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Plight of the 'skilled unemployed'

By Beth Doherty - posted Thursday, 25 June 2009

At first I avoided it. I avoided filling out forms and jumping into the endless queues at my local Centrelink office. I reasoned that Centrelink is for those who are in real need, people who are struggling to make ends meet.

Centrelink is a safety net for those who are out of work; unable to work; with limited capacity to work; or studying to improve suitability for work. None of this particularly applied to me. After returning home from six months of volunteer work overseas, my plan was that I would spend a couple of weeks looking, and that after a few resumés were sent out, the phone calls would start pouring in.

They didn't. Almost two months after my return to Australia (with less than two dollars to my name and a huge credit card bill) I had had one job interview, sent out resumé after resumé, addressed numerous selection criteria, and written page-long cover letters touting my attributes to potential employers.


All of this happened quickly. Two years ago, I was in the position where I was finishing up one job on Friday and starting the next on Monday. I'd received three or four job offers before settling on one near my home.

Each week, as part of my previous job working with adult migrants in Sydney's South, I would sign forms and fax letters verifying that, yes indeed, my students were fulfilling their activity agreements by attending language classes.

Now, I found myself on the other side of the desk. Every two weeks, I had the unenviable experience of going into my local Centrelink office to report on all paid work and voluntary work completed over the specified time period. My activity agreement required me to apply for 10 jobs a fortnight. By this point I'd applied for well beyond that figure with little success.

It was reported on June 11 by the Sydney Morning Herald that job losses during the month of May pushed the unemployment rate up to 5.7 per cent.

“If you look over the last six months, we've had about 80,000 full-time jobs lost in that period of time, and pretty much no overall job creation,” said Su-lin Ong, senior economist at RBC.

Sadly, to be employed doesn't always mean full-time or permanent part-time employment. One could work a casual job for five hours a month, and still not be included in unemployment statistics. Thousands of underemployed workers are unable to survive on the hours they are given.


Similarly, thousands of skilled migrants who want to work are placed in language learning programs as a way of reducing the unemployment statistic.

“The rise in unemployment is remarkable,” said JP Morgan economist Helen Kevans. “It's the highest since 2003 and a sign of things to come.”

As I wrote letters recommending my skills and qualifications to potential employers, my empathy for my former students grew. No wonder many just give up trying. It is a hard thing to do, to present yourself in a positive light, rejection after rejection. You stop believing the things you write. You start to wonder if your qualifications, experience or even human dignity mean anything in this money-driven economy.

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First published in on June 22, 2009. 

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About the Author

Beth Doherty is Communications Officer of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

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