'Work' refers to an activity that is performed in order to produce a result and that generally contributes to the good of society. Work can be creative, artistic or done on a voluntary basis. The term ‘employment’ dates back to the Middle-Ages and refers to work that is done in exchange of a wage. Employment is paid work. The difference, beyond semantics, is that employment is disappearing while there will always be work.
In 2015, a report from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) forecast that more than 5 million jobs would disappear in the next 10 to 15 years. In 2018, research from the Australian Institute’s Centre for Future Work revealed that less than half of Australian workers had a permanent full-time job. I wrote about underemployment a while ago. In brief, underemployment is creeping up, casual is the new normal and an increasing number of workers are only a couple of bills away from poverty.
The situation we experience today is the result of advances in automation and technology as well as neoliberal economic policies pushing towards work casualisation. Nobody is safe, from the bottom of the working pool to the most qualified workers. Our current system has reached its limits: economic growth doesn't equate to employment growth anymore. It’s not all doom and gloom though.
There will always be people to feed, roads to repair and things to build or fix. Employment will never completely disappear. Certain jobs simply can’t be replaced by robots. I'm thinking of jobs that require human physical interaction such as nurses or physiotherapists. The remaining jobs, however, will be precarious, highly competitive and will leave many people behind.
In order to produce the article you are reading, I have to research, write a draft then edit it. You can argue that writing a blog is a leisure activity, it is a lot of work nonetheless. Stay at home mums may not be employed either, yet they work hard to raise and look after their children so they can be healthy and educated. Volunteering is working too. Volunteers feed the poor, clean the environment or look after the elderly - all of which are the government's responsibilities by the way. Meaningful work also contributes to boost workers’ self-esteem and feeling of contributing to society.
Any work that contributes to the overall good of society should be compensated. Another avenue worth exploring is the concept of universal basic income. A universal basic income is a government allowance granted to every resident of a country so they can meet their basic needs such as food, health and accommodation. The idea appeared in the early 20th century and was supported by Australia’s Labor Party’s Barry Jones in the 1980's before the idea was dropped by the Bob Hawke Labor government. More on universal basic income in another blog.
A word to the wise
For Ancient Greece philosopher Aristotle, work is a means to an end. For 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx, work is the essence of man but hard labour is alienation. As for me, I think there needs to be a discussion about the place of work in our society today and how to prepare for the future before it is too late.
I recently had a chat with a friend who had been looking for a job for several months. He had finally found one and it was full-time, well paid and didn’t require any particular skills. Good on you Michael! When I asked him how difficult his job was, he replied that the only difficult aspect of the job was to get the job. ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, he added. This wasn’t the first time I heard that saying but on this occasion I began to reflect upon it.
‘I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.'
‘What you know’ refers to your skills and competences. It is your TAFE certificate, your university degree or simply your experience in a particular occupation. As a parent, you tell your kids that if they work hard at school they will be rewarded with a good job and a comfortable life. As a student, you invest a tremendous amount of time and money in acquiring advanced degrees or qualifications for the same reasons.
The idea that all your hard work can come undone because you simply don't know 'the right people' is unfair and frustrating. The sad reality is that we live in a system that doesn't reward the hard-working and deserving people, but those who are cunning and who are not afraid of stamping on ethics and their own principles. But this is for another blog.
Networking is not a crime
‘Who you know’ refers to your network. Networking means building and nurturing a group of people, acquaintances, former colleagues or people working in the same industry for the purpose of mutual benefits. Sometimes connections happen naturally, as part of your work. Sometimes you have to give luck a nudge, by attending events or introducing yourself to the right people. Building a strong network takes time and effort, and it is crucial if you hope to succeed.
Social networking is another form of networking. Platforms like Linkedin or Facebook have made networking easier and can be of great help, in particular if you're an introverted person. The motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that ‘you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with’. While I don’t agree with his statement, I do believe you should surround yourself with people who pull you up instead of dragging you down.
Inequality of opportunities
’It’s not what you know, it's who you know’ implies a hierarchy between your skills and your network, in which the latter tramples the former. When I go to the dentist or when I hire a plumber, I search for the best I can find - or that I can afford, not the most popular. These sometimes go hand in hand, yet I always look for the one who knows his or her stuff. Call me an idealist, but I believe a job should always go to the most suited applicant, regardless of who they know or any other factor such as age, ethnicity, gender or even handicap.
More importantly, it also implies there are people in positions for which they are not suitably qualified or that they didn’t necessarily deserve. Politics is a great example. How on earth did Melissa Price become Minister for the Environment? I know I will probably take some heat for picking on her. She popped up on my social media feed one day so I listened out of curiosity and, oh boy, is she clueless! The time has come to wrap up this week's blog as I'm starting to digress. If you made it to the end, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read my work.
Do you feel like your personal goals and your job no longer align? If you’re not enjoying what you do anymore and you don’t see yourself doing the same job in the future, it may be time for a change. What should you do when you want to change job but you don’t know where to start?
What are you good (and not so good) at?
Start by making a list of what you like and what you dislike about your current job. Write down all the ideas you can think of. It can be the workload, the nature of your job, the work environment, the company culture, your salary and so on. Review as many aspects of your activity as possible. Since you intend to change job, there should be more dislikes on your list.
Add to your list what you want and what you don’t want your next job to be like. Keep in mind that you might never find the perfect job so be flexible and ready to compromise a little. Employers value flexibility a lot. Carry on by including your strengths and weaknesses to your list. This is what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. Be honest with yourself, nobody else will read your list anyway. Finally, add your personal interests.
Which jobs tick your boxes?
Use your list as a checklist to help you find out what you want to do next. Start with the industries you would like to work in and see which ones tick your boxes. Pick one and write down the jobs or activities that you see yourself doing within this industry. Shortlist the occupations that match your preferences. Repeat this process for any industry you’re interested in and see how many potential jobs you can come up with. Remember that finding a job in an industry you have no or little experience in could take a lot of time and effort.
Learn about the jobs and industries
Gather as much information as you can about the jobs you’re interested in. If you know people who are already working in the industry or doing the job you like, either friends or family members, meet up with them and ask them all the questions you can think of. What are the pros and cons of the job? What is a typical day like? Ask them if you can assist them for a day so you can get some first-hand experience.
Go to seminars or events about the industry you’re thinking of working in. Find online courses related to the activity you’re interested in. Online learning platforms like Udemy.com offer thousands of short and affordable courses. If you have the time and if it is possible, volunteering can be a great way to learn about a job or a particular industry too.
Be financially ready
Leaving your current job and searching for a new one can be a cause of financial stress, in particular if you haven’t secured anything yet. It can take months to find a new job, no matter how prepared you are. Make sure you have enough money aside to support yourself while searching for a new job. This is even more important if you have a family. A good rule of thumb is to have six months worth of living expenses saved up. Being financially secure will take the pressure off your shoulders so you can focus on your goal of finding a job.
If you think you’re not financially ready to leave your job yet, start saving now so you can be safe later. Another thing to consider is that you next job may not pay as much as your current one does. This means you may need to make some adjustments to your current lifestyle. Having enough savings aside will allow you to make the transition a little bit smoother. This is particularly true if you have to meet mortgage or loan repayments every month.
Do your own research
When it comes to finding a new job, buying a car, finding online courses or investing in a property, it is crucial to do your own research. Read as much as you can about the jobs and industries you’re considering so you can make the best decision for your next career move. These tips should help you get started in your search of your new job.
After a long time working in the same job, you have finally decided it is time for a change. If you already know the job you want to apply for, your next step is the dreaded paperwork. If you haven’t updated your resume in years and you wish to catch up before going on a job hunt, this week's blog is for you.
Keep it simple
Stick to a simple format for your resume. Keep it clear and neat. An overly creative resume that is hard to read will deter recruiters from spending time on it. Use a traditional layout: your contact details at the top, followed by your skills and experience, and your education background last.
To save space, cut your home address from your contact details. This protects your privacy if you post your resume online and recruiters will only contact you by email or telephone anyway. Last but not least, make sure your email sounds professional. Create a new professional email address if you need to.
Look at samples of resumes online and pick the one you like the most to get started. It is sometimes better to design your own resume, as some employers may consider using a template as a sign of laziness. Your resume should be aimed at the job you are applying for. If you are applying for an architect position for example, designing your own resume will make you stand out and work in your favour.
Focus on your skills and experience
Focus on your skills and your experience. Highlight the skills that are relevant for the position you are applying for. For example, if you are proficient in using a particular software but this software is no longer used, don’t include it in your resume. Skills change over time and what was relevant ten years ago may not be useful today.
In addition to skills, recruiters want employees with experience. Include any work experience that is relevant for the job you are applying for. Focus on what you have accomplished in your previous occupation. Highlight what you brought to the company you were working for: what you built, how you pushed sales numbers up or how you increased productivity.
You are selling yourself so showcase your achievements. If you have a website or a blog, include a link to them in your resume. If you are a freelance photographer posting pictures on Instagram, include the name of your account in your resume.
Polish your presentation
Presentation details such as font and colours can add up to the overall impression of your resume. However the opposite is also true. Choosing inappropriate font and colours can make a great resume look pretty average. The font should be easy to read and look modern. Size matters too. While a smaller size will allow you to squeeze in more information onto your resume, it will also make it more difficult to read by your potential employers. Don’t go below size ten and your resume will be fine.
Regarding the length of your resume, one to two pages is good, depending on your experience. If you are entering the workforce, you may not have much to write on your resume and a single page will be enough. Remember that your resume is nothing but a list of your skills and your experience. Don't write your autobiography.
Pick your words carefully. Avoid using the passive form and choose action verbs. This will give potential employers the impression that you are a dynamic person. Check your spelling before you save your resume. There are enough free online tools available to check your spelling for you so there is no excuse for a resume written in bad english.
Manage your time
In the end, there is only so much you can do to sell yourself. The companies you worked for and your previous roles are what recruiters are the most interested in. These won’t change, no matter how good your resume look. My final piece of advice is not to spend too much time on updating your resume. Set yourself a deadline, write the best resume you can and move on to the next step.
How early in your search for a new job should you break the news to your employer? This is a difficult question to answer. This depends on the relationship you have with your employer. If your relations are good, you can tell your employer as early as when you make the decision to find a new job. In some cases, your employer may even help and support you in your research. It happens. In the case of an already difficult relationship with your employer, the safest option is to wait until you have secured or you’re about to secure your next job.
Honesty is the best policy
Be honest about the reasons why you want to leave. You don’t need to be too specific or negative about these reasons but an honest explanation will probably leave a better impression to your employer. For example you may no longer want to work in an office-based role and you would like to experience working outdoors. Maybe you have come full circle in your current job and you want a career in a different industry with new challenges to motivate you.
Don’t burn your bridges
It is always better to leave your job on good terms with your employer. You may need referrals or recommendation letters from them when you apply for a new job. They could be contacted as a reference or as part of a background check about your previous position. Another thing that can help you leave a good impression is giving enough notice to your current employer. Depending on your activity, you could even offer to stay on until a suitable replacement has been found or until the person set to replace you has been trained and can carry on your work when you leave. If you can avoid it, don’t burn your bridges.
Here are a few more tips that can help you avoid trouble at work when you’re thinking about leaving your job. Try to do all your job hunting outside your working hours. Avoid using your office computer or internet for your research. If you need to make a phone call, use your personal phone and do it during your lunch break when nobody is around - at least nobody who could get you into trouble, like your manager or other colleagues. If your boss was to find out that you’re looking for a new job during work hours, there’s a good chance that you loose your job earlier than you anticipated to.
'Tonight, I’ll be eating spaghetti carbonara with fried onions and diced pancetta from Luigi’s Mansion in Fremantle. Ding-dong!’
Everybody has seen at least one of these spots for Uber Eats on TV. My favourite is Boy George’s, I laugh every time. The hand you see handing over the food at the end of the commercial belongs to one of Uber’s delivery drivers. Uber calls them their ‘partners’ (understand employees with no social benefits). This delivery driver is a worker of the gig economy.
Disclaimer here: I already picked on Uber in my second blog post Lessons we can learn from Blade Runner 2049. I’m using the example of Uber again because of the abundance of information available about the company. Unfortunately, most of it came to light following the numerous scandals Uber got themselves into.
What is the gig economy and how does it work?
The gig economy refers to a type of employment based on a succession of short-term contracts or projects. Most industries have been affected by it: transport, healthcare, hospitality, professional services, and even the public sector. Online platforms such as Uber, Airtasker or Airbnb have been a massive hit with consumers. And for good reasons. They're cheap, convenient and easy to use.
The main appeal of the gig economy is the false promise of flexibility. ‘Be your own boss’, ‘work when you want, as much as you want’, ‘unlimited earning potential’ blah blah blah. The 'flexibility' really is for the employer, not the worker. I got lured into this myself when I started working as a personal trainer in a big gym. But this story is for another day.
Uber's business model is an abomination
Most people probably ignore how Uber manages to offer transportation services so much cheaper than taxis. Uber’s business model relies on cutting costs and exploiting taxation loopholes as much as they can in order to slash their prices and kill all competition. All the risks and running costs are passed onto the drivers, who are hired as subcontractors.
Because gig workers are considered self-employed, they are not entitled to social benefits such as holiday or sick leave and superannuation. Workers are paid per ‘gig’, or job, no matter how long it takes them to do the task. Unions representation is a problem too, as the status of gig workers is a grey area that needs to be clearly defined.
On a platform like Airtasker, workers bid against each other to get jobs, most of the time based on the cost of the service provided. Which as a result brings the cost of labour significantly down as most of the time whoever is the cheapest gets the job. The result of this race to the bottom is that it keeps wages down.
Back to the future
Uber started to operate in Australia in late 2012 without any licence. To make things worse, thanks to a clever tax scheme, Uber is paying virtually no taxes in Australia. In 2015, Uber was legalised in all states except Northern Territory (it happened last year), and the Australian Taxation Office decided that all drivers should pay GST from the first dollar they earn. For the sake of comparison, if you had started your own business in 2012 without any licence and had paid the same amount of taxes that Uber did, you'd most likely be in prison by 2015. This is called a double standard.
Where the gig economy has been the most disruptive is in going backwards on decades of struggle for fair wages and workers’ rights and entitlements. An increasing number of companies are hiring people on a subcontractor employment basis so they don’t have to pay for entitlements such as holiday leave or superannuation. The gig economy is here and it's here to stay.
The government turned a blind eye because Uber was ‘creating’ jobs. Insecure and underpaid jobs. One of the government’s roles is to set the rules for its economy and to ensure workers are treated fairly. By failing to respond to the changes happening to the work place, the government is responsible for the precarious situation so many workers find themselves in.
Between the gig economy and the casualisation of work, full-time employment and the benefits that go with it may one day be a thing of the past. Ask yourself if this is what you want for your kids when they grow up. Remember that when you take an Uber or when you order food through Uber Eats, you are supporting their exploitative practices with your own money. So tonight, after you've read the usual bedtime story, tell your kids to start saving for retirement right now. Just in case.
With the decline of the mining industry, many of the workers who lost their jobs in the mines turned to the construction industry because of the low barriers to entry and a relative employment security compared to mining jobs. Construction is now the first source of employment for male workers in Australia with 9 out of 10 construction workers being men.
In 2018, there were 1.2 million people working in the construction industry in Australia. This is just under 10% of the total workforce. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of workers in the industry has increased by almost 20%. This number is expected to increase by another 10% between now and 2022, which is very encouraging for the future of the industry.
Full-time employment in construction is better than in most industries
Construction fares better than other industries when it comes to the number of workers working full time. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the national average across all industries is around 70% of full time workers. In the building industry, there are 85% of full time workers, which makes it the second best industry for full time employment after mining. This is quite impressive, in particular compared to the national average.
However construction is also the industry with the most self-employed workers with 1 out of 3 construction workers being self-employed. Regarding weekly hours and earnings, full time construction workers work an average of 41 hours a week and they earn on average $1,250 per week before taxes.
Trades and young workers are the most represented
Still according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the top 10 occupations in terms of people employed are carpenters, electricians, managers, plumbers, painters, labourers, plasterers, concreters, surveyors and plant operators. Together, they account for half of all the people working in the industry. Trade services represent 65% of the total number of people employed in the industry.
The building industry is also the first source of employment for young workers. 45% of the workers are 15 to 34 years old. 35% of the workers are 45 years old and older. Finally, only 20% of the workers are 35 to 44 years old.
In conclusion, construction is a fairly young industry that is dominated by male workers. It has the second greatest proportion of full time workers of all industries. The number of people employed has been increasing in the last few years and should keep increasing steadily in the next couple of years.
The construction industry is at the origin of the houses we live in, the schools our children go to or the roads we travel everyday. The main activities focus on building, maintaining and repairing a wide range of diverse structures such as houses, buildings, roads, railway, bridges and many more. The construction sector plays a major role in the Australian economy.
The industry can be divided into three categories: residential, non-residential and engineering construction. Residential construction refers to houses and apartment buildings. Non-residential construction includes facilities such as hospitals, shops, offices, entertainment and industrial facilities. Engineering construction designates infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, bridges and buildings. The engineering construction activity represents the largest part of the industry. More than half of the revenue generated comes from engineering construction.
How construction affects other industries
The construction industry is directly linked to other industries such as transport, manufacture or retail. Many people are involved at the different stages of a construction project. Architects and engineers are involved at the design phase.
When construction starts, contractors and subcontractors work together to complete the project. To build a house or any other structure, they need building materials such as bricks and timber which is provided by suppliers and then delivered by transportation companies. They also need plant and equipment to complete the works, from heavy machinery to hand tools, which they purchase or hire from manufacturers and retailers. Tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers or landscapers are also involved at different stages of a construction project and are regularly required for maintenance purposes after construction is complete.
Another phase of a construction project is the sale of the house or the building. Buyers and sellers involved in the sale process require the services of professionals such as real-estate agents, bankers and lawyers. Finally, the newly built house or building then needs to be equipped with furniture and appliances from local retailers.
Construction as the bellwether of the economy
There is a strong connection between the construction industry and the other industries it supports. When the building sector slows down, it is all the people directly and indirectly involved in the industry who see their activities slow down as well. As such, the construction industry is like the barometer of the economic health of our country.
We talk of underemployment when people work less hours than they would if they were employed full time or when their occupation doesn’t match their skills or education level. Let’s take two examples to illustrate this definition.
Our first example is a worker who would like to work more hours than he or she currently does but can’t get full time employment. This often leads the individual to cumulate jobs if the number of hours worked is not enough to meet their basic needs.
Our second example is a qualified worker who can’t find a job in his or her area of expertise and is forced to take a job that is below their skills or education level. For example a university graduate who works as a delivery driver because he can’t find a job in his area of expertise. This is what we refer to as an overqualified worker.
The relation between unemployment and underemployment
Underemployment has been steadily going up for the last 30 years. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were more than 1.1 million workers who were considered underemployed in the first half of 2018. This represents about 9% of the working population. In comparison, the underemployment rate in the 1980’s was only 3% of the working population, almost 3 times lower than what it is today.
In order to get a complete picture of the current employment situation in Australia, we need to consider unemployment and underemployment figures together. The combination of both is called the underutilisation rate. It is the proportion of the workforce that is not utilised by the economy. With the unemployment rate at 5.3% in the first half of 2018, we add up the underemployment rate and the result is an underutilisation rate of about 14%. This means that 1 out of 7 people of the Australian workforce is either unemployed or working part-time.
Young workers and women are the first concerned
Underemployment is directly linked to the economic health of the country. As such, underemployment and unemployment have evolved together in the 2000’s. However, the gap between the two seems to have increased significantly over the last 3 years. While unemployment figures have been slightly going down since 2015, underemployment figures have maintained their steady upwards trend. This means it is very likely that we see double digit rates in the number of underemployed people in the next couple of years.
Workers aged 15 to 24 and workers with the lowest skills or education levels are the first affected by underemployment. Individuals living in rural areas are more likely to be affected by underemployment than people living in cities. What’s more, 6 out of 10 underemployed people are women. People who were or are currently underemployed are also more likely to be underemployed in the future.
What are the causes of underemployment?
One of the main causes of the rise in the number of underemployed workers is that the number of part-time jobs has been growing faster than the number of full-time jobs. From the 1990’s, there has been a shift in the dominant industries from mining and manufacturing to services such as retail, health and tourism. The nature of work has slowly changed and a lot of full time jobs have been replaced by part-time jobs.
When we look at the proportion of part-time jobs across various industries, this transition from traditional full time employment to more casual part-time employment is quite clear. Between 2012 and 2018, the accommodation and food services industry has been the third industry to create the most jobs, behind healthcare and construction. However, it is also the industry where we find the highest number of part-time workers. In the first half of 2018, more than 60% of all the jobs were part-time jobs.
The situation is very similar in the retail sector. Retail is the second biggest industry with the most people employed, and part-time jobs account for more than 50% of all jobs. Healthcare and social services, which I mentioned earlier, is the industry with the most people employed in Australia. It is also the industry that has created the most jobs in recent years. However, 45% of the people employed in healthcare and social services work part-time.
There are other causes that explain why underemployment is going up. Advances in technologies and automation have reduced the number of workers required to do the same amount of work. For example in manufacturing. The high cost of labour means that it is more affordable for a business to employ two workers on a casual basis rather than a full-time worker for the same number of hours.
Competition, changes and uncertainty in the market place means businesses have to adapt if they want to be successful. Businesses need to be more efficient in order to stay competitive. They need employees who are ‘flexible’, who can work more hours when business is booming and fewer hours when things slow down.
The consequences of being underemployed
The first consequence of underemployment is that it creates a situation of job insecurity and financial instability for the workers. The number of hours worked and the income perceived can vary from one week to the next depending on the need for workers and how business is going. Jobs that offer irregular working hours and variable income put workers at risk when they don’t have other sources of revenue. This can become problematic when applying for a mortgage for example.
The second consequence of high underemployment is that it keeps a lid on wages growth. When people think that a part-time job is better than not having a job at all, they are less likely to negotiate their wages or ask their employer for a pay raise. The increasing number of workers who would like to work more hours holds wages down. Low wages growth means households have less money to spend which eventually has a negative impact on the economy.
How to avoid becoming underemployed?
The good news is that solutions to the problem of underemployment exist. At the government level, developing policies that provide incentives for companies that hire full-time workers rather than part-time could prevent further growth. However, workers themselves can minimise the risks of being affected by underemployment by being proactive. They need to adapt to changes and new trends in their business place. This means keeping their skills current and relevant for the market. This is achieved through ongoing education, extra training and additional experiences.
Casual is the new normal
Full-time employment is becoming a thing of the past. Casual employment is becoming the norm in a lot of industries such as healthcare, retail or hospitality. Working part-time can be a personal choice and not all workers in this situation necessarily want to work more hours. However, while this ‘casualisation’ of work allows businesses to be more flexible and efficient, it also puts more stress on the workers and can lead to precarious situations for many of them.
Looking at the numbers, it appears that the jobs are there, that jobs are being created. The three industries mentioned above are employing more and more people every year. The problem seems that despite the number of jobs, there aren’t enough hours for the workers. It will be interesting to see how many jobs will be created this year, and more importantly what proportion of these new jobs will be full-time.