Hundreds of thousands of Australians are desperately looking for work — here are three of their stories
Searching for a job after redundancy can be soul-destroying, but it becomes crippling when you’re presented with further hurdles to finding work — sometimes outside of your control.
Today we’ll get a read on the official unemployment rate and it’s likely to show hundreds of thousands of Australians are now in a desperate search for work as lockdowns bite.
But job seekers have told us that competition for jobs, ageism, and pressure to take on volunteer work can damage your chances of getting back into the workforce, sometimes for good.
The application grind
Steven Elliott, a 52-year-old casual worker, knows how to pick up a new skill.
“First 16 years of my life I made pottery,” he says. “The next eight years I was employed at a hospital as an operating theatre technician.”
But he also knows well what it’s like to be out of work for years at a time, and the burden that comes with receiving JobSeeker payments.
“I think it was two or three years,” he says. In that time he says he applied for more than 1,600 jobs.
“Oh, you’ve got no idea … I found it so difficult,” he says. “I’d hate to be someone who was even older than me.”
To qualify for Centrelink payments, many job seekers are directed towards the government’s recruitment program, designed to help them get back into work.
But Steven found the process difficult and after cycling through eight different recruitment firms he says he gave up the job search.
“Job agencies, they’re impossible to deal with as well, because they don’t care about getting you a job,” he says.
“All they care about is ticking the boxes so they can get paid.”
The age barrier
For some, the challenges begin with the interview process.
Communications specialist Julia Austin believes her age is the main barrier to her finding work.
“Walking into an interview and knowing straight-up, from the look on people’s faces, that I have no chance of getting that job,” the 62-year-old says. “You can tell they’re just going through the motions.”
She says she’s experienced “loads” of those types of interviews, particularly over the past two years.
“I noticed a decline in my career from the minute I turned 50,” she says.
She’s required to apply for four jobs a month with the help of government recruitment agencies.
“So if you want to get a job, you have to deal with these external recruitment agencies,” she says.
“They’re useless, absolutely useless … however they get paid when I get my own job.”
She says having someone else benefit from her “own abilities to get a job” has been soul-destroying and worries that potential employers will look down on her for being out of work for more than 12 months.
“After one year they put you on another list, so the number of jobs you have to apply for lessens,” she says.
“So I went from eight or 12, to now four, and that’s because I’m perceived as unemployable.”
A government spokesperson told us they expect employment providers to “help job seekers get into work as contracted” and may sanction those that fail to meet this obligation.
If job seekers feel they are not getting the right help they should speak to their provider in the first instance or if they are not happy with the response, call the national customer service line, they said in a statement.
Julia currently receives $683 a fortnight from Centrelink, but it’s not enough to live on so she’s eating into her savings.
“I would love to have a job for the next seven years,” she says.
“My plan was to pay this house off, and at the minimum be on the pension but at least have my own house — this house is part of me.
“And I just need a job so I can throw everything I have at it and pay it off.”
The push to volunteer
Jennifer Weir has PhD but recently her museum research role was made redundant.
As an academic and historian, she says she never dreamed she’d be living on Centrelink payments.
“The whole experience with Centrelink has made an initial depression anxiety condition worse because they are constantly on your case,” she says.
“Because of the anxiety I have suffered, I only have to look for 10 jobs [per month].”
She says Services Australia is directing her to further training and work experience but she hasn’t found the suggestions helpful so far.
“I was advised to do a VET course which was basically covering stuff I was doing years ago in another course and it was mind-numbingly boring,” she says.
“They said they could easily organise volunteering work for me and not to worry [because] I could work at Vinnies.
“That was not going to help me become more employable.
“So I … approached the museum on my own and arranged volunteering with them and I actually enjoyed it and learned some very useful things.”
The government says voluntary work is a way for “job seekers to gain and maintain personal and workplace skills and continued connection with the community”.
But Jennifer hopes other job seekers will look to internship programs as a way out of long-term unemployment.
“There are a lot of people who don’t have that background, and would just end up in something that will not help their employment prospects, and will just end up in some boring, depressing, dead-end job.”
You could say casual worker Steven found a “dead end” job — but he’s perfectly happy with it.
“What I do now is actually quite good … I work casually for a funeral director,” he says.
“I’ve got to set up all the stuff at the cemetery, all the chairs and the mats and what’s called the lowering device.
“One week I might have a full week of work, and that’s definitely better.”