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Want higher wages? Unemployment near 50-year lows makes now the time to try to get a pay rise

By business reporter Emily Stewart 
Recruitment specialist Tarsh Soxsmith found a new job with higher pay and better conditions (ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

For years, Tarsh Soxsmith spent three hours a day commuting to work in Brisbane.

"I just constantly felt rushed,' she says.

"You just get up. I've got a two-year-old, so I get them ready and go to daycare drop off."

It was all getting too much, so she decided to search for another job with more flexibility.

As a recruitment specialist, she knew it was a good time to switch.

"It's a candidate's market at the moment," she observes.

A job ad in Western Australia offering a range of perks. (ABC South West)

That's because unemployment is at its lowest level in almost 50 years — at 4 per cent — so finding workers is becoming harder for employers.

Eva Kyndt — from Swinburne University's centre for the new workforce — says many migrants left during the pandemic and have not returned.

"Getting the high-skilled workers is more challenging than before," she says.

If you're thinking of switching jobs, 'now is the time'

"If you want to change sectors, do a U-turn, or go back to something you've enjoyed before, now is the time to actually do that," argues job search coach Karalyn Brown.

However, she recommends to first sit down and think hard about what sort of job you really want to do.

"Set yourself up in terms of having a good LinkedIn profile, reach out to networks and put yourself out there."

Ms Brown says you can also approach companies you aspire to work for, not just if they have job openings.

"A lot of people underestimate the value they can offer, and a lot of people really struggle to sell themselves," she says.

She advises to be bold and to consider applying for jobs that you may think are out of your league.

Or to consider even just asking your current employer for a pay rise, if you believe market rates have changed.

"Particularly if you've been in a job for a number of years and you're not considered a flight risk, there is a good chance you're being underpaid," Ms Brown said.

However, remember, money isn't the number one thing when it comes to your wellbeing, adds Ms Kyndt.

"Meaningful work was actually the strongest predictor," she said.

So, what 'carrots' are employers offering?

A competitive base salary is a start, but employers are offering all sorts of perks to attract the right staff.

Ms Soxsmith researched job ads broadly to find out what was on offer.

Here's the list of perks she found, on top of getting an improved base salary.

On offer for candidates: 

  • flexible work hours and location
  • four-day weeks
  • birthdays off each year
  • meals paid for by the boss and social events
  • volunteer or charity days 
  • a generous 12.5 per cent superannuation, as opposed to the current minimum of 10 per cent
  • company funded paid parental leave
  • paid health insurance for the family
  • option of a fully maintained vehicle or vehicle allowance
  • annual bonus structure
  • five weeks of holidays
  • study assistance
  • financial consultations.

Source: Tarsh Soxsmith

It's easier for some to switch jobs than others

For many professionals, such as Ms Soxsmith, there are opportunities to advance their careers.

She has been successful in finding a new job with a huge pay increase and many perks.

"A four-day work week, lots of flexibility being able to work around having a two-year-old, definitely a salary increase," she says.

And, without the commute, she'll have extra time to spend with her family, making all the difference to her working life.

 Alisha Kaiki starting working in aged care because she enjoyed caring for people (ABC News: John Gunn)

It's a different story for Alisha Kaiki, from Nowra in regional New South Wales.

She started working in aged care about five years ago, after looking after her elderly grandparents.

While there are many vacancies in aged care, Alisha found it hasn't resulted in offers of improved pay and conditions.

"It's very demanding, short-staffed, underpaid [and] very stressful," she explains.

Many of her colleagues are leaving.

Ms Kaiki would like to move on in a few years, but there are not as many options or places to study in regional areas.

Her dream would be to have a stable, government office job.

"Number one would be better pay, number two would be not having to work so many long hours and being physically and mentally exhausted like the way I have been."

Many workers who feel unable to individually bargain for improved pay or better conditions are pinning their hopes for improved pay on cases currently before the Fair Work Commission.

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Get all your news in one place