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10 minutes with ... Nicole Dwyer


South Australia’s unemployment has plateaued at 7.2 per cent but remains the highest in the country. Workskil chief executive officer Nicole Dwyer talks to InDaily about how she and her team are helping Whyalla, Port Augusta and Holden brace for job losses and re-educate employers along the way.

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Lee Nicholson: Nicole, welcome to 10 Minutes With. South Australia has again recorded the highest unemployment rate in the country – how is Workskil responding to the state’s unemployment situation?

Nicole Dwyer: Traditionally, South Australia does have a higher unemployment rate than others states but it’s probably been exacerbated in recent years with talk of the closure of Holden and components [manufacturers]. We’ve seen a decline in manufacturing in South Australia.

We’re trying to reposition the state and we are at that transitioning phase at the moment. That is proving one of the most challenging times the state has gone through.

We will see a higher unemployment rate over the next couple of years in South Australia, particularly in regional areas.

LN: How are Whyalla and workers coping following the Arrium announcement?

ND: They are going through some pretty challenging times with one of their primary employers, Arrium.

Global factors like steel prices are impacting on Whyalla. Mining, steel-based industries and our manufacturing sector are all going through a pretty rough patch.

I think Whyalla was already hurting due to the reduction in mining and it became even more reliant on the steel industry – that would be the final straw.

You’ve got houses on the market in Whyalla. They’re a huge glut. So they were already hurting up there.

Some are happy to [relocate] but if you own a home that makes it more of a challenge. It’s really difficult to sell your house in Whyalla at the moment. And there’s not a demand for rental, so that’s the challenge facing local people.

LN: How are you and your team helping Whyalla and the district?

ND: We’re looking at FIFO [fly-in fly-out] opportunities. We’ve got close to 1000 jobseekers in Whyalla at the moment.

We’re seeing lots of redundancies. The impact for us is we get a lot of jobseekers on our caseload.

The more skilled jobseekers, we can find them work fairly easily. What it does is knock the more vulnerable long-term unemployed, who are not as competitive, down the queue.

What we see is young people generally are the first ones to get knocked out. You’ll see our youth unemployment rate has skyrocketed in recent years.

LN: It’s not just youth unemployment – you also see men who are finding it hard to get full-time employment …

ND: Yes, particularly men are finding it more challenging. They are trying to establish themselves from the more traditional manufacturing roles.

Women seem to gravitate to more health and education, whereas men find it hard to see themselves in something different than they are used to.

We work with redundant workers from Holden and we find they are generally very skilled because they have worked in a high-end manufacturing setting.

LN: Is there manufacturing work out there in South Australia?

ND: There is but it knocks out the less competitive people. That’s usually younger people or older people, maybe people with disabilities, maybe people that don’t quite fit expectations of employers when it gets more competitive for jobs.

That’s the challenge we see. We try to re-educate. We try to relocate people to more attractive labour markets.

That’s a strategy we use in Port Augusta and Whyalla at the moment. We look at opportunities like fly-in fly-out to try and keep people employed.

We train people up in service areas; all the areas we know are going to be growth areas for the state. We try and educate and skill up and push people out to jobs in those areas. There are jobs in those areas.

LN: Adelaide has been anticipating the Holden closure for quite some time but is the city ready for this expected next round of high unemployment?

ND: I think they have known this was coming for a good five years. For Holden, it seems like an awful long time.

I think people will find work. It may not be exactly what they want to do as a long-term career option but there will be work here for people.

We haven’t seen the whole brunt yet of the closure of Holden. We’re seeing component manufacturers shutting down and that knock-on effect but we haven’t seen the whole brunt of a couple of thousand additional jobseekers flooding the market when Holden shuts.

We’ll continue to see a climb in our unemployment in the next couple of years.

We’ll see that unemployment rate grow and we’ll definitely see our youth unemployment rate grow. It’s going to be a challenging time. Everybody’s concerned about it. Everybody is trying to put some responses on the ground to boost industry.

There is a lot of nervousness about recruiting. I think there’s actually work there but they just need that confidence to take people on at the moment in South Australia.

LN: Is that reluctance or nervousness by South Australian businesses to hire a new factor?

ND: I think it’s been building for the last few years. If there are smaller businesses, they’re more likely to do things themselves than take on a new person. It’s about building that business confidence.

The young people coming through are under-employed, under-utilised and they are getting those casual roles.

Employers are not giving them a go but they’re fit, they’re healthy, they’ve got great IT skills, they’re flexible and they can deal with change really well.

LN: At the moment we have the workers, we just need businesses to be confident to give them the work …

ND: What you don’t want to see is this bubble of young people coming through that are going to become long-term unemployed in this state.

We did experience that in the early ’90s and we’re still having that knock-on effect.

LN: Are we seeing a second or third generation of unemployed?

ND: We do have pockets of Adelaide and different parts of the state which have multi-generational unemployed and that’s the challenge.

If you don’t have that support network around you that says work is a good thing or you see people going to work each day, it’s really hard to get that encouragement and focus for people to go and get a job.

We do whatever it takes to get someone a job. It might be fixing someone’s teeth because they don’t like smiling so they won’t go to a job interview.

LN: So it can be, as you say, traumatic the first time someone gets a pay packet?

ND: We find the first four weeks are the most critical if they are going to fall over in a job.

For someone who has been on welfare for a long period of time, it’s actually quite traumatic going onto the first pay packet.

Just helping people transition. There’s a level of anxiety that goes with that. We help them go through that process.

LN: Are you seeing Adelaide heading back to the high 20 per cent with youth unemployment?

ND: There are lots of economic factors at play but the employment services market is pretty good in terms of nobody falls through the cracks. Everyone gets help and the support is definitely there for jobseekers.

The challenge is obviously making sure there are available jobs. Will we get back to the rates we had during the “recession we had to have”? I hope we don’t. I don’t think we’ll get quite that high.

LN: Originally, Workskil was created for youth unemployment?

ND: [We] were concerned with youth unemployment and that was 35 years ago.

Workskil started as a little shopfront with a couple of bean bags and now it’s grown to a multi-million-dollar significant business.

It’s a very competitive industry. So it’s nice to see a little Adelaide not-for-profit compete on that stage with these big multinational private businesses.

We are now one of the top 10 providers in the country. It’s been a 35-year journey but it’s nice to see some Adelaide businesses do well; we say if we can do well in Adelaide, we can do well anywhere.



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