Executive Outlook 2023 (Presentation highlights)

We were delighted to welcome close to 100 guests to our presentation of Executive Outlook 2023, held at the Ipswich Turf Club.  We extend a huge shout out to all the business leaders who shared their valuable insights.

Our survey reflects the views of businesses right across the greater Ipswich region, matched against broader trends (marking our 15th year). Here are some key highlights.

Business Sentiment

75% of leaders are optimistic, but this was tempered by a sense that the wheel could turn.

  • Demand for industrial space in the region has been extraordinary, but there are signs this trend may have peaked.
  • In the commercial space, investor and retail confidence is shaky. However, there is exceptionally strong demand for leasing to Government, NDIS and childcare providers.
  • This positivity flows onto legal and finance sectors, which are thriving.
  • The demand for IT services is massive, driven by the explosion in cybercrime.
  • Media outlets are going well, and say “we’re more resilient in this part of the world”.
  • Leaders in health, aged care and disability sectors are grappling with record growth, staff shortages and funding constraints.
  • The outlook in construction is buoyant, fuelled by population growth and housing shortages. Local agents told us landlords can’t win with costs and new regulations that go all the tenants’ way. 

“Governments need to incentivise investors back into the market … They need to fuel supply”.

  • Local schools and educators are experiencing rapid growth, amid strong demand and teacher shortages.
  • Interest rate rises have moderated trade in leisure markets and accommodation venues.

There is trepidation about the economy. 15% of local firms are neutral about the outlook, and a further 10% are concerned. This sentiment was captured in our survey:

 “The foot’s still on the accelerator, but watching for signs, and ready to lift onto the brake. Inflation, potential recession and wage growth are concerns”.

We grew Top Office in the 1991 recession, and beat the odds. That was so “last century”, but the message is the same. Find the right balance between technology and people. Embrace automation to lift productivity and cut costs. And invest in relationships, because the rest will soon be automated.


Our research showed that rising costs (in particular wages, fuel, rent and insurance), are being passed on to consumers carefully.

There is a sense that the worst is behind us. 19% of firms are no longer concerned about inflation.

The cost pressure of greatest concern relates to the rapid rise in wages.

“20% wage hikes, with no ability to pass this onto customers.”

“Wage hikes are squeezing margins”.

Wage growth addresses inflation and a tight labour market, but they’re not consistent with productivity offsets.

“Wage hikes without productivity fuel inflation”. 

We can lift productivity through automation, but we detected a reluctance to invest in the midst of uncertainty.  The focus is on bringing costs under control.

It begs the question: Will wage rises without a lift in productivity risk more job losses if there’s a global shock?  It’s a macro risk, but we’re all connected.

Top challenges

The labour market is still tight, but balancing pay expectations with viability is also front and centre.

New regulations are also a challenge for leaders, in the context of ever-shifting goalposts, and the opportunity cost for businesses.

Margin pressures, in particular maintaining margins and fierce competition, are growing concerns.

There is significant trepidation about falling consumer demand.

“Now is the time to consolidate. Smart owners expect turnover to retreat”.

Manufacturers shared concerns related to scale and productivity.

“We’re not competitive against cost of living and wages in China and other countries”.

Cyber security

Cyber security is top of mind for leaders.  This serves as a timely reminder to stay vigilant, back-up and use authentication codes, as well as complex passwords.

Our greatest risk is human error, and damage to our brand. Leaders shared their ideas (to name a few):

Educate, train and repeat”.

“Use best practice, encryption and a password manager”.

“Update all workstations, particularly Windows and virus protection”.

Skills Shortages

COVID triggered a surge in early retirements. People from all walks of life moved on to chase their dreams. So much knowledge walked out the door.

It now appears more retirees are being dragged out of their comfort zones. ABS statistics show there are 45,000 more 65+ workers than last year.  Migration has also helped fill the void.

This sheds light on the fall in local firms reporting skills shortages, which has dropped from 89% to 63%.

“It’s much easier to recruit now”. 

In-demand skills include:

  • IT technicians (across the board).
  • Medical, allied health, disability and aged care teams.
  • Accredited financial advisors:
  • Qualified accountants (and accounts support roles):
  • Procurement teams:
  • Teachers
  • Skilled trades, stores and forklift drivers.

On the flip side, artificial intelligence (AI) is playing havoc on careers. We now have news anchors and nurses on call 24/7 (and they’re so cute and alluring, you need to look twice).

As AI changes the scope of jobs, many will be in industries that haven’t been invented yet. This means constant renewal, up-skilling then starting again, as skill-sets morph into new ones.

The soft skills we need to master combine engagement, influence and empathy with technical skills, so our service is consultative (not just transactional).  This allows us to connect with clients and explore options to meet their needs.

“We need smart, thoughtful, outcome focused people, who are great communicators”.

It’s easy to train in technical skills, but harder to train in “soft skills”.

“I can teach you the craft, but I need learning agility.”

We’re adapting to these trends, to secure the skills we need:

“Our focus is on upskilling and multi-tasking to lift productivity”.

61% of leaders plan to grow headcount.

Based on your feedback, money is the main reason for employee resignations. Career growth, work pressure, commute and retirement also influence decisions.

We also surveyed a cross-section of our registered candidates, to explore their wish-lists. Their top 3 drivers are:

  • Flexible hours
  • Hybrid work
  • Training and development.

If you’re looking for a superstar, don’t forget to call our team at Top Office.


There’s no one-size-fits-all, but leaders were keen to share ideas on retention. Competitive pay, incentives, training, hybrid work top the list, as well as:

  • Treat people as part of the family.
  • Staff surveys to support their goals.
  • Equity for long-term staff.
  • Know what makes key players tick, and facilitate that.
  • Create a sense of belonging.
  • Workplace well-being programs.
  • Executive Coaching.
  • Opportunity to attend industry conferences, with peer networking.
  • Social get-togethers.
  • Extra personal leave.

Local companies with 4 day weeks in place give them the thumbs up:

“We find 4 day weeks are great for retention, reduce sick leave and lift productivity”.

“Staff are happier, less fatigued and enjoy work life balance with no loss of pay. This gives us a continuous manufacturing process”.

Work from Home

There’s a growing push from business to end the work from home era.

Your views on this were somewhat polarising:

“We’ve gained efficiencies in production output plus energy savings”.

 On the other hand:

“We offer work from home, but culture is lost. This has fractured the team”.

Some local firms offer work from home on a needs basis, rather than formal arrangements. They find this hasn’t reduced productivity, but staff prefer the camaraderie and culture of work.

Police, nurses and countless others don’t have this choice. From a healthcare perspective:

“We are people-based and operate 24/7. The last thing I want is technology telling us how to look after someone”.

Employers are responsible for Workplace Health and Safety assessments and site photos for staff to work from home unsupervised.  Is this a potential stress and incident minefield?

Another view is “employers might choose to outsource more tasks offshore, rather than hire workers they never see in the office anyway”.  Where would that leave Aussie jobs?

That’s why it’s important they come back to work. Besides, work’s about relationships, connections and a purpose greater than yourself.

That’s why we’re passionate about Executive Outlook, exclusive to Top Office Group. Our survey is a barometer of local trends, a forum to share ideas and keeps us connected to our community. We are so grateful to you for sharing your insights into our research – thank you.

Compiled by Jan Gadsden, Founder of Top Office Group Pty Ltd.