A one-size-fits-most approach is not going to cut it

RATE: The unemployment rate only counts those people who are looking for a job and haven't undertaken any hours of work in the previous month. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
RATE: The unemployment rate only counts those people who are looking for a job and haven't undertaken any hours of work in the previous month. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

In June of last year, there were almost 716,000 people experiencing unemployment according to the ABS.

Now, we are sitting at about 1 million and that's not including people receiving JobKeeper support.

When they switch that off, this number will increase further; in fact, the Grattan Institute estimated an unemployment rate of 30.2 per cent after JobKeeper ends.

A statistical anomaly that is rarely acknowledged is that the unemployment rate only counts those people who are looking for a job and haven't undertaken any hours of work in the previous month.

Many workers who have lost their employment as a result of coronavirus have withdrawn altogether.

These people aren't counted in the unemployment rate. They aren't on the radar. They are forgotten. So, these figures don't paint the whole picture.

The accommodation and hospitality industry; transport, postal and warehousing sectors; professional, scientific and technical services; construction; retail and wholesale trade; arts and recreation, account for nearly three-quarters of the job loss swell in Australia.

Unemployment is suddenly on the minds of people who had never seriously had to worry about it before.

This story is not a comforting one.

As I sit at home (instead of in my office) writing this, I find myself thinking about the long-term effects of this pandemic.

We are being affected through illness, social disconnection, economic loss, psychological harm: the very fabric of our society is being rewoven through cultural adaptation to accommodate the need for social distancing, lack of touching, caring for our loved ones and supporting others through births and deaths.

How we connect, how we celebrate, how we grieve, how we shop, how we live, is having to change in a collective effort to flatten the curve.

Without our usual means of stress relief, of psychological and emotional recovery from trauma and loss, of leaning on each other, whether through sport, social gatherings, or funerals, it is not surprising that we are finding ourselves increasingly feeling anxious, stressed and worried.

This has been acknowledged through the boost to the mental health system in Victoria, and it demonstrates the wide impact that this virus is having on us.

As a career counsellor, I continue to be worried.

Much of the advice available on the internet focuses on taking advantage of lockdown to retrain, reskill, and redevelop our approach to our entire careers, as if the solution to our problem lies in a link to a free online course.

Versatility and an ability to pivot to a new path is certainly vital in maintaining career viability in this labour market, but it's not something that comes easy to many of us.

It can be a mental and emotional challenge to put aside that MBA you did and look at rebuilding your work prospects in a different direction.

It is a well-known belief that our goal in pursuing education is to make some sort of qualitative improvement to our personal lives and the community at large.

It is a challenging hurdle to overcome when you realise that your future isn't going to unfold how you thought it would and the jobs out there don't meet your skill set.

Many of us have heard the "you're over-qualified" response to job applications and I'm sure we've all groaned in frustration upon its receipt.

Taking off the qualifications you've worked hard to achieve (and let's be honest, cost an arm and a leg) from your resume and pretending to offer less than you do, can feel demoralising and even like you are stripping yourself of your identity.

If social media is to be believed, it is a commonly held opinion that people who are looking for certain types of work are "job snobs" - in fact, Michaelia Cash herself has perpetuated this stereotype.

However, in reality, hirers don't want just anybody to fill their positions.

They want appropriately qualified, skilled and experienced candidates, preferably who will stay for the long-term, not get bored and won't constantly be looking for something better.

With an increasingly diverse cohort of people experiencing unemployment in this pandemic, we need to be able to provide tailored and supportive assistance: a one-size-fits-most approach is not going to cut it.

With JobActive providers already overworked and under-resourced before COVID-19 added 300k plus people to their caseload, perhaps the government needs to consider how we can best support these providers to meet the evolving needs of our community.

If you need assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au.