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My Midlife Career Crisis….

PART 1 – Grim times at the Job Network Office

It’s 9am on a Tuesday morning , I’m sitting in the waiting room of a government appointed Job Network provider, sitting quietly on a hard plastic chair I question all of my choices that had led me to this point. This is the kind of place that I had managed to avoid all of my life , I have been working in some way shape or form since the age of 14 , I have created and worked in 3 of my own companies and have had some truly amazing jobs that had taken me all around Australia, yet now at 40 I sit silently in this grim room surrounded by pierced teenagers, smart dressed ladies ready to re-join the workforce after raising their families and men like myself who are questioning what events had landed us here. I have had a very lucky life full of opportunities , I won the birth lottery being born a White Anglo-Saxon man in a first world country , Australia has a really great social security system , in which if you can jump through the burning hoops of the Government Department , you should have your basic needs met. After getting out of my own business after 6 years I decided to study full-time and finish my Bachelor’s degree whilst working part-time. When deciding to embark on this journey , I knew that financially it would be a bit of a struggle , but I was okay with the short term pain for the long term gains. As a “mature aged” student I was unlikely to be flipping burgers at my local McDonald’s or working the register at K-Mart like some of my class-mates , I knew I would have a bit of trickier time finding the kind of job which would give me the flexibility to study . After applying for about 30 jobs on my own , I decided to see the government sanctioned Job Network for help, which brings us back to the start of our story.

After around 25 minutes of sitting awkwardly in the waiting room , a young girl in her mid 20’s ushered me into a makeshift boardroom with other job seekers. We went through a presentation on how to be compliant so that we would receive government payments, given tips in the art of looking for work. Some of the tips were 1.Don’t go to the interview Drunk 2. Make sure you haven’t done drugs the night before and 3.It was better if we in fact wore clothes to the interview rather than pajamas, at which point I broke out in laughter , the woman’s icy glare made me aware she was deadly serious and at some point an applicant had turned up in their ‘Peppa-Pig Onesie’ for that dream job. After 30 minutes of the “do’s and the don’t ” we were then married up with our Job Network case workers. My case worker was a well dressed woman in her late 40’s , she scanned my resume , looked me up and down and made the judgement I was ‘Job Ready’ and she predicted I wouldn’t be on the job market very long which was nice to hear, she went through my paperwork and suggested the types of jobs I may like to consider .Together we put together an action plan , which mirrored exactly what I had been doing the month before I walked into her office. She asked me if I would consider doing any training programs to help me find that forever job. After I explained that I was a full-time student and once I completed my degree I would be working in that field the mood changed drastically . ” So why are you here ?”, she asked. I explained my circumstance and she looked very puzzled, reading between the lines of that conversation , the Job Network gets payed by the government for outcomes , and they would probably be less likely to assist me in my job search until week 13 when my ‘Outcome’ becomes more economically viable for the provider. Training programs and workshops add to my value as a way to milk resources from the department.

In the media were here a lot of hate for so called ‘ Dole Bludger”, but the real drain on the unemployment teat in fact are these ” Service Provider’s’ , who merely see clients as KPI targets and streams of revenue. These offices are a place where you leave your dignity at the door , I’m a pretty self confident guy and can usually roll with the punchers but I felt such a profound sense of hopelessness while in that system, these places are dire.I’m aware that not all service providers are the same ,and there are people who are passionate about seeing outcomes for the sense of job satisfaction, but as an industry these usually not for profit agencies need to lift there game to help and inspire people to enter or re-enter the job market. I know that I will be okay and I will find work on my own , but some of the people who are looking for genuine help in finding work won’t be.

David a guy in his early 20’s lost his job as a cleaner due to ill health, he told me he always dreads the days he has an appointment with the job network ,as he always leaves feeling emotionally bruised. He said they always treat me like I’m stupid , I look for work everyday , they just want me to do more and more training courses, I just want to work. People like David everyday apply for jobs they will never be considered for because it’s a part of their ‘ Job Plan’ , a commitment job seekers sign to get payments. It usually equates to around 20 applications per fortnight ,unemployed people need to log every job effort with the department. You can imagine towards the end of that two weeks you would be applying for anything to get your numbers. David applied for a job as a cleaner at a meat works 45 km/s away from home. He was called in for an interview the following week, the job was only 4-6 hours , 3 days nights a week for minimum wage. The 90km round trip would leave his wife and daughter without a car , but he was under the obligation to take the job or risk loosing payments. The network provider would be a winner in this scenario as David had been out of work for 23 weeks and it would be a favorable financial outcome for them.

I have been guilty in the past of judging unemployed people for not working referring to them as lazy, but it’s not so black and white. The current Prime minister of Australia during the last election campaign had a mantra ” a fair go for those who have a go”. Scott Morrison and his conservative government have been custodians of the economy since coming into power in 2013 , they have made it harder for disadvantaged Australian’s to keep above the poverty line, with not indexing the government payments to meet inflation. The 1st of July 2016, The Human Services department which handles the government payments to job seekers rolled out what has been know as ‘Robo-Debt” where the department issued debts to low income recipients who they deemed not entitled for payments received , I received a debt of $78.90 for some unknown reason back dated to 2012. Reports of unemployed and even pensioners taking their own lives because they received payment demands they would never be able to payback.

I have sat of both-sides of the unemployment fence , those who see the unemployed as a drain on the national economy need to spent just one hour in either a centrelink office or with a Job network provider. It will make you think twice about the judgements you have.

Jason Usher