 60 local businesses. We presented these highlights to a large gathering of leaders last week. Executive Outlook is an authentic study that explores prevailing confidence, challenges, skill shortages and reinvention trends across our region. We can now share some highlights with you.

Ray Kurzweil is a renowned Futurist. He says: In the 21stcentury; we will witness in the order of twenty thousand years of progress (at today’s rate of progress).’ This breakneck speed of change formed an underlying theme of our research.

We found confidence was clearly linked to our sector. Optimism was through the roof compared to past years, but one in five firms are concerned (and that group was up too).

The world economy still feels weird. Our main concern is what that means for the rest of us. We are connected to the superpowers, so if they catch a cold, so do we. Many of us are “crisis fatigued” – but don’t take your eye off the ball, because:

We are living through one of the most disruptive periods in history ever.

Over half of the firms in Executive Outlook are confident, and with good reason.

There is sustained growth across Aged Care, and its supply chain (such as health, financial services and hobbies). Baby boomers are keen to age with vitality, so we’ll seek ways to stay that way.

Professional services and public sectors are performing well. Other services such as car sales and “all things coffee” are thriving (proof that we all love a set of wheels and good coffee, irrespective of changing fortunes).

On the other hand, 19% of firms were concerned. In manufacturing and retail fields, where competition is intense, some firms have been forced to sell product at or below cost to gain traction.

Last year, Executive Outlook found our top challenge was generating new business. This came through again. In fact, improving productivity AND generating new business ran neck and neck, ahead of tight margins.

We are all trying to solve these issues in our own way. Some firms have streamlined processes to cut costs. Others have every expense under the microscope.

Overall, retention is more of a challenge than sourcing, and we tend to expect more of our top people today. This creates challenges around balancing salary expectations and workloads with viability. One employee in our survey eloquently expressed this, “Salaries have reduced yet my work output has increased. I guess  I am doing this because I love the company”.

Executive Outlook found that 31% of firms plan to recruit new staff (which surpassed our last 3 surveys).  Others would love to bring on more staff, but commercial reality dictates otherwise.  Overall, hiring activity has strengthened and roles are turning around faster.

When it came to skills shortages, 4 years ago, almost 60% of firms in Executive Outlook reported shortages. The difference now is over 70% expressed NO shortages, so we have come full circle.

For the 30% reporting shortages, qualified, experienced accountants are sought after. At the same time, there’s a tsunami of retirees all headed for the exit door. The challenge is finding enough finance professionals to cope with this emerging market.

It can also be tricky to find the right people with business acumen in niche pockets, such as project managers and business developers. There continues to be strong demand for experienced healthcare professionals.

We, at the Top Office Group, tend to be a “barometer” of trends. From our observations, there is less demand for graduates, as more entry-level roles are absorbed. The market is favouring experienced people with transferable skills. It’s a model where everyone is accountable for business development from the top down, so leadership comes from a sales focus. This reflects intense competition and higher customer expectations. Today’s world is about finding opportunities, building relationships and responding fast, with a workforce structure that can flex and bend as you need to.

The job market is on the mend, but it’s a slow burn. The mining, manufacturing and automotive sectors have shed thousands of jobs. In the process, workers with these particular skills are laid off, but they can’t learn new skills fast enough.

Our new economy relies on different skills, with a definite shift towards specialised and technical roles. As traditional jobs disappear, this widens the mismatch between job seekers and roles.

91% of firms we interviewed are experiencing this (that’s almost all of us). You told us of electrical engineers applying for civil roles, retailers applying for finance roles and mining executives applying for administrative roles. The consensus was if you advertise, you don’t get what you ask for. It is both painful and costly

A study by (PWC) Pricewaterhouse Coopers found that 40% of our workforce face being replaced by computers in the next 5 years (that’s over 5 million jobs).

Almost any “process” can be computerised, whether it’s in a robot or embedded out of sight. When we look around, jobs are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Self-service checkouts have undermined cashier jobs. Driverless cars, trucks and buses are on track to displace drivers. Hopefully, they’ll still co-operate with people (but who knows?) It’s sad to see so many DVD stores and newsagents close, as people walk away from their dreams. We use machines and smart phones to bank and pay bills. But where are all the workers?

3D printers are set to turn manufacturing on its head. Imagine a world where you just download a design from the cloud, and print – shoes, tools, electronics – whatever you want. They’ve just created a titanium ribcage from a 3D printer, and customised it for a man with cancer. It was implanted as one piece, in the perfect shape for him. This is simply amazing.

Some jobs today won’t exist tomorrow. That’s how it works. However, the sky’s not falling in – far from it. There will be plenty of creative jobs that robots can’t do. You can’t automate our empathy, knowledge, social skills and advice. It’s this ability to connect, and invest in relationships that makes the difference (not cold calling off a database). Our personal touch is how we can be authentic.

Department of Employment projects a bright future, with over 800,000 new jobs created by 2018.

A host of cheaper and faster technologies will emerge. IT specialists who can manage big data, market products on-line, or design virtual platforms are in demand. These are the minds behind Google, YouTube and Facebook.

Finance specialists, engineers, lawyers and teachers are all areas of need. There will always be work for skilled plumbers, electricians, carpenters (any trade really). Also, I can’t see robots replacing hairdressers anytime soon – imagine a robotic Edward Scissorhands styling your next ‘do’?

We have great empathy for job-seekers, but turning a blind eye just won’t cut it. Our advice is to know where jobs are going. Volunteer, get out of your comfort zone and stay curious. Curiosity has always been the way for creative, high-achievers, and always will be. The core competency of the future is an ability to learn and unlearn just as quickly.

Our survey of 200 job-seekers found their top three top drivers at work are job stability, growth, and salary (in that order). The big difference this year is job stability gazumped work culture as their top priority. Culture has topped all our past studies, but scarcely got a look in this time. Today, stability trumps everything.

Over half of our respondents cited redundancies as the reason for leaving their last role. In past years, bad management has topped their list. Today, job security wins hands-down.

In summary, candidates are less keen to move jobs, but there’s no return to the days when employers held all the cards. So, if we don’t look after them, they will still vote with their feet. One of the clear messages is to spell out your benefits, especially when it comes to stability, values, social awareness and opportunities. This is what resonates most.

We’re delighted to announce that Lyn Saunders was the winner of our Ipad competition, announced by Mayor Paul Pisasale at our luncheon. The prankster in Paul took over, and she took the bait on late rate payments (to the chorus of laughter and applause). Well done, Lyn.

Since 1989, our vision at Top Office has been to make a difference. We have stood the test of time to evolve into a dynamic 2nd generation business. Succession was not something we planned. We just loved what we did and thought we could create an ethical business that we could be proud of. Belinda has done an amazing job of leading TOP into the next generation, to create sustainability and longevity for our family and staff.  As our co-founder with John, there is no greater purpose in life.

26 years is a big milestone for us. To our Top team of staff, clients, students and candidates, thank you for helping to make this a reality, and for your support and friendship.

Jan Gadsden