Ballarat residents Brett O’Neill and Andrea Bradding are unemployed, but getting closer to finally clinching a long-term role after polishing up their job application skills.
The pair are part of the Career Transition Assistance pilot program, targeted at job seekers over 50s, with Ballarat one of only five cities around Australia trialing the course since July.
One Ballarat group rolling out the free digital literacy and career coaching course is Australian Employment Training Solutions.
After being employed at Rivers for 10 years until it closed, and then a drinks manufacturer, Ms Bradding stopped working after the emotional tumult of her mother’s death.
50 per cent of the jobs I’ve now applied for, I wouldn’t have been able to apply for online without doing the course.Job seeker Andrea Bradding
These digital skills are timely, as the city moves away from labouring. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Census data has shown Ballarat’s changing workforce, with technicians and tradies only making up 13.6 per cent of the city’s workers in 2016, down on 14.2 per cent in 2011.
While he worked to build safety fences earlier this year, Mr O’Neill has experienced bouts of unemployment, and hopes a change of skill set might be the tonic to labour work his “body won’t be able to handle for the next ten years”.
“It’s lit up my interesting in doing a bit more, learning more skills to do with computers, because that seems to be where a lot of the work is now,” Mr O’Neill said. “As you get older, you can’t do the physical work, so it’s opened up a new world of information and skills I could attain, to get a better job.”
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Ageism still a job barrier
Employer discrimination against older job seekers is still rife, and more needs to be done to help older Australians stay in work, according to one leading Melbourne researcher.
Dr Ruth Williams is the academic convenor of the Hallmark Ageing Research Initiative at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health. She said the Restart program – which gives businesses a subsidy of up to $10,000 a year for workers over 50 years of age who had been unemployed for over six months – had a disappointing uptake due to red tape.
“That has had very, very poor take up rates,” she said.
“Essentially for bigger organisations, it’s not worth them going through the red tape to get $10,000 per year. To them, it’s small money.
“And its kind of giving the wrong message, in the sense that it is promoting the idea that employers need to be compensated in order to employ mature-age employees.”
According to Department of Employment documents in 2015, only 1735 people took advantage of the Restart scheme in its first year, out of a potential 32,000.
She said ageism against prospective workers had proved to be a “massive problem”.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported in July this year the national unemployment rate for the quarter had remained steady at 5.4 per cent.
Ballarat had an unemployment rate of 4.78 per cent in March 2018, lower when compared with the regional Victorian avcerage of 5.33 per cent.
Dr Williams stated a “multi-pronged” approach was necessary to combat “systemic” ageism and help people over 50 get employed or enter a new industry.
She highlights the need for employers to consider and adapt for pre-existing health conditions, which will increase due to Australia’s ageing population, and more government incentives for employing and upskilling workers.
“We know that an older worker loses their job, it takes them something like three times as long to get back into the workforce as a younger worker,” she said.
“Employers and organisations are going to have to work out ways that older workers … can manage [pre-existing conditions] in the workforce. It might be easy as having a little room a diabetic can administer their insulin without attracting attention.”