My World

A Workin' Stiff...

 

You've probably heard the term – “a workin' stiff”. Heres to those who have a job, to the workers of the land, in the factories and offices. Heres to those who work the nine-to-five, putting their noses to the grind-stone every day. Well, i'm not really 'working' at the moment, and to be honest I haven't been for a while. I can tell you that unemployment is certainly no freakin' holiday, it's a downright concern!! First of all, it's embarrassing to tell people you are unemployed, I usually say i'm “between jobs” or i'm “taking a career break to look at my options”...Hah!! Perhaps I should call this post a 'Work in progress', what do you think? This job search stuff is nearly a full-time job in itself, but i've talked about that in an earlier post, see 'Grass is always greener....' So, I've come to wonder.. What's Next?!

 

Here I am applying for temp jobs, I'm applying for all manner of jobs that I feel qualified/experienced enough or just trying my luck at, also for jobs out of my skill range i.e a little out of my 'comfort zone'. At this point, job search is not really focussed, it's what i like to call the 'scatter-gun' approach. It's a case of fire off a bunch of applications and see what I hit. I'm just looking to get a start in our new town, the city where all the big decisions are made aka the 'nations capital', 'heart of the nation' also known as Canberra – the home of politicians and public servants. The little town of Longreach ended up being such a limited job market, i'm hoping the move to a bigger metropolis will pay dividends.

 

The longer than expected time out of work and the recent relocation has cost us more than first thought, but the number of job ads i can see around me have increased. I was told, with the recent call of the Federal election later this year that it has put a lot of government jobs on hold and some temps have lost their jobs as projects have been cut. I see my timing is as perfect as usual.. thats why I could never be a stand-up comedian i.e my timing sucks!!! But did we really have a choice?

 

I've previously been to course after course and lecture after lecture on job search, interview skills and answering key selection criteria. These have been conducted by private colleges and public universities. I've come away from them feeling confident and usually remaking and reworking my Resume or CV. Whenever I get 'feedback' on my applications I rework and remake my efforts but then I continue to get the 'Unfortunately on this occasion you were unsuccessful' letter or email. I've called regarding job ads and they take my name and number but tell me they will only call back if I get shortlisted. I guess with all the job cuts to various sectors such as manufacturing, it's getting harder to compete. Competition is a killer, killing me softly.. perhaps death by a thousand paper cuts.

 

Being unemployed means you have to go through the process of 'mutual obligation' with Human Services.. Oh, but where's the humanity?!! You see, Human Services which encompasses Centrelink and Medicare and others farms out/outsources the management of those on unemployment to private providers called 'job network members' or some such term. The private providers usually don't do too much, they are limited to their contracts. Some of these private providers are not really recruitment agencies but more like training facilitators in that they will direct you to further training or just stick you on their case books. Because of my education and previous experience they tell me I'm in Stream 1 which basically says that apart from using their computers and other office equipment to make job applications there's not much else they can do for me.

 

As part of mutual obligation they require you to do a minimum number of 'employer contacts' per fortnight and I easily put forward much more than the minimum because I want to get a job. Maybe there are some, for whatever reason who don't want to work and don't want to look for work. But not me.. i know my responsibilities. I might find the whole process a pain but it's also all-consuming and then I have others tell me 'you should do this' or 'you should do that...' ARGH!!! It's easy to sit on the sidelines and tell someone that. The simple fact is - I can't do everything, I know what I know!! I'm just trying to do the best i can with my experience and it is just that.. my experience.

 

The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Then the question is: what about experience? Isn't experience all about doing the same thing over and over and getting better at it thereby proving that you can do the job for somebody else in that area?? If so, then is that by definition 'madness'?? Maybe, since i've been doing office work for most of my career that i should suddenly do something completely different? Such as... ship builder, brain surgeon, rocket scientist, plumber, coal miner, bricklayer... Me thinks you would need experience and/or education in those fields to even get your foot in the door to most of these jobs and I have neither in any of them.

 

Seems like a bit of history repeating. If the last twenty or so years of my working life is anything to go by then the next twenty should be a hoot. I started working after I left school. So, yeah, round about 1992 I started volunteering in a stock room and then did a business administration course with a private provider. Afterwards I got a traineeship and thought i was on my way. Frankly, it's been a merry-go-round of experiences in various roles mostly administrative/clerical and further education but at the end of the day it amounts to NFI - No Further Idea!! I have worked for short periods in other types of work such as plumbers assistant, factory hand and casual cleaner but they never really lasted long as they were more to earn some cash during Uni breaks and between temp admin jobs.

 

My tertiary education has included certificates, a bachelor degree and a masters. Every time i do a course I think I'm on my way to better things only to be back on the treadmill of job search and temp work. Not to say that I haven't had permanent jobs but for one reason or another I get itchy feet/move on/change tack. Usually this is due to the realisation of dissatisfaction or the fact that it seems like a dead end. The rollercoaster has made me dizzy at times.. I just want to get off this sideshow alley ride and really be on my way. I want to know what direction to take. Of course, I see common threads over the last twenty years but there is no real passion just a few passing interests. They say if you do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life and that sounds great to me. Where is it, how can i find it, who do i need to speak to....??

 

The common threads to my working life seem to be general administration, all those wonderful daily activities like filing, faxing, photocopying, scanning and the like moving on to records management and accounts related work, seems i'm better in the public service than private industry. Couldn't say i'm passionate about any of them but these are the paths my working life has so far taken. Written communication is probably my best skill but I have tried to develop interests and skills to make me a broader individual. I've done certificates in defensive driving, first aid, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), telephone communication, using various computer packages and customer service skills as part of professional and personal development. Poetry writing, blogging, reading philosophy and anything to do with war, crime and justice are the closest things to passions for me, my outlets of choice if you like. However, I go through periods where my outlets change but some things still remain the same. Unfortunately, none of these things are going to make me the dollars to live a good life where I can do the things I really want to do, such as travel more, volunteer for a worthy cause etcetera...

 

Recently, I completed a typing test and some other online testing in Excel and Word for a recruitment agency, it was not the first time I have done such tests. Since my early days at business college, it was said that I would never make a professional typist. I do know how to touch type, its just that speed has never been my strong point. However, on this occasion I was given a passage to type and a timer. The passage itself, went a little something like this....

 

The business environment has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last half century. Fifty years ago, an employee could expect to find a job after high school or college and work at the same company until he or she retired. In today's highly competitive market place, however, job security is virtually impossible to find. Managers are laid off without a warning, employers fall prey to downsizing, and many workers are forced to take early retirement before they are ready. In today's unstable job market, workers must recognise the absence of their own job security and take responsibility for their own career development. The following five steps can help you take control of your career and prepare for the unexpected.

 

The first step you must take is to decide what you want out of life. What aspects of your career do you enjoy and what part of your job motivates you to work harder? After you have answered these questions, create your own set of professional goals and learn to focus on fulfilling your ambitions by finding a challenging and rewarding career plan. Don't let your parents, acquaintances, employer, or business make these decisions for you; develop your current or future career based on your own experiences.

 

Next, learn how to build a set of marketable and transferable skills that can be used wherever you work. It is vitally important to strengthen your basic knowledge and your expertise in a variety of diverse and practical areas. Do not be apprehensive about accepting new challeges, seize every opportunity that could make you a better job candidate....

 

And it goes on from there...Of course, the typing test was only 5 minutes duration and so I never got near the later parts. But, you get the picture! Basically, to use an old quote “ when life gives you lemons, start making lemonade.” It's the mantra of the modern era, the touchy-feely positive words of capitalists - those consultants, psychologists and so-called 'life coaches' who make their money selling books about this stuff. Billionaires and business college operators lap this guff up and expect their paying customers, staff and/or students to lap it up too. Believe me, I have seen them in action! I've been through a traineeship and done certificates at college level and listened carefully to these little nuggets of wisdom.

 

The passage made sense to me and it's not something that I haven't read before. It says that your first task is to work out what you want out of life. Well, that seems easy enough to answer... Oh, you mean, apart from winning the lottery and all that comes with that? Hmm.. let's see.. how about a more realistic goal. How's this? A good job with good pay working with good people while doing good for others at the same time generally feeling good about oneself. Now that can't be too much to ask for, can it?? And there's the rub!

 

You know it's soooo darn competitive out there – it's virtually dog eat dog! When you have a job, you're always competing with yourself and others. You've got to increase your numbers, go faster, work longer and jump higher. Performance-enhancing drugs anyone?? All the time, maintaining customer loyalty and doing more with less, not to mention dealing with the diverse working styles of others such as gossip, put-downs and other forms of aggression, some passive, some not so. The modern workplace is a minefield for most, no wonder so many people self-medicate to deal with the stress of it all. Have you heard the monday morning stories from workmates/colleagues of their drunken weekends and wondered why they do it nearly every weekend! Why is 'mondayitis' a term, a common phrase that people use? If competition is sooo good for you, why arent more people on a natural high? If you don't have a job, again there's soo much competition. You're competing with the unnamed, the unknown and probably numerous at that. You have to somehow stand on their collective backs to get that job. Of course, they will try to push you down to get themselves to the door instead, to the point of almost drowning you.

 

The question is.. who is really winning in all this?? Is it the ones with jobs or is it the employers, are they getting the biggest bang for their buck? When political correctness has made us change words, change terminology and change labels then isn't that basically lying? What's in a name, anyway – think of 'police force' and how they now call it 'police service'. Outright lying is a sin in job applications yet stretching the truth is the norm. But you can't be just normal and certainly not authentic, you have to fit the mould they want and more. You have to wear the clothes and talk the talk.

 

Perhaps, i shouldn't look at it this way? Maybe I should realise that I'm just selling my labour like most others and get on with it. Others tell me that all the time.. “get over it”, “get on with it” but nobody walks a mile in my shoes except me. It's funny how I rarely tell others how they should live their lives but there are always people who will tell me how to live mine.

 

One of the bug-bears of my life is hearing terms like 'going forward' and 'life-long learning'. Are you telling me that the previous generation had 'life-long learning'? Those of the older generation who walked in off the street and got jobs, those who started as mail clerks and ended up as the Postmaster General. At least they didn't have to enter the workforce and keep studying to advance. There was a degree of 'just do your time and you will progress'. The same can not be said of now. So, I guess I was born of the wrong time, the wrong era?!

 

Having performed a variety of roles in the past, I can think of several strings to my bow that could make me a better job candidate. In addition, having a higher education in both commerce and social science should make me more rounded. However, every single individual reads things differently and most prospective employers are looking at heaps of applications. They will pick out something, whether it be the skills and/or experience that they want or that they think will fit their individual requirements. The problem is that since most jobs you apply for are advertised with very little actual detail, it is hard to know for sure what facts to highlight. How do you make yours stand out to an individual who is looking at piles of hopefuls and ultimately making decisions that could affect your life and livelihood and career dreams? Some companies and big recruitment agencies use computer programs these days to feed in the multitude of applications they receive and spit out a shortlist of candidates. So, if the right terms are mentioned in your CV then you're in!

 

Being unemployed and thereby relying on support from government/family etcetera means a juggling act between making in-depth quality applications to companies/organisations that you know of and think you would like to work for and then making many quantity applications to simply get a job, any job and meet your mutual obligation thereby justifying your next payment. Then the agents or job search professionals tell you that most jobs that people get are not even advertised. They say it's about 'networking' and using your social contacts. What happens when you're in a new place and you don't have those 'networks'? So, where is Equal Employment Opportunity then? If the job you really want is not even advertised then surely that's a form of discrimination. They talk about 'merit-based selection' but how is it merit-based when you see employers give the job to their mates or even to a relative/family friend? Even when organisations advertise a role, it may well be that they have someone in mind to fill it already it's just that they want to make it look like a legitimate appointment.

 

'Feedback' is important from prospective employers. Most people, when looking for work want some form of 'feedback' even if they don't ask, they don't just want a 'unfortunately you were unsuccessful' type letter/email. That's if they get a response at all. Most times you want to know what sort of person got the job ahead of you and what sold them for that role! It's all about what they were looking for and what they think you could have done better. However, feedback is only as good as the person giving it out, which most times unfortunately means it's not that great. Besides, nobody's got the time for that.. everybodys too busy to give feedback...what a shame, but we wish you the best in your endeavours!

 

Just because someone looks good on paper doesn't mean they can do the job but then just because someone can't express themselves in the manner that others think they should or to the exacting requirements spelt out in a job ad doesn't mean they couldn't do the job. 'Experience' is a pet hate of mine.. a lot of job advertisements ask for experience in this or that. The big question is, how do u get experience without getting the job? Is it not true, at least in part, that a lot of people could do most jobs, basically a trained monkey could do most jobs, maybe not brain surgeon or rocket scientist, there's probably a few others but generally most roles can be performed by the man/woman who walks in off the street. It may just take this ordinary person a little longer to get a handle on the job. So many jobs these days seem to be 'specialised'. Must have experience in... and a certificate or higher in...?? It's just a matter of what they say and how they communicate it which makes the decision! Basically can they 'talk the talk', say the right things at the right times? Does anybody feel anything for those who don't have the 'gift of the gab'.

 

Guess I better get back to the search for my next big break. Maybe this will be the one that will put me on the highway to success. I saw a sign recently that said something like “If you ain't succeeding, redefine 'success'.” Now... where did i put those lemons?? Talking about lemons, stay tuned for my next blog post which i'm calling ' Lemon Yellow is the new Black..and other silliness.' This might be a little cryptic to most of you but it will become clear in the next instalment...

 

Cheers

 

A big PS...

 

A good friend of mine and ex-workmate read this post and emailed me thus... as well as the usual "how are you" stuff...

 

Geoff wrote "I started writing this as a comment on your blog, but it turned into a bit of a blog itself.

 

I sympathise with you on your job search and agree with what you say.  From my limited experience in private enterprise it is ‘who you know’.  As you know that’s how I got my job.  I have been there for nearly 6 years now and our little team is expanding.

 

Three years ago our section of only 4 people (Spatial and Graphics) needed an extra person.  We advertised for an experienced draftsman, you read all the great CV’s and references, they tell you they are team players, how they’ll be an asset to your workplace, blah, blah, blah.  So we hired who we thought was the best candidate.  Well, the chap was very experienced in using one particular drafting software package, however he was very much stuck in his ways, and not very keen to learn new things or try and nut things out for himself.  Drafting work didn’t expand as expected, so it was easily decided to ‘let him go’.

 

Also during this period, we hired a website designer.  Prior to this the 4 of us we would share this job, but demand and our limited skills forced us to hire another person.  We didn’t know this person, but it worked out well, we considered ourselves very lucky.  We are a happy team of five, all work well together.

 

Then, May last year, the website designer decides to leave, he wants more of challenge and go into programming, and one of our GIS Technicians also gets another job.  Horror, how are we going to find replacements?  It didn’t take long, both of these fellows said they knew people who may be suitable.  We interviewed them, offered them jobs, and they are both working out great.  These two jobs were never advertised.  Also during this time we put on an extra Junior GIS Technician (again not advertised), she works three days a week, and previously worked in our admin section.

 

So, of our team of six people, four of us have been employed by ‘who you know’.  This is not happy news for the job seeker.  As for those job network places I found them next to useless when I was unemployed.

 

I am very lucky to have gotten this job, but it’s not perfect.  I used to think public service was the way to go, flexitime, paid overtime, good conditions, not bad pay, a job for life (not anymore, CANDO put I stop to that).  Now, I sometimes have to work back of an evening or work over the weekends (no overtime pay), but there is no way I would swap it.  I have a job that is ever changing and interesting, I have an employer that shares its profits with its employees, I don’t know how much my co-worker is paid (I would like to think I get paid what I am worth, I am happy with my pay, whereas in the public service I could do twice as much work as someone else but get paid the same).

 

I think the whole TAFE/University training has gotten out of hand.  What is the point of all this training when no one wants people with ‘training’, employers want people with skills.  A recent article in the newspaper, employers (blue collar) complain about lack of skills from TAFE graduates.  An example was the Bakery  hires a ‘qualified’ baker who had previously worked at Woolworths.  The TAFE certified ‘qualified’ baker only knew how to open a premix and add eggs and water.  Instead of spending money (Government or personal) on courses it should be spent on on-the-job training.  Give people real skills and experience.  I have a Bachelor’s Degree in IT, a Graduate Diploma in Geomatics, and a Graduate Certificate in Science, but none of this gave me skills in the workplace in these fields.  I don’t believe that studying to pass subjects is of any use to the employer.  After many subjects at university I would think to myself, ‘thank God I never have to do that again’.  It  should be mandatory that students get some kind work experience whilst doing these courses, spending 6 months in the workplace, no pay, as part of the course.  The student would then not only have some skills but the employer would then ‘know’ a potential employee.

 

Chin up mate, that career is just around the corner.  I am sure you get plenty of suggestions from friends.  So, I apologise in advance if you have either heard or tried these before.  You obviously have a flair for writing.  Have you ever thought about writing for a newspaper,  perhaps local rag, or copywriting?  Do you know of anyone who works in any business that needs writers.  If you do, go there, show interest, offer to work for a few hours a week.  If you don’t know someone get to know someone.  When I was down at residential school last year, a fellow student told me how he got a job with a mining company, I forget the intricate details but went like this.  He sent an email to the CEO of the mining company about an article written in the Financial Review about the company.  The CEO emailed back to discuss further, student mentions he is interested in finding work in the mining sector, CEO says here is a  job.  Probably very lucky, but he managed to find something in common with the CEO and landed a job."

 

First of all, I want to say thanks to Geoff for his words of encouragement and yeah, i have heard stories like this. I guess a lot of CEOs should expect to get flooded with emails now from students and the unemployed hoping to get work?  It is difficult to move to a whole new place without the networks.  I have gotten jobs through networks in the past but usually not in my fields of study. Another friend of mine and ex-workmate helped me to get a job in a factory once, i worked there with him for a while before  we both moved on.  Another time, during Uni vacation I worked for a plumber who was a family friend at the time. Actually, come to think of it, my dad got me one of my first jobs in an office, it was filling in for one of his staff while they were on leave. When they returned I was gone and dad has long since retired from that game.  Apart from these roles, I have not got a job through friends/social networks.  I use to get jobs through recruitment agencies which is why I tend to follow that line now. 

 

Unfortunately, further education gives you certain expectations and when they're not met the disappointment is palpable.  Not that I ever had expectations of being at the top just having employment that means something and goes somewhere would be nice.  Unemployment eats away at you and is certainly no holiday, I am not out partying or surfing but at home trawling the job ads and emailing and phoning about advertised opportunities. The longer the 'career break' the harder it is, it seems, to get back in so now I'm looking wider and wider in an attempt just to get something/anything.  Wish me luck....

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glen | Reply 15.02.2013 22.57

HI Raven :)

I can feel for you. I had a similar experience after leaving Armidale and moving to Brisbane. Too experienced .. to little experience. Grrrr

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I have stood by and watched a with concern and love. I admire the way you have handled yourself and the situation. My love with you. In admiration. Fly

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Well, come back the TOG you old git. We will love you unconditionally there.

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Spread your wings you dodo, you might be able to fly.

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