Unemployment Today and How to Address It

In May this year, I will have been unemployed for 3 years (not counting one year I spent overseas), despite having three degrees from Australian universities and 12 years’ experience in the public service in Melbourne. I have submitted nearly 300 applications for a variety of jobs across a range of industries throughout Australia. In that time, I have had just over 30 interviews. My applications and interview preparation notes now fill 15 Lever Arch folders and 58 electronic folders. With unemployment now extending for an average of 4 years, I am by no means alone as a long- term unemployed worker. There is a plethora of factors which are maintaining unemployment at the high and long-term levels it is currently at in Australia, some of the main ones of which include:

  • A shrinking economy with insufficient jobs to go around
  • Outsourcing of jobs, that is, giving workers overseas work over unemployed Australians
  • Connections-based recruitment, also known as nepotism (‘It’s who you know, not what you know’)
  • Excessive hours being worked by existing employees, in the absence of which new jobs could be created and/or a form of job-sharing introduced
  • Allowing too many new migrants into Australia over recent years, limiting the opportunities for Australian unemployed workers to find a job
  • Automation.

Solving our employment crisis requires addressing some, if not all, of these prejudices and other socio-economic factors, lest we accept a permanent underclass of the long-term unemployed.

With an average of 11 job seekers competing for each one of the job vacancies I have applied for (a ratio which has tripled since 2008), my strike rate of about one interview for every 10 applications is probably quite good…Nevertheless, the extensive unrewarded work involved in assessing selection documents, and then preparing and editing this many applications is exhausting and frustrating, to say the least. If I had received just $15 for every page of application documents I have created over the past 3 years, I would be a rich man today…

There are many problems with the process of making applications for positions. By far the most labour-intensive part of my job seeking is the generally onerous number (often over 10) and loaded nature of Key Selection Criteria that job seekers are required to research, prepare and proofread answers to in submitting any job application. There is a smattering of organisations which are simplifying the red tape involved in recruitment, such as the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation, but actively looking for work is the equivalent of being a 0.7 employee in hours worked. There has got to be a simpler way! For example, employers could use applicants’ LinkedIn profiles (effectively resumes) to enable them to apply for positions…

There are also many problems with the way that job interviews are conducted. Recruitment techniques , such as allowing the interviewers themselves to make the selection decision, omitting work sample tests (recognised as being the best measure of future job performance) and failing to use standardised questions for all interviewees allow unconscious bias to creep into recruitment decisions. Better training and resourcing is needed to overcome such recruitment errors, the result of which may often be a failure to relieve the ranks of the unemployed (who are generally unknown to interviewers) in favour of choosing internal applicants (who are usually known to interviewers). Again, a few organisations, like the Australian Taxation Office and the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, are already using work sample tests in recruitment along with interviews.

More fundamentally, I believe that tackling our unemployment crisis should include:

  • Introducing more sizeable and better targeted wage subsidies to employers for employing the long-term unemployed, without exclusions for local, state and federal government employment.
  • Discrimination against the long-term unemployed (often signalled by a preference for more recent experience) ought also to be legislated against.