Employment: Not Just A Job

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Employment: Not just a job

By Simon Jedwab – Program Manager, Employment Centre

Zelda is a single parent with two young children, one at school and one in childcare. Zelda is a trained nurse but hasn’t worked since her first child was born.  Her partner left soon after their second child arrived and has had no contact since. He left her with unpaid debts and rent she could not afford, so the family had to move.  So now Zelda has to survive on Centrelink, though she would much rather work. She is always tired and anxious about bills, feels isolated and lonely. Finding work that still allows her to be there for her children is difficult.    

Employment is the pathway to economic engagement with and participation in society – but it provides much more than just income. Employment offers a sense of contribution, meaning and belonging. There are an enormous range of social and health benefits that come from work, for both individuals and communities. Work gives a person a sense of purpose, independence and self-determination; it widens their interaction with people, developing honest and equal relationships; and it reduces the society’s economic burden by reducing welfare costs and bolstering the tax system.

There is little disagreement that access to a secure, stable and reasonably paid job is the best route out of economic hardship and poverty.

Unemployment and its long term outcome, poverty, affects a range of groups in our society, beyond just single parents. People living with intellectual disability, whose own, let alone society’s, expectations of  their potential in the open job market can act as a significant barrier; young people with histories of abuse or neglect; refugees and asylum seekers; Indigenous Australians; and women over the age of 50.

There are a number of factors that reduce a person’s choice and contributes to a lack of fair competition for worthwhile jobs, affecting the ability to build a life of value and purpose. The most fundamental are:

  • Growing up or living in an environment that provides little opportunity to improve a person’s skills or create their own vocational pathway;
  • Lack of resources available to enable the opportunity to take time to study or create.  People live ‘week to week’, from one salary or social security payment to the next; 
  • Poor networks generally composed of people who cannot help them, do not recognise their capacity or do not want to help them due to prejudice. So-called ‘social capital’ is enormously important for employment, given 75% of jobs are obtained through networking;
  • No opportunity or preparation in job ready or soft skills, such as work etiquette and communication. Social intelligence may have been reduced through poor conditioning, low confidence, inappropriate modelling and low expectations.  Often people leave the school system early due to trauma, homelessness or cultural factors. In short: if you’ve never had a job, there has been no opportunity or environment to learn how to work.

The systematic bias against people with disadvantage is even more entrenched in the main pillars of the vocational pathway: education and job seeking.

Our education system is biased towards those with “normal” functioning, stability and support in their lives from the beginning.  Individuals who can afford to attend ‘good’ schools, experience  a safe, stable and loving  home environment and those who are encouraged by family and friends to take chances in their careers, are generally primed for success. As well, there are factors such as insecure housing, low income, a lack of direction, low confidence, low expectations and even poor diet that follow people directly into classrooms, affecting their ability to engage in education and learning

Societal and systemic factors can create biases that disadvantage many job seeking cohorts including age, race, disability and gender. In addition, the long-term effect of this prejudice directly influences self-esteem and confidence, making career counselling, job search planning and job seeking all the more difficult. People with barriers and their families have much lower expectations.

Looking and competing for jobs requires time, access to digital and material resources, good language skills, flexibility and emotional intelligence People under pressure or lacking resources and support start way at the back of queues for vacancies. Job seeking requires energy, space and resources – a tall ask for someone like Zelda.

Jewish Care’s Employment Centre understands that employment support is meaningless when it concentrates only on managing problems and not on building solutions. To assist people to  become capable and motivated job seekers requires coaching of skills, mentoring to inspire, consultancy to direct, networks to explore and finally a trustworthy and accessible structure to provide support. 

Jobseekers who are living in or at risk of poverty, or experience some sort of disadvantage, often require a range of supports in order to compete in the job market. They need:

  • Employment consultants who recognise the diverse needs of job seekers and can identify the need for support services beyond employment to assist them. It sometimes takes a holistic input of support from a variety of services to enhance someone’s capabilities and self-belief.
  • Assistance to find the vocational pathways that match their interests and strengths, as a person is more likely to commit to and sustain a job if they find meaning in what they are doing;
  • Supportive contact at regular intervals throughout  their vocational pathway including post-placement support;
  • Services that prepare them to be job ready and independent job seekers.
  • Connection to initiatives and programs available in the community and to resources that can assist  such as Jobs Victoria, NDIS and federally funded employment providers such as Disability Employment Services and Job Active.  
  • Employers that understand the range of practical and social benefits that arise from employing someone with barriers to work.  

The Jewish Care Employment Centre plays an important contributing role in the wraparound of services that Jewish Care has available to individuals in the community. Disadvantage can disrupt the ability to attain purpose, fulfilment, happiness and self-worth. At worse, the disadvantage experienced from long term unemployment can lead to poverty.

Stable, secure and reasonably paid work is a clear way out of poverty. The on-going support and guidance provided by the Employment Centre aims to offer job seekers to opportunity to believe in themselves and their skills, gain work, and be supported to stay in work. In this way the Centre aims to play their part in combating poverty for this and future generations.  

“A Community that Works is a Working Community.”

If you or someone you know would like support to explore your jobseeking options, contact Jewish Care’s Front Door on ph: 8517 5999.