Everything that’s wrong with the modern jobs market

Exhibit A — Finding a reasonable job

Last year I saw a job ad that epitomised everything that’s wrong in the current labour market. Instead of telling you about it, I’m going to reformat it in a way that makes the point (and won’t get me sued).

Ok, ok, let’s break this down. So this small, unstable, new business wants a highly skilled, degree qualified, experienced professional with significant work experience, exceptional knowledge and natural talent to be as emotionally invested in the business and the wider startup community as the founder (presumably who takes the lion’s share of the profit), to contribute to its growth, to work extra hard — not only in their role but in business development, and participate in unpaid out of hours socialising.

Hmmm…okay. That’s quite some ask. Must be a life-changing opportunity offering commensurate rewards.

Oh, what’s that? They’re offering ad hoc (‘flexible’), insecure (‘casual’) work for one or two days paid at an unspecified rate that might turn in to a full time job, offering some training in a fun office with self-proclaimed cool people who want to ‘invest’ in you (a vague term that doesn’t mean co-ownership or company shares).

Wow! Awesome. Apply immediately! Tell all your friends.

The expectations of employers have always been unequal to what an individual worker can expect in return for their skills, labour, knowledge, productivity or revenue generation. Hard fought rights won by unions and enshrined in law helped equalise the disparity for a while, but what we are increasingly witnessing in real time is:

· organisations able to exert excessive influence in public discourse (think the Business Council of Australia and penalty rate cuts)

· governments relentlessly pursuing the myth of trickle-down economics (think the LNP’s corporate tax cuts)

· a weak opposition afraid of being labelled ‘anti-business’ allowing the loosening of regulations which cut into the workers’ slice of the pie (think Anthony Albanese’s speech on Labor’s policies),

· and a race to the bottom too often labelled as workplace innovation and the future of work (think casualisation and the gig economy) to help us swallow the bitter pill.

As a result, there is an alarming disparity between employer expectations of workers in terms of what they bring to the table on day one as well as the contributions they are expected to make to the business’ success, versus employee rewards and compensation — capped salary (averaging $86,000 pa), possibly some training and development opportunities, and a ping pong table.

Exhibit B — The recruitment process

Job hunting is without a doubt one of the suckiest tasks adults have to do. It is totally plausible that someone could spend 40 hours a week reviewing jobs ads, researching companies, writing tailored job applications, attending interviews and seeking feedback — and still not find a job after literal months.

Last year I was looking for work, and I was pretty selective about who I wanted to work for (I’m not big on selling my soul for money only to be miserable but able to afford new shoes). One job I saw perfectly fit my skill set and fairly unique combination of experience and qualifications. It was only a 6 month contract, part time, and the wage wasn’t great, but it was with a highly respected, ethical organisation that did terrific work. The very poorly written job ad contained 13 — yes 13! — selection criteria, many of which were repetitive. I tried calling and emailing them to ask some questions about the job (and suss whether all 13 criteria really had to be addressed) but they just had a voicemail saying no-one was available. It took me five hours to write the application. After the closing date I was contacted for an interview — they emailed me late afternoon and asked me to come in the next morning.

The interview was excessively long and included a practical task. There were two panellists and they rambled on about the organisation for an inordinate time and it struck me that if a candidate came to an interview without this publicly available knowledge they probably weren’t very well prepared and not interested in the role. Afterwards they didn’t give me a timeframe for the outcome. As it happened I had another job offer and over a week repeatedly contacted them to ask when I’d hear back because I needed to make a decision. They never replied. In the end I got a template response (the kind you get when you don’t make it past the CV filter) that started with “Unfortunately….”. I had given them some 8 hours of my time for free and even my request for feedback was ignored (although I did offer to provide some to them about how inadequate their recruitment process was).

So yeah, basically candidates are a piece of shit on a shoe and the people with the jobs hold all the power.

When it comes to landing a job, there can only be one winner. Right now in Australia there are approximately 1.3 million people looking for work and only 400,000 jobs a year being created. The maths isn’t looking good. If you’re an unfortunate Newstart recipient (‘on the dole’) you are required to apply for 20 jobs/month. It probably doesn’t sound like a lot — just one a day. Easy right? The problem is not applying for one job a day. The problem is finding a job a day to apply for, for which you are suitably qualified and experienced, which is available within a reasonable distance, and which meets your salary expectations or career ambitions or parenting responsibilities. What ends up happening is people blast out template applications for bullshit jobs they’ll never get simply to meet a quota. It wastes the applicant’s time, as well as the recruiter’s.

The moral of the story is, if you’re struggling to secure a suitable job, or even get an interview, (as a huge number of jobseekers are) it’s probably not you. Read this article for 7 reasons why you shouldn’t bother asking the recruiter for feedback.

Exhibit C — Keeping the job you’ve got

This morning I had a conversation with a construction worker who had been employed for two years with his company which has contracts with some of Australia’s largest developers. He worked 6 days/week, rarely took sick days, once moved interstate for the benefit of his employer, and never had any complaints from supervisors or co-workers. Two days ago he received a letter notifying employees the company had found themselves over-staffed, and offering voluntary redundancies. Yesterday afternoon after he completed a full day of back-breaking work he was instructed to drive across town to an office where he was summarily told he no longer had a job. Bam! Just like that. No redundancy pay out. No notice. No transition arrangements. Gone.

What’s that you say? Sacked for no reason? People got bills to pay, and the ‘I suddenly lost my job because of my company’s mismanagement of its recruitment and finances’ excuse doesn’t get you any leeway at the bank.

It’s every worker’s worst nightmare, and if it’s not, it should be.

As the world moves at an ever-increasing pace towards a new future of work, more workers will inevitably find themselves without the option of secure, ongoing, full time jobs with high pay — what Joe Hockey once infamously labelled as ‘a good job’. In fact, 2017 signalled the first time in Australia’s recent history that less than half of the population have full time jobs with benefits.

Let me say that again a different way. The majority of workers are underemployed, in casual or part time work and do not receive standard benefits like paid holidays, superannuation and sick leave. Many don’t even get paid a minimum wage. And 25% can legally be told not to bother coming in tomorrow. This is how’s it’s gonna be now; insecure work is the new normal.

The current employment landscape is awful. The trend is clearly in favour of employers over workers. Read the advertisements of any career site. Watch the reports of wage theft and exploitation on the news. Compare company profits and productivity gains against wage growth. Ask your boss for more than the minimum, government-mandated maternity leave. There’s no mistaking who is winning in the prosperity stakes. PS: It’s probably not you.

How can we address these problems? One way is to unionise. Another is to support businesses doing the right thing. You could investigate worker-owned cooperatives that share the profits (and the risks) and become your own damn boss. Or you could vote for the political parties that are all about people power and a fairer society.

But just a hint, it’s not either of the major parties.



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