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A Comparison of Labour Markets and Policy Approaches in Australia, Canada, the UK, and Sweden


14 November 2023 — During the global pandemic, countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden experienced substantial economic and labour market disruption. Lockdowns led to steep declines in employment and spikes in unemployment. However, recovery was swift, with employment levels now surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

Post-pandemic, economies are nearing full employment. Yet global factors such as fragile economic conditions, supply chain issues, and the war in Ukraine have triggered inflation. Central banks have responded by raising interest rates, and signs indicate slowing labour markets.

All four countries now confront significant skills shortages, impacting productivity and future economic growth. Long-term unemployment, particularly in the United Kingdom and Australia, requires attention. Youth disengagement is a shared issue, with substantial numbers of young people not engaged in education, employment, or training.

Despite shared challenges, each country faces unique problems. Unlike other countries, Australia has seen strong employment growth but a declining share of full-time employment. Canada grapples with heightened youth impacts from the pandemic.

The evolving economic environment will affect employment services providers. As labour markets slow, providers can anticipate higher caseloads. The unemployed may face increasing disadvantages in a tougher job market. Innovative solutions, including job-specific skills training, are vital for preparing job seekers for the labour market’s eventual recovery. It is noted, however, that even in economic downturns, job opportunities persist.

An analysis paper has been produced by Malcolm Cook, which highlights common labour market and workforce challenges in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden over recent years. It also compares employment services and income support systems. Australia pioneered outsourcing employment services, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. Conditionality is a common feature; however, Australia’s stricter Mutual Obligation framework stands out:

Read the report, “A Comparison of Labour Markets and Policy Approaches in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden”

Malcolm Cook is an economist with extensive experience in labour market policy and analysis. Malcolm was a Lecturer in Economics at the University of New England and Southern Cross University and has authored over a dozen refereed publications on labour statistics, Australian economic history, economic policy, and health economics. After leaving academia Malcolm worked as an employment policy adviser in the Australian Public Service, contributing to the development of Australia’s employment services model, including Job Network, Job Services Australia, jobactive and the Remote Jobs and Communities Program. He now works with Angus Knight researching labour market trends and advising on employment policies.