Redundant: Perth father faces 'soul-destroying' search
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Redundant: Perth father faces 'soul-destroying' search

Perth father Dave Shaw got made redundant in March.

There are about 40,000 unemployed West Australian men looking for full-time jobs and it's taking them a median 17 weeks, or more than four months, to find it, the latest figures show.

So Dave Shaw is not alone; but he certainly feels it.

Dave with his two daughters in happier times.

Dave with his two daughters in happier times.

An engineer in his 50s with a stellar employment history, he is also a victim of WA’s tanking building industry, which impacted the manufacturer he worked for.

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His wife Ann Shaw, a health education professional, is in the modern jargon “underemployed” – looking for secure full-time work but only able to get casual shifts at a registered training organisation, bringing in a small wage as their job applications meet echoing silence, the redundancy payout dries up and the day they join the Centrelink queue speeds to meet them.

Mr Shaw qualified in engineering, with honours in Mining, in 1986 in the UK.

He worked 17 years – from 1987-2004 – with Burton’s Foods as production/engineering manager before he and Ann, who is Australian, moved back to Australia to raise a family in a sunnier climate.

From 2004-2008 he worked at Peter’s Ice Cream as production manager, getting out just before the business closed its Perth factory, axing 140 jobs and moving operations to the eastern states.

From 2008-2014 he worked at Solahart, as engineering manager, getting out just before the business closed its Perth factory, axing 100 jobs and moving operations to the eastern states.

From 2014-2018 he worked at Jason Windows, WA’s biggest window manufacturer, as engineering manager.

Dave with his youngest daughter.

Dave with his youngest daughter.

Within two years of being hired, he’d delivered the company an annual saving totalling more than his annual salary.

“I put everything into my work. I’m fully committed once I take on a job and I give it as much as possibly can,” he said.

But this was not enough to save him in the WA’s building industry’s most dramatic slump in decades; Bankwest chief economist Alan Langford last month said the downturn in home building was the biggest peak-to-trough fall in the history of Bankwest’s records, with no guarantee the trough had bottomed out.

Major firms including Cooper & Oxley and BCL have gone under and associated businesses have suffered. In March Mr Shaw was told his job had been made redundant.

He phoned his wife and told her instantly. “I was absolutely gutted. I was shaking,” he said.

“She was angry. Not with me, but she knew what I’d put into it. It wasn’t as though I was going to work and marking time and collecting money. I was making the business more cost effective.”

Mr Shaw applied for three jobs even on his way home, before he had even walked in the front door as an unemployed man.

In the “shell-shocked” week that followed he wrote, rewrote and re-rewrote his resume and sent it out repeatedly. He visited the two jobseeker agencies the HR team had sent him to and then sought out two more.

Over the months since March he has applied for more than 160 jobs (this equals 13-plus a week), crafting applications and cover letters for positions in project engineering, manufacturing, prediction management, process engineering, operations management, maintenance supervising, reliability engineering, continuous improvement management and robotics engineering.

He has searched for lower-qualifications jobs in the same fields, reducing the salary bracket by $40,000, which also reduces search results to zero.

He has applied across Australia. His daughters are 13 and 15, so he feels he cannot disrupt their schooling and move the family, but is willing to become a FIFO father if necessary. And he has had more “bites” from the east coast than from the west, even as an out-of-state applicant.

He has tried mining but mining companies do not want someone with 30 years’ manufacturing experience, if their silence is anything to go by.

He has tried unskilled jobs such as warehouse picking, and also labour hire companies, but unsurprisingly they don’t seem keen on an extremely overqualified engineer.

The vast majority of his applications were greeted not with form-letter rejections, but with no response at all.

He got to interview stage for four positions, and in three he made it to the second round.

That’s seven times in three months Mr Shaw has put on his best clothes, walked out the house feeling sick with nerves and hope, and gone to tell a stranger his three decades’ continuous experience is worth something.

Each time he has been politely told “another candidate was more suited to the position”.

“I am perfectly suited to these positions,” he said. “I could do these jobs with my eyes shut. And someone else gets it. I’m used to looking after a factory with 200-300 people in it and a huge amount of equipment. I’m not even getting the job where I’d be looking after 14 people. I feel I come off second best because I’m the oldest candidate.

“It’s absolutely soul destroying. What do I need to do? How much more do I need to know? I don’t think anybody really understands the lack of opportunity for people not in the mining industry in this state. I just don’t think anybody has any real idea. And if it wasn’t picking up right now this state would be in a real mess.

“There is nothing in manufacturing. It’s just disappeared. So many companies have closed down and those jobs will never return because the cost of staff to restart that business is prohibitive. So we import from the eastern states; and we have given them all our jobs.”

His wife has also made it to the second round of interviews twice for jobs she is well qualified for and has also been told the other candidates were “more suited”.

Centrelink's $10,000 incentive for employers to take on over-50s only applies to job seekers who have been unemployed for over 12 months.

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They are living on savings and cannot move their mortgage to interest-only as no bank would take on such a risk. There is still a fortnight’s waiting period to go on Centrelink’s Newstart unemployment allowance.

While renters can receive Newstart plus rent assistance there is no mortgage assistance and Newstart is dramatically lower than the age pension.

“The money we will get will barely pay the mortgage let alone feed the family,” Mr Shaw said.

“We’ve been paying for this house 14 years so it’s not even a big mortgage. It’s less than any rental around here. But once we are on Centrelink we will have to sell.”

Mr Shaw said he tried not to think about his own self-image, and how suddenly his situation had changed at such an unexpected time of life.

“I get distraught when I start thinking that way,” he said.

“Just to put things into context, there have been a couple of things go wrong around the house in the past couple of days, and just to have something go wrong and to be able to go and get the tools out, go and fix them – just to have achieved something that day is an immense relief.

“I never thought things would be like this. Even in my darkest thoughts about losing a job I never thought it would take so long just to get me started. I can’t even find a position just to get a restart going.

“Everybody’s trying to be positive. But this ... it’s hard to live with.”

Emma Young is a Fairfax Media journalist based in Western Australia, breaking news with a focus on science and environment, health and social justice.