Have you ever been out of work for more than a few months?
If you have, you’ll know that at about the four-month mark the job search starts to weigh on your mind.
You begin to doubt your abilities and your worth as an employee and your confidence levels fall. If you’ve already applied for a few jobs, and being rejected, you’ll feel the sting even more.
I met a law graduate, Simbin, outside a Centrelink office in Sydney’s Darlinghurst last week. As a law graduate you would think he has the world at his feet.
The contract with his previous employer wasn’t renewed, and so he is now looking for work.
Economist Angela Jackson says the latest employment data from the Bureau of Statistics show it’s particularly rough going to young skilled workers.
“We haven’t seen an increase in jobs for young people in [the latest ABS figures]."
“So there isn’t that recovery at that end of the market.”
“For those people, it’s a really difficult period.”
COVID, stress and recovery anxiety
Economists say there’s pressure on Simbin to find a job soon.
If he doesn’t land a job, they argue, future potential employers will wonder why he hasn’t been picked up.
Now both you and I know there may be a number of reasons for that. The most obvious is that the right position or fit may not have come up.
But it works both ways, it’s hard to keep your chin up and your chest out after applying for job after job and being repeatedly rejected.
Indeed, workplace psychologist Ellen Jackson says it presents a risk to one’s mental health.
“It’s very full on psychologically and emotionally.”
Who’s benefiting from lower unemployment?
A nagging question you may have if you’re still reading by this point is: ‘but I thought the “COVID economic recovery” was bringing the unemployment rate down? That can only be a good thing, right?’
The answer is, yes, of course it’s a good thing. However massive challenges remain.
The first is that there are actually now 60,000 fewer jobs across the economy - compared to just before the pandemic hit.
The other is that the jobs growth is largely in casual, part-time or flexible employment arrangements.
And finally, most industries are still facing the constant threat of coronavirus lockdowns. So, while the economy is recovering, bosses remain reluctant to invest and hire.
Jackson has a way of cutting through the numbers, and this time is no different.
“It is across the board, and that means that, for a lot of Australians, an extended period out of work, or periods of unemployment during this period,” she says.
“So the likelihood of losing your job during this period is going to go up.”
So, who benefits from lower unemployment? Well employment opportunities in the retail sector are growing, and anyone who needs a job - any job - has a good chance of landing one right now, but that’s about it.
Long-term, secure employment with added bonuses like payment and promotion potential are still pipe dreams.
So, in other words, if you have a great job, hold onto it tight.
So, what’s a down and out worker to do?
Well as it turns out, not much.
The economy is still vulnerable to setbacks. It’s clear that despite on-going economic growth, the jobs market remains a tough place to navigate.
From a purely practical standpoint, a suggestion to younger Australians looking for work is: take what you can get.
If it’s not exactly what you want, or the pay is lower, take it anyway.
It’s far easier to transition between jobs than to stay out of work for an extended period of time and then get back in again.
Think about it.
What do you say in an interview? ‘Um, I was waiting for the right job’.
How do they know that’s accurate? It might just be you’re not that employable.
As opposed to:
‘I know I have financial responsibilities, and I need to contribute to society for my wellbeing so, no, it wasn’t what I wanted, this is the job I want, but I don’t regret taking that job.’
Obvious cracks in the system
It’s important to remember too that, despite the jobs growth, the labour market is weak around the edges.
The underutilisation rate - which includes those unemployed and underemployed - remains elevated at 14.5 per cent.
Coronavirus lockdowns also pose an ever-present threat to workers who are well established in their roles.
Hours worked fell almost 5 per cent between December and January.
More Australians than usual took leave in the first two weeks of January but there was also a spike in the number of workers who worked zero hours in early January in the capital cities.
Until the pandemic is done and dusted, the power in the jobs market will remain with bosses.
This was the case pre-pandemic. It’s even more so now.