Monday, June 4, 2012

hot potato, hot potato

Part four of a series of whinges. Part one starts here

Those of us who are baby boomers will remember the late 60s early 70s when Australia had ‘over full employment’; the opposite of unemployment, this meant that there was a severe shortage of workers.
It was possible to get a job by simply ringing/turning up in response to an ad, and if the job was already taken, another hour of looking would find you a job somewhere. If it wasn’t much of a job you could just walk out and get a different one before you went home to dinner.

Of course, now we are part of the global economy and live in the real world where unemployment is – at the right level – taken to be a natural state of affairs.

The school leaving age was 15. We were probably used to working because the law did not prevent us from getting part time jobs as kids. When I was thirteen I worked 25 out of school hours a week in a local milk-bar, and paid board. B1, as a boy, was able to secure a job selling [the afternoon newspaper] the Herald, and made a fortune in tips from the drunks spilling out into streets just before the pubs closed at 6 pm.

Technology was not changing at any great, noticeable rate, and so long as we could read, write and count there was a wide range of occupations to choose from. Filing documents was the bread and butter of many people.

If there was any post-school training needed for a job, it was provided by the employer.
The world is not just different now because we are part of the global economy, or even because something as simple as going to the bathroom now requires a permit.


Now, a tertiary education is no longer something reserved for middle and upper-class kids. The jobs market is competitive and it is up to those looking for work to make and keep themselves employable. It’s called life-long learning because that’s what it takes to stay employed. Unfortunately, as branches of technology become increasingly specialised and as the number of rules and regulations we live by has grown exponentially, choosing self-funded training is a bigger gamble than ever for wage-earners. Even with training, we can quickly become obsolete.

There are several ways an unemployed person can acquire the training needed to find a job.

The first way is to qualify for unemployment benefits. If you are a long-term unemployed person, the government might pay for a course so you can work in a job where there is a skills shortage. Currently, this usually means performing very basic tasks in an aged care facility, where the wages are so small they reflect a very sad attitude to the elderly. Ditto childcare.
The second way is to train yourself. If you do not have a qualification but qualify for assistance you can get a living allowance, and borrow from the government to pay fees.
The right to borrow fees has only just been extended to some TAFE courses.

The second way, if you are not receiving benefits, is to train yourself without any living allowance. If you do not already have a qualification at the level you want to train in, you can borrow the cost of fees from the government.

Without or without income support, there is a sort of catch 22. You cannot claim the cost of fees as a tax deduction unless you are already working and the training is immediately relevant to your current occupation. [A letter from your employer saying the training is necessary will usually keep the tax department happy.]

In both cases, the challenge is choosing the type of training most likely to land you a job. I’ve written before about the ‘casualisation of the labour force’, and the fact that there are three different types of certificate you have to choose from just for food handling – one might get you a job making sandwiches in a cafĂ©, another might get you a job in a food processing factory, and a third type might get you a job serving food in a hospital or aged care facility.
Many of these Training organisations are shonky – either you pay up front then lose your money if they fold, or you get a piece of paper employers treat with contempt.
If the parents paying huge fees for their kids to attend Mowbray college did not know it was about to collapse, how can the ‘little people’ hope to safely invest in practical job-training?

Now let me tell you about my situation – not as a job ad but because it illustrates quite well what I’m on about.
Firstly, I have a diploma in writing and editing. There are jobs out there, but I can’t for the life of me work out facebook, twitter, and a heap of other social media whose logos mean nothing to me. I did try to find courses in these but if and where they existed they were hideously expensive, interstate, and assumed that you already knew something about them i.e. you must already have a Facebook account.

Secondly, I have done some incredibly complex quality work in a manufacturing environment. This was not just your standard quality standard but one where, for example, I wrote a program to assess manufacturing capability, estimating how many parts coming off an assembly line are likely to be within tolerances, how many would be rejects, specifying the manufacturing parameters most likely to keep good parts coming, and a system for statistical monitoring of quality so we would know if a process was drifting south. Beyond experience, I have no qualifications in this area. A “6 Sigma black belt” costs the sun, moon and stars, [no tax deduction] and the car industry is dead [or should be].

Add to this, health and safety in a manufacturing environment. I’m proud to say that by the time I was finished, workers were no longer cutting off the tips of their fingers, or passing out in small booths from the effects of chemical sprays. No qualifications.
Because I already have a TAFE Diploma [editing] I would have to pay unsubsidised fees for relevant TAFE courses. Again, because Health and Safety legislation is not national legislation, the whole of such a qualification is not transportable across state lines.

So, enough about me, let’s get back to mining. Again, I’ve written about this before. After hours going through the SEEK [job listing] website, what I confirmed is that there are a million mining jobs out there, but if you don’t have experience and/or qualifications you have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting one.


In a comment on my last post I put a link to a good article about the import of mining workers on a 457 temporary [skills] visa.

Check out the tyre on this mother trucker:

As it is, if I need to change a tyre on the little dinky care I drive, I have to literally jump on the nut loosening doo-hickey to loosen the nuts. As the photo shows, one would need muscle and at least some clues if one needed to deal with a mining industry tyre – hydraulic gizmos or not.

There are a million ads out there for mining industry training courses. But how shonky are the Training Organisations? Mining companies are looking for electricians, chippies and other tradespeople for the 4 or 5 years it is going to take just to build the super mine at Roy Hill.

We used a lot of migrant labour to build the Snowy Mountains Hydro electric scheme after WW II, but the days when unskilled labour was useful are long gone.

It seems, at the very least, there is a yawning gulf between jobs available and training available, especially in the mining industry.

There are already 140,770 workers in Australia on temporary 457 visas.

Until Rudd put a stop to it, most overseas students [a source of export income for us] would do something like this:
  • Get a bachelor degree in IT
  • Get a TAFE certificate in hospitality [making coffee and making up hotel beds etc]
  • Get a good qualification as a hairdresser.

Armed with these 3, a would-be migrant could clock up enough points against a skills shortage list to get a foot in the door, then in 3 years qualify for citizenship. Many of these courses were good, and some of them were shonky. Three different qualifications can’t all be used at once.

Last Friday, along with 599 other people, my fixed term contract came to an end. The employer kindly provided a short in-house course on how the write a CV putting a really positive spin on our experience as data processors/keyboard operators. Most of the people in this job have years of experience in specialised fields, but no formal qualifications. Many others have enough pieces of paper to decorate all the walls of a house, but few of us have anywhere to go next.

Unlike many of the people who have been recently laid off in Victoria and other eastern states, I don’t have a mortgage to pay off or a family to support. Also unlike these people, many of our 600 people will soon be part of the ‘hidden unemployed’.

Treasurer Wayne Swann, meanwhile, goes on and on about how solid our economy is and, to be fair, we are doing some things right that that other large countries aren’t. But he is still living in fairyland. The uber-rich have recently been given a hugely generous maternity leave program, while the dole is totally unliveable. Pensioners are struggling to survive, while superannuation savings are going down the plughole.

Currently, the hot potato of training for employment is being tossed about between the Federal Government, State Governments, workers and employers.

What am I hoping for from our government[s]?
  • Provide some tax deductibility for self-training if we train in an area where there is a skills shortage;
  • Clean up the training industry – especially job placement providers funded by Centrelink;
  • Extend the availability of HECS fees [loans] for higher education;
  • Make the dole a little more liveable for those with families and/or mortgages;
  • Reduce some of the perks available to long term jail residents and improve the quality of life of pensioners;
  • Co-ordinate job training and relocation for those willing to go west and get into the mining industry.
  • Don’t resort to vilifying unemployed people.

Well, there’s more, but these would be a start.

I applaud the Australian government for not resorting the printing money. I deplore their twisted priorities, and their constant bungling.
I don’t want to talk the economy down, I’m just trying to be realistic. Every worker – especially in manufacturing – who has been laid off and is about to lose their house or let down their kids deserves better.
More importantly, house prices are about to melt down so badly they’ll be oozing under the door.

As the housing industry has for a long time been a major indicator of the country’s economic health, abandoning real workers is economically stupid as well as callous.


  1. It's going to be a bloody bumpy ride shortly...

    1. To be honest, I'm partly glad I have no super, and partly concerned about how we can pay bills. Supply charges are such a great portion of power and gas bills though that we don't feel guilty for keeping the heating on.

  2. I'm glad to be retired and on a full super pension for life which i saved for all my working life, so now i don't have to answer to anyone only myself :-).

    1. Sounds like a good position to be in, Windsmoke. No wonder you've got time for sitting and thinking - something you do rather well :)

  3. Sounds much like where our economy and unemployed have/are suffering here in the US. There are no easy answers in any direction and the politicians ... well they bungle everything they do so not much hope there. Chin up and I'll send positive energy your way.

    1. Thanks MTW, I'm blown away by your kind and generous thoughts!
      Everyday bungling is usually just irritating, but it gets to me that so many people are in dire straits when it's so unnecessary. I know I'm well off compared to many, and it's been horrible to see what has happened to so many people in America - I hope it doesn't get that bad here too.
      Keep those amazing photos coming - they're enough to brighten anyone's day!

  4. And 'workers' get regular holidays - what about the unemployed whose 'job', so they get told, is to 'find a job'? Why not 4 weeks off a year if there are no jobs to be had?

    1. Never thought about that... would that include leave loading? Or would not having to jump through hoops for Centrelink be holiday enough?

      [Welcome Back, BTW]