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Mar 23, 2012 02:06 PM IST | Source: ft.com

Working in Australia: the six biggest cities

Flanked by the architectural icons of Bridge and Opera House, Sydney's business centre lies within a beach-fringed harbour city that can feel like a holiday resort.

Working in Australia: the six biggest cities

Flanked by the architectural icons of Bridge and Opera House, Sydney's business centre lies within a beach-fringed harbour city that can feel like a holiday resort.

Yet Australia's most populous capital is one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities - and a strategic centre for banks, fund managers and insurance groups, along with other high-end services such as law firms, information technology and telecommunications providers.

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However, measures of business sentiment in the city have weakened as industries important to Sydney face rising costs and slowing demand

Among large Sydney-based employers announcing mass redundancies in recent weeks have been Qantas Airways, Westpac bank, clothing manufacturer Pacific Brands and investment bank Macquarie.

Inland, industrial estates on the fringes of the city are bearing the brunt of manufacturing job losses. Troubled steelmaker Bluescope announced last August that it would axe more than 1,000 workers and close one of two blast furnaces at Port Kembla, south of the capital.

Sydney has been "knocked around fairly aggressively", says Dean Davidson, executive general manager of Hudson, the recruiter.

But January employment figures suggest that new jobs are being created. New South Wales posted the biggest improvement among Australia's states and territories, with its seasonally adjusted jobless rate dropping to 5.2% from 5.6% in January.

"We are starting to see Sydney re-emerge again," says Mr Davidson.

Employer confidence is rising in the city's professional services, manufacturing and transport sectors, according to the latest quarterly expectations report published by Hudson in Australia.

Mr Davidson says areas of employment demand in Sydney include pharmaceutical and medical devices, and fast-moving consumer goods, along with specialist roles within the financial sector, such as wealth management and financial planning.

"ICT will remain reasonably strong, with [demand for] developers, technical consultants and project managers." Infrastructure projects, such as the overhaul of Sydney's rail system, also will spur demand for engineers, he says.

MELBOURNE

Often referred to as the nation's capital of food, wine and culture, Melbourne currently basks in the title of the best city in the world in which to live.

According to a survey of 140 cities by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Australia's second biggest city is peaceful, reliable and prosperous, with high quality hospitals and schools.

The eastern seaboard state of Victoria might lack resource riches, but its capital is home to the world's biggest mining company, BHP Billiton, the Australian headquarters of Rio Tinto and two of the country's biggest banks.

Like Sydney, however, Melbourne's once-strong industries have been suffering from exposure to weaker consumer confidence, a higher Australian dollar and volatile international financial markets.

"Melbourne has more manufacturing and less financial services than Sydney," says James Nicholson, managing director of Robert Walters, the UK-based recruitment group, in Australia.

"But it is still a white-collar, professional services-based centre that has a lot of international exposure to firms that are feeling the pinch."

Hudson's Dean Davidson adds that the city also has "fairly high exposure to the retail [sector], which has been under considerable pressure in the past year or two".

However, Melbourne "historically has been a strong market for sales and marketing people across all industry sectors", he adds. "Sales and marketing professionals will continue to see a growth in demand."

The healthcare sector and IT will "stay steady and strong", adds Mr Davidson.

Designers with fibre optic experience are in demand, according to Peter Gleeson, executive general manager of recruitment at Chandler Macleod.

Melbourne was confirmed last November as the operational hub for the Australian National Broadband Network, a A$36bn fibre optic network that will be the country's biggest ever infrastructure project.

"Specialist designers are sought after," he notes, "as is anyone with SAP experience, business analysts and project managers within the technology space."

BRISBANE

In recent decades, Queensland's vast mineral wealth has transformed its sleepy state capital into a fast-paced metropolis popularly known as Bris Vegas.

Around 180 resource companies are headquartered in Brisbane, along with large Australian employers such as airline Virgin Australia and Suncorp Metway, the insurer and bank.

The state government's so-called Smart State strategy has helped to diversify Brisbane's economy and boosted investment in high technology industries such as biotechnology.

Along the Brisbane River, the construction of an arts precinct has given Australia's third biggest city a cultural edge.

But Brisbane suffered a significant set back in January 2011, when the river which runs through the city burst its banks, causing A$7bn of damage to houses and infrastructure in the state's worst ever natural disaster.

A year after floodwaters brought the city of 2m people to a standstill, the Sunshine State capital is back on its feet.

"The level of optimism is still strong," says Dean Davidson of recruiter Hudson, based in Brisbane.

Sydney-based recruitment head James Nicholson notes: "Brisbane seems in some respects to mirror Perth. It is relatively separated from the anxiety felt elsewhere down the east coast of Australia.

In February, the city's Lord Mayor unveiled a 20-year plan to boost jobs and economic growth by repositioning Brisbane as a global centre for resource industry technologies and services.

Mayor Graham Quirk said the initiative could attract an additional 343,000 workers over the next decade and double the city's economy to A$217bn by 2031.

"For every direct job created in mining, a further 19 jobs are created across Brisbane in mining-related services and the great thing about these jobs is the majority of them are long-term high value professional services."

PERTH

It might be one of the world's most isolated cities, but Perth has entrenched itself as the nation's mining and energy capital.

Since the mining boom ignited in the mid-2000s, some of the biggest investors in Australian resources, including BHP, Rio Tinto, Chevron and Shell, have shifted thousands of executives to the West Australian capital.

Home grown miners such as Fortescue Metals Group, Woodside Petroleum and Hancock Prospecting - owned by Gina Rinehart, Asia's richest woman - are among the state's big employers, along with national retailer Wesfarmers, one of the world's largest retailers, which remains headquartered in Perth.

Although most mines in vast West Australia are situated hundreds of miles away, Perth is home to three quarters of the state's populace - a greater concentration than in any other Australian capital.

Many miners are employed in so-called Fifo - fly-in, fly-out - jobs that enable them to spend their six-figure salaries in Australia's fastest growing capital.

Says Mr Davidson: "There is a lot of new money in the West Australian economy so the big growth in banking [in Perth] has been around wealth management and financial planning.

Construction, property and engineering are also among the sectors to benefit from China's demand for the state's immense mineral resources.

While the boom has brought unprecedented opportunities to the city, many Perth residents are not on mining wages. Mr Nicholson says: "Perth is absolutely booming, but it is a one-sector boom. If you walk down the main retail strips, there are still a lot of closed shops."

ADELAIDE

Adelaide might be the city where Rupert Murdoch, the world's most powerful media baron, made his start with the Adelaide News, following the unexpected death of his father.

Since 2004, however, when News Corp shifted its corporate headquarters to New York, the South Australian capital has been largely off the national corporate radar.

"Adelaide is still, for most intents and purposes, a country town," says Mr Nicholson. "It doesn't operate at the same pace as other capital cities."

Healthcare is a "solid employer", while "government is pretty strong", notes Mr Davidson. "But there is no clear dominant sector. Adelaide is not a city that easily booms or busts. It is a very stable employment market."

However, BHP Billiton's planned A$30bn expansion of the Olympic Dam mine, which produces copper, gold and uranium, is set to transform Australia's fifth biggest city.

Construction of the world's largest open-pit mine, north of Adelaide, is estimated to require around 12,000 workers in the construction phase alone and thousands more in service support and associated development.

Mr Davidson says: "The timing of the Olympic [Dam] project is perfect in terms of stimulating infrastructure spend and general confidence in that region."

Among the beneficiaries will be businesses in mining and ancillary services, advanced manufacturing, professional services, housing and construction, he notes: "The next year and a half will be interesting, once we start to see the impact of significant projects."

CANBERRA

In May 1912, American architect Walter Burley Griffin won an international design competition. His prize: to design Australia's new capital city from scratch.

Built as a way of resolving the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, which both sought the title of capital, Canberra celebrates its centenary next year.

Government is still the main industry for the country's biggest inland city and remains the single largest employer in the Australian Capital Territory.

The steady growth of the Australia Public Service has buffered the city from the effect of downturns and the Territory's unemployment rate of 3.7% is the lowest in the nation.

"Consulting services to government still seem to engage most of the population," says Mr Nicholson.

But internet and communications technology is becoming more important to the city's economy. "A lot of large ICT players already have or are looking to grow their operations in Canberra to capitalise on federal government opportunities," says Mr Davidson.

Canberra is definitely a growing employment market, but it won't be rapid growth," he adds. "It will be controlled, sustained growth."

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