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(Cartoon courtesy John Ditchburn, Inkcinct Cartoons)

A report released earlier this week confirms there are now more low skilled jobseekers than low skilled jobs, thanks to the Turnbull Government's draconian policies. Leon Moulden reports.

EARLIER THIS week Anglicare Australia released its Jobs Availability Snapshot. The report is a damning indictment on the state of unemployment in Australia. It challenges the common belief that people who wish to work will find work. And it challenges the draconian policies of the Turnbull Government that punish the unemployed for their predicament.

The Anglicare report, written by Michelle Waterford, utilises three sets of Federal Government indicators.

First, the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO), which classifies occupations in five skill levels, from Skill Level 1 with a bachelor degree or higher, down to Skill Level 5 with certificate 1 or the completion of compulsory secondary education. Secondly, it utilises the Department of Employment Internet Vacancy Index (IVI), which ranks job vacancies according to the ANZSCO classifications; and, finally, it utilises the Department of Employment’s Jobactive data for Stream C jobseekers, which provides the current number of unskilled disadvantaged jobseekers. Together, these indicators provide a clear snapshot of Australia’s current job availability by skill level compared to the actual number of jobseekers.

The report then provides a specific focus on low skilled disadvantaged jobseekers (Jobactive Stream C jobseekers) and the availability of entry-level jobs (skill level five jobs) and argues:

'... that paid work for people with limited education, training or reasonable work experience can be very hard to find.'

The key findings of the Jobs Availability Snapshot demonstrate a significant and disturbing trend. The report shows that over the last decade available jobs in the top skill level (level 1) have increased while available jobs in the bottom skill level (level 5) have decreased. Subsequently, only 13.1% of available jobs in May 2016 were low skilled jobs, while 37.3% were high skilled jobs.

In terms of actual job vacancies, there were only 21,812 unskilled jobs available out of a total of 167,031 jobs for the month of May, while there were 62,232 available jobs for the top skill level. That’s nearly a three to one difference between skilled and unskilled. And this is not an anomaly.

The Australian economy has experienced a distinct decrease in entry-level job availability over the last decade. In 2006, 21.7% of available jobs were suitable for unskilled jobseekers. Today, this is down to a mere 13.1%. This is a decrease of 8.6 percentage points – or nearly a 40% overall decrease – over the last ten years. If this decrease is replicated over the next decade with an equal decrease of 8.6 percentage points, then unskilled jobs will account for only 4.5% of available jobs by 2026. Unfortunately, this is likely to happen according to experts.

Author and journalist Paul Mason put the argument in The Guardian this week:

'If we accept – as Oxford researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne stated in 2013 – that 47% of jobs are susceptible to automation, the most obvious problem is: how are people going to live?'

This is an important question. Increased automation has already eradicated many unskilled jobs leaving fewer entry-level employment opportunities for school leavers, the unskilled and the disadvantaged. What happens when all or most of these jobs disappear? This is an issue that the Turnbull Government is yet to deal with any meaningful manner — an issue that illustrates the insignificance of its “jobs and growth” mantra.

But the ramifications of this decline in low skilled jobs are significant. At the most basic level, it means there are now more low skilled jobseekers than low skilled jobs. Indeed, the Anglicare report uses Jobactive data to show that there were over 138,000 registered disadvantaged (Stream C) jobseekers in May 2016 but, at the same time, only 21,812 unskilled jobs. Meaning there were 6.33 jobseekers for every available low skilled job. Yet this figure doesn’t include other jobseekers with higher skill levels or the underemployed. If both of these categories are included, then the number of jobseekers for every available job is closer to ten people for every job.

But it gets worse. In states like Tasmania and South Australia, the figures are well above the national average of jobseekers per job. In Tasmania, there are 10.62 low skilled jobseekers for every entry-level job; in South Australia, 9.39 low skilled jobseekers for every entry-level job.

With data like this, the Anglicare report shows that it is illogical to argue that unemployment is caused by the jobless themselves.

It states:

'The evidence presented in this report debunks the assumption that people who remain unemployed do so because they are not prepared to work: while there are some appropriate jobs in the labour market, there are simply not enough to cater for the number of people in with limited skills and experience who are looking for work.'

Yet while the data quoted in the Anglicare report came from Federal Government departments, the Turnbull Government itself fails to acknowledge the obvious trend that the data reveals and instead continues to blame jobseekers for their predicament. This is not a fact overlooked by Anglicare’s report.

It states:

'There is a continuing public campaign in politics and the media to suggest that people without work are entirely responsible for their own circumstances and that they could and should try harder and more successfully to get a job. In partnership with that populist view of unemployment, government links income support for people without work to a range of activity tests and associated penalties. This reinforces the notion that it is issues of behaviour rather than opportunity which need to be addressed.'

But the data overwhelmingly speaks for itself — there are fewer jobs than jobseekers. Punishing the unemployed for their behaviour won’t create jobs.

The data presented in the report also indirectly highlights the obvious problem with the Federal Government’s Work for the Dole program. That is, the program is not designed to create employment for the jobless. Instead, according to the Department of Employment, it is designed to develop skills employers want, increase confidence, make the unemployed work ready and to link them to their community. Indeed, Work for the Dole has only provided just over 11% of participants with full-time employment. As a result, the most disadvantaged jobseekers highlighted in Anglicare’s report are still left without employment and, at the same time, blamed for being unemployed.

This poses the question: How will low skilled jobseekers gain employment if the Federal Government continues to waste time and money on punitive programs that neither develop skills or job opportunities? Because any adequate policy solution will surely need to include an ongoing process of skill development, training, and/or education, which is placed along side the development of long-term job creation programs.

But while Australia only spends 5.2% of GDP on education compared to the OECD average of 5.9%, then any chance of a significantly increasing the skill levels of our most disadvantaged jobseekers and then providing them with jobs is limited.

Therefore, even if the Turnbull Government invested in unskilled jobseekers – as the Anglicare report suggests – it will also have to acknowledge that it will need to spend more on welfare, until the impact of improved training, education and jobs programs comes to fruition. But with Scott Morrison and Christian Porter both regularly demonising the unemployed, this is unfortunately not likely to happen.

It is, therefore, almost certain that unskilled jobseekers in Australia will continue to struggle to find employment as the trend towards further automation continues to eradicate the need for human labour. The struggle is made even more severe by the Turnbull Government’s refusal to acknowledge their plight. As a consequence, the “Lucky Country” will increasingly become the “Unlucky Country” for the many jobless Australians left behind by the failed economic policies of a failed national government. 

Leon Moulden is a freelance social researcher.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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