The government has unveiled tough new requirements for job seekers, but it’s not just your stereotypical ‘dole bludgers’ who are angry – business leaders aren’t happy, either.
The government’s proposed overhaul of the Work for the Dole scheme will require job seekers to apply for 40 jobs a month, as well as perform up to 25 hours of community service a week. (Even if they fulfill these requirements, job seekers under 30 won’t be eligible for any government payments for the first six months that they’re out of work.)
For job seekers, this means they’ll be submitting even more applications for jobs they aren’t necessarily qualified for or interested in – and for businesses, that means a hell of a lot of wasted time.
“It just creates an enormous amount of work for business,” says Peter Strong of the Council of Small Business of Australia. “The bigger businesses have HR people to manage [the flood of applications], of course, but it’s still work they don’t want to do. But for small businesses, they’ll have people coming through the door every day, knowing full well there are no jobs on offer, but asking for one anyway because otherwise they won’t get their money.
“If you do advertise a job, you’ll have an awful lot of people apply for it because they have to, not because they think they’d be any good at it. So it’s not constructive. This government has been really good with small business, so this is quite an abberation.”
Of course, business owners encourage job seekers to look for work – if anything, they resent those that don’t. But they don’t want a barrage of half-hearted applicants turning up on their doorsteps and in their inboxes.
“Historically, businesses have had very strong views on these sorts of programs, but those views have been based on principle,” says Nick Behrens of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland.
“Small business operators are renowned for being hard-working. They take the view that all individuals, if they’re expectant of receiving taxpayer welfare, need to be doing all they can to maximise the likelihood that they will find employment. If people aren’t prepared to help themselves, that really jars with the strong work ethic that small business owners have. So the end outcome has to be for individuals to be able to find work.
“Having said that, it would be a shame if that comes at the expense of small businesses being inundanted by potential job seekers looking merely to fulfill a federal government expectation. Every minute that a small business has to spend filtering out those who are just ticking a box, is really a minute that’s not available to them to hone in on that ideal candidate, or to spend on another aspect of running their business.”
Simply put, business owners don’t have a problem with job seekers being forced to look for work – but they do have a problem with the volume of applications the government will require them to submit.
“We absolutely understand why they’re doing it,” says Jenny Lambert of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “but we think the quantity of the applications is not so much the issue; it’s the quality of the applications that we need to focus on.”
Luke, 28, has been looking for work for three years, and is currently required to apply for 20 jobs a month in order to be eligible for unemplyment benefits. He believes job seekers are already forced to apply for too many jobs they aren’t qualified for.
“You’re expected to put yourself forward for ridiculous things,” he says. “I’m applying for a lot of stuff. I’m applying for anything, to be honest; I’m applying for retail, I’m applying for commercial cleaning, bar work, hospitality, whatever I can get my hands on. Beggars can’t be choosers, I know that. But when you’re not even remotely qualified for the job, it makes the whole process more demeaning.”
An employment service recently put Luke forward for a job as a mechanic that he wasn’t qualified for. Rather than attend the interview, he simply explained the situation to the employer.
“I was told there was a vacancy, and that I should apply for it. But the truth is I wasn’t in any way qualified for that job and I couldn’t do it. [The employment service] got angry and they said, ‘You need to go talk to the guy’. I ended up going behind their back; I rang the employer and said, ‘Look, mate, I’m not in any way, shape or form qualified for this job’, and he said, ‘Look, I understand, my son’s in the same position, I get it’. So he understood that they’re just pushing people to go in and apply for anything and everything.
“If the government makes these changes, there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people who are severely affected. I’m fortunate, in that I’m living at home and I’m not paying my own rent and utilities and stuff like that. Some people don’t have family to fall back on. If I didn’t, I’d probably be living under the Story Bridge.”
So if forcing job seekers to apply for 40 jobs a month isn’t a practical way to tackle the unemployment problem, what is?
“It starts with the employment services,” says Peter Strong. “They need to be the ones who make sure people are trained and picking up the skills that are needed for whatever region they’re in, that they know how to write a job application, that they know how to present well. That’s what we need to do – have a look at what skills are needed, and train people up.”
“Ultimately, the aspect that’s in question is those 40 applications a month,” says Nick Behrens. “I think that number works against the individual finding a job. They’ll be under pressure to fulfill a quantitative measure, whereas you really want quality, not quantity. I think if you reduce that number significantly, and you have a dual requirement for the individual to work with an employment agency to vet their actual applications, that maximises the likelihood of the individual finding a job.
“If you talk to any business operator who has had the privilege of overseeing a recruitment process, they will unanimously tell you that two to five quality applications each month will be more likely to yield a long-lasting job than the scattergun approach of firing out two a day for six months. And those who are involved in recruitment will tell you that it’s almost instantly clear who has put a lot of work into their application, and who is just flicking across a CV without any real effort or investment in seeking a real job with that business.”
“We’ve got to remember that this is a much bigger picture than just the number of applications,” says Jenny Lambert. “The draft is an extensive review of employment services overall, and that’s been long overdue. Employment services do not serve the jobseeker market that well at the moment, and we need to do more to make the services engage with employers and encourage employers to place their jobs with them. Those are the types of things that will make a difference.
“The quality of the job service providers needs to be sufficient to help people submit decent applications. In other words, there needs to be support for job seekers to make sure their applications are tailored to the job. That’s very important. The quantity of job applications is only one measure, though it is the easiest measure.”
It’s important to note that the government’s proposed changes won’t come into effect until July 1, 2015 – if they ever come into effect at all.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” says Peter Strong. “I don’t think the government will go ahead with it… I’m sure that they’ll look at it and come up with a better way of doing it, and I’m more than happy to talk to them about that.”
If the new requirements are introduced, Nick Behrens says you can expect to see a new addition to the shopfronts of most businesses.
“You walk down some streets now and you see signs in shopfront windows that say ‘No hawkers’. It would be a shame if we start seeing window decals saying ‘No jobseekers’, wouldn’t it?”