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The hidden jobs impact of the Holden closure

Opinion

While the understandable focus of the Holden closure has been the direct employees of the automotive industry, another group of workers might be even harder hit, writes Nicole Dwyer.

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When Holden confirmed October 20 as the last day for its Elizabeth plant, the countdown began not just for the carmaker’s remaining workers, but for all job seekers in northern Adelaide.

Just under 1000 workers will officially clock off on that day and many will be looking for a new job at a time when unemployment levels in the State are rising.

This places higher competition for jobs in the northern suburbs at a time when it’s least welcome.

Unemployment in the north of Adelaide has risen from 6.3% to 7.8% in the past 4 years, well above the national rate of 5.6%.

For a number of departing Holden workers it will be the first time they have been out of work.

The prospect of re-entering the job hunt after such a long time can be a daunting experience, particularly for older workers who may feel disconnected or out of touch with the labour market.

Creating employment opportunities for these workers and helping them to become ready for the change will be critical to their future prospects.

The Holden workers will be back in the labour market at a time when South Australia is going through a major employment transition with the decline of traditional manufacturing and emergence of other growth-oriented industries.

They will require support to become job ready – everything from help in preparing resumes and interview techniques to identifying training opportunities, learning new skills and connecting with employers.

The workers who best transition from their employment at Holden will be those who take a front foot approach. Those who leave it too late may be forced to accept lower wages in alternative work, casual roles or periods of unemployment.

Whichever path they choose, the movement of these 1000 workers will alter the local labour market dynamics.

Since first announcing it was closing its South Australian operations three years ago, Holden has been very diligent with its outstanding employee transition program. Workskil Australia, along with other employment service providers, is assisting Holden workers with the transition and has been assisting the automotive industry since Mitsubishi closed its doors in 2012.

On a positive note, these employees will be coming out of an advanced manufacturing environment with well-developed skills, which can be transferred to other industries.

The State’s food processing and construction sectors may be fertile ground for the soon-to-be job seekers. Others may choose to make a complete career change, buy a franchise or even retire.

Whichever path they choose, the movement of these 1000 workers will alter the local labour market dynamics. That’s not to mention the possibility of spin-off retrenchments at other companies servicing or supplying the automotive industry.

Some of those at greatest risk from the ‘Holden effect’ will be the people in the area already finding it tough to land a job.

Without the work history and experience of the Holden workers, the young and long-term unemployed are at a significant disadvantage in competing for the limited jobs on offer.

Many of these people come from disadvantaged backgrounds and face specific social and economic challenges that are often difficult to overcome.

Ensuring these South Australians continue to see employment hope on the horizon will be just as critical for the future of the north.

Nicole Dwyer is the chief executive of Workskil Australia, an Adelaide-based employment, community and youth services provider assisting disadvantaged jobseekers to find work across South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

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