Jobs galore and not many takers: The town’s biggest construction project right now is Lasseters’ $35 million development. The new resort style pool is part of it, due to open at the end of this month. Claire Ryan Photography.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
A young Aboriginal woman holding down her permanent job as check-out staff in a big supermarket is a rare glimmer of hope in the Alice Springs job scene.
That’s the picture from where Kay Eade is sitting as Executive Officer of the Chamber of Commerce.
“A lot of people have two jobs to keep this town going.
“Many businesses have scaled down, passed up bidding for big jobs, closed their premises and are working from home.
“They can’t get staff.”
Yet there are 543 “job seekers receiving Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance” in The Alice, according to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
The department’s “Central Australian Remote Servicing Team” lists 1649 job seekers and Yuendumu, 85.
That adds up to 2277 for the region.
More detailed figures are hard to come by. Some of the private job agencies were reluctant to give details.
One of them, CatholicCare NT, says 4,500 people 15+ years of age are registered as looking for work for the Alice Springs employment services area which includes remote communities.
That is double DEEWR’s figure.
CatholicCare NT’s Carl Russelhuber says the approximate break-up is 10% of registered jobseekers are skilled, 25% semi-skilled and 65% unskilled.
The agency currently has about 30 vacancies – 11 skilled (these are CatholicCare NT positions), 10 semi-skilled and nine unskilled.
About 120 Alice Springs employers have placed vacancies with CatholicCare NT in the past two and a half years.
Ms Eade, after eight years in Alice Springs and 25 in the NT, has an unblinkered view about the situation.
“Some people’s understanding of work ethic is very minimal,” she says.
“They have grown up with that mentality.
“They don’t understand what it means to a business owner when you don’t turn up, when you take a sickie.
“Welfare needs to be dried up,” says Ms Eade.
Recently the chamber offered a Retail Certificate Three course with 23 places in a bid to relieve the dramatic staff shortage in that sector.
Not a single person enrolled.
Then the chamber engaged Aboriginal consultant Ken Lechleitner to give a course for employers about how to induct Aboriginal workers, and give the bosses an introduction into local culture.
About 20 business people attended.
But when they finished the course they couldn’t find any Aboriginal employees on whom to practice their newly acquired skills.
Businesses are “screaming out for staff” and much of the local economy would collapse without the 475 visas allowing foreigners into jobs here.
Ms Eade says many young people have no idea what the point is of going to school.
They believe there are no jobs out there for them: “Australia cannot sustain the growing welfare sector.
“When you leave school you’ll have to work – that’s what we need to tell 12 and 13 year olds, be responsible for your own lives.
“We have to start somewhere.”
The shortage of workers is greatest in the retail, restaurant and hotel industries, and in “admin”.
Construction has wound down – the Lasseters hotel and casino extension is the only big project on the go.
Ms Eade says the jobs are simple, requiring a minimum of skills that can be picked up easily with the standard school education.
But the qualities most often absent are reliability – showing up every day.
Yet it’s not all doom and gloom.
An admirable exception, says Ms Eade, is the initiative of the Smith Family, run by Jodie Lennox in the Centralian Middle School, the former
ASHS, for younger kids, aged around 12 and 13.
“They openly talk about issues, the parents are involved, they tackle projects, learn life skills and what’s expected of them when they go to
work,” says Ms Eade.
“It creates self-confidence, life skills, not to turn into angry young people.”