By Lindsey Moffatt, Researcher, and Imogen Ebsworth, Advocacy, Engagement and Campaigns, SARC
There is a persistent myth that if someone doesn’t have a job it’s because they’re just not trying hard enough to get one. Worryingly, this myth increasingly forms the cornerstone of public policy approaches to those out of work, with people who are unemployed facing ongoing tests and requirements they must meet or lose government support.
In addition, Newstart and Youth Allowance have not seen a serious increase in two decades. The rationale for this has been the same — if we give people enough money to meet their basic needs while they are unemployed, they might get too ‘comfortable’ and not try hard enough to get a job. The results of these policies is that the most disadvantaged Australians now struggle to survive on government payments well below the poverty line, and are no closer to finding work.
Why? Because the problem isn’t that people aren’t trying hard enough to find work; the problem is that there simply aren’t enough jobs, particularly for those with low skills or limited work experience. What’s more, the types of jobs available in Australia, just as in other parts of the world, have changed markedly over the last decade. For years the lived experience of people who access the services of organisations like Anglicare has often been that if you don’t have a lot of qualifications or training, or your industry has collapsed and your skills are no longer relevant to the local economy, or you have limited or no work experience, there are very few jobs for you.
On top of that, many people already employed are in casual or part-time work, and are looking for more. So competition for available jobs isn’t just coming from those who are classed as unemployed, but from people who are underemployed as well.
To examine this in more detail and get a national picture, Anglicare Australia commissioned a jobs availability snapshot. The snapshot used government data for the month of May this year to measure the number of lower skilled jobs available for people who have barriers to entering the workforce (specifically lacking work experience, training or qualifications).You can read the full report methodology here, but in summary they looked at:
- Jobs classified by skill level using the Australia and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO), where levels 4 and 5 are the least skilled jobs.
- The Internet Vacancy Index, which shows the number and distribution of currently advertised positions by the ANZSCO classification.
- The Job Seeker Classification Index (JSCI) which classifies people looking for work according to the barriers they face to getting work, where Stream C are those most disadvantaged.
The results tell a clear story. Of the jobs advertised in May 2016, only 13% were for skill level 5. Comparing this to the number of people looking for work classed as being in Stream C showed that there were more than six people for every skill level 5 job advertised.
However, the situation was much worse for Tasmania.
Analysis of the Tasmanian jobs snapshot figures
Tasmania has the highest ratio of job-seekers with skills at levels 4 and 5 compared to the national average and to all other states. The Jobs Availability Snapshot calls the disparity ‘alarming’. In May 2016:
- In Tasmania there were more than 10 people for every level 5 vacancy.
- Combining vacancies for skill level 4 and 5, all states had more people in Stream C requiring work than there were jobs. Nationally, there were almost 2 job-seekers per job for levels 4 and 5 combined; but in Tasmania there were more than 5 people for every level 4 or 5 vacancy.
- It mustn’t be forgotten that in addition to the people identified in this table, people in all other skill categories could also be competing for level 4 and 5 jobs, further increasing the poor outcomes for those classified as Stream C. In Tasmania there is a significant skew towards women being underemployed.
While there is little doubt that disadvantaged people looking for work find far fewer jobs to apply for in Tasmania, Lindsey Moffatt of SARC has dug a little deeper into thinking about factors that might be driving the lack of Class 4 and 5 jobs in the state. It may come down to the types and number of businesses in Tasmania and how they advertise available work at a low skill or entry level, and whether the Internet Vacancy Index accurately captures enough of this activity. Let’s unpack this further.
The nature of Tasmanian businesses may be a factor in the amount available and visibility of low skilled and entry level jobs vacancies
Firstly, it’s possible that Tasmania may be generating limited entry level job opportunities due to the structure of its labour market. There were over 36,800 businesses registered in Tasmania at the end of the 2014/15 financial year. Tasmania was the only state nationally to record a decrease in businesses operating between 2011 and 2015.
Furthermore, the Tasmanian economy is dominated by small businesses, particularly ones that do not employ staff and are frequently family or home-based. These make up around 97% of Tasmanian businesses and employ about 50% of the Tasmanian labour force.
Tasmanian Business by Employment Size Ranges, June 2015
Secondly, small businesses that make up the bulk of private enterprises that employ people in Tasmania may be more likely to advertise in ways other than the internet, particularly for low-skilled and entry level jobs. Informal networks, such as Gumtree, shop notice boards, word of mouth and recommendations, together with print media, may be a preferred way to recruit at these levels.
These ways of advertising jobs are not captured by the Internet Job Vacancy Index, which is based on a count of online job ads on dedicated employment sites such as SEEK and CareerOne. Therefore there may also be more class 4 and 5 jobs available in Tasmania than is being formally captured. However it is worth bearing in mind that this may be the case for other states too. So relatively, Tasmanian job-seekers may still be facing the most challenging labour market.
Policy implications and ways forward
Anglicare Australia’s job snapshot highlights the folly of policies that focus on controlling the behaviour of people looking for work and keeping Newstart and Youth Allowance at levels that guarantee hardship. Without enough jobs available in total, and an acute shortage for those with lower level skills and experience, clearly a different approach is needed.
Given that job creation cannot happen overnight, the first policy response must be to raise Newstart and Youth Allowance. Current rates lock people into poverty, depriving them of enough funds to eat properly, afford their rent and power, access healthcare, and use transport — and all for no good reason. Policies that deprive people of a livable income have not lead to higher rates of employment because the jobs simply aren’t there.
The job snapshot also found that there were more than double the number of vacancies for skill level 4 than for level 5 jobs — meaning that helping people increase their skills and experience would make them eligible for far more positions. Anglicare Australia’s previous research on the value of a “person first” approach showed that tailoring training and employment pathway support to an individual’s circumstances and tailoring it to the local job market is a far more effective approach than penalties or undertaking training that is irrelevant to local market demand.
However, a word of caution — even if all the current skill level 5 job-seekers were trained to level 4, we would still be facing a situation where there would be more job-seekers than there are level 4 positions, and there would still be competition from people who are underemployed looking for more work.
Therefore policy responses that work both to create new entry level jobs and to provide people with a tailored pathway to further training and supported employment are the most critically needed, and most likely to succeed. Given the nature of the Tasmanian labour market, training in entrepreneurial skills for those wanting to create their own job through a small business is also worth considering.
What is clear is that the current federal government focus on finding work being solely an individual’s responsibility is manifestly wrong. Recent announcements such as the state government’s grant for Hamlet Cafe, a social enterprise that specifically provides training and work for those with significant barriers to employment are a welcome contrast. We can only hope we see more government initiatives like this for Tasmanians in the near future.