May 2010 – Northbridge, Perth, Australia
A less than stable middle aged Chilean man dressed like a 1980’s TV themed police detective has been sat next to me for the last half hour sniggering incessantly while idly surfing the internet.
Risible doesn’t quantify his prolonged fit of hysterics, which has drawn bemused and irritated glances from the four or five other distracted and annoyed job seekers. He even feigns an attempt to control his laughter with a cartoon hand over his mouth trying to stymie what is patently clear – that nothing can be that funny for that length of time unless you’re a wee bit deranged.
Over the past few weeks I’ve attended Jobsearch I’ve grown to tolerate Mr Less than Stable Chillan Guy’s chafing presence. He’s often sat next me as there are only a handful of computer terminals. And when he’s not cachinnating over nothing, he mutters ceaselessly and loudly in Spanish to himself. It’s vexing when I consider I could be wrapped in a serene Wi-Fi cloud at my own abode on my laptop job searching, or out on the cold canvas streets, distributing my resume like a student, or backpacker or someone from the nineties.
This isn’t helped by the other regular jobseekers in attendance (at least on a Thursday). Mama Baboushka is currently on the telephone chasing up a lead with the intensity like she’s in some Communist Russian version of Glengary Glen Ross.
‘Zank you for… mmm document.’
‘But WHAT company?’
‘Blue pages, Yellow pages, Green pages-’
‘Eash Perf, EASH PERF!’
‘Zank you very much.’
‘Stupid fukn bitch.’
I feel somewhat sorry for Mama Baboushka. She is a brutish middle aged relic from Glasnost and Perestroika. I find her fierce demeanour and vigorous desire to work commendable, yet an ultimately tragic anachronism considering Australia’s mellow sense of decorum and affable sensibilities. And for what is ostensibly an unsupervised program I feel the system has somewhat let Mama Baboushka down.
So what am I doing here?
Well, once again I’ve fulfilled another 12 week unsupervised period on the dole. And like before the Job Support Network Provider, or what is now called a Job Network Service Provider I nominated when I signed on has been activated (not like the Centurions or Thundercats,) but depending on your supervisor it can feel that way.
Unlike in 1997, 2002 and 2008/09, the Job Club training is unsupervised and streamlined into a take home DVD that I have to return after a fortnight logging 60 hours. Again I mention I’ve done this before and the attitude is perfunctory in a way I appreciate.
‘You won’t find all the modules applicable,’ S, my support staff member states, ‘so just complete what you find most appropriate.’
‘Each module is worth four hours – plus I’m willing to include job search hours.’
‘But we don’t check this,’ S adds somewhat furtively.
‘Alright,’ I reply unsure of the implication when S clarifies herself.
‘So just return the DVD with a completed form.’
‘Ahhh – gotcha.’
From my previous experiences I knew this world by now. A world where paper and question boxes filled with biro equated to shit – shit that got you paid – which is somewhat comforting and familiar, yet unfulfilling like a Cup of Soup or Pot Noodle.
The DVD contains a series of modules that appears unchanged since I last completed Job Club training in 2008/09. I’m unsure why then an extra hour is attributed to each completed module, not that I’m complaining – maybe it’s simple time adjusted inflation, so three years from now the even greater daily vicissitudes and distractions impeding us from exigent tasks will make everything take twice as long as it does now. The DVD also comes with worksheet where we scribble the module title and assign ourselves the amount of time it takes to complete.
When I return a fortnight later with a completed form S, my support staff member asks me to nominate a day once a week where I am obliged to complete two hours of Jobsearch in person at the Job Network Service Provider’s office. Maybe S suspected I didn’t in fact do any of the modules like she seemed to suggest, or is simply in a morning mood. But there is no hint I’m getting out of the mandatory onsite Jobsearch, which she intimated at our previous appointment when she inquired about my household ammenities.
‘Do you have access to a computer?’
‘Yeah, because it’s a bit of a waste for some people to come in here every week-’
‘I couldn’t agree more.’
‘It’s there more for the people we know aren’t really looking for water.’
‘Sure.’ I concurred while I thinking of the old maxim You can lead a horse to water….
Both in the past and present I had seen clients sign in then wander off to get a coffee, bum around some, only to return to the Job Network Service Provider to sign out. I’d also witnessed others sat by the tea and coffee station where they read The Age or The West Australian for two hours, which to be fair if you willing to sacrifice your time in such a way takes a hell of a lot of temerity and fortitude against possible employment.
However, S doesn’t seem to suspect anything ingenuous about my situation since she offers me the ability to log two hours at one time rather than a standard arrangement of two separate hourly appointments of Jobsearch. S’s rather candid and tolerant approach to my personal situation emphasises how much an indigent job seeker’s experience on the Newstart allowance depends of the personal relationships with individual support staff at local Centrelink branches, as well as the Job Support Network and Service Providers. If you get someone strung with enthusiasm and loaded with good intentions you’re fucked.
However, the reason I don’t mind the 20 minute walk to the train station, 40 minute train journey and five minute walk to my Job Network Service Provider, which is about to be a weekly occurrence with Jobsearch is like I said before – what you get out of an experience usually depends on the effort you put in (unless it’s an interest-only loan). And structure and routine that can revitalise job seekers who have been out of work for moderate periods of time.
‘Cool – so you guys have Wi-Fi?’ I ask.
‘No,’ S replies with a tinge or rebuke.
‘Ummm, well it’s just that everything is on my laptop – CV templates, previous cover letters, cover letter templates and stuff.’
‘You have a thumb drive?’ S asks almost like it isn’t a question – it’s something presumed. The same way I presumed they have Wi-Fi.
I decide it provident not to extrapolate on the high chance of contracting a computer virus which thumb drives transmit like dicks, or the redundant practise of swapping everything every week I may need for Jobsearch onto said thumb drive.
So I attend Jobsearch the following Thursday in good faith, as I approached all things in life. I use one of the existing terminals and when I quickly realise I require an addition file from my laptop and use the thumb drive to transfer it Avast politely pops up in a crimson warning that my thumb drive contains a Trojan threat.
To be helpful to others, and also feeling burred by the inevitability of it all I stride down to reception to inform B of the corrupted terminal while two other support staff members are present. The trio smirk like its all so typical and shit, without a glimmer anything is ever going to be rectified – and that the news reflects and vindicates of their own existence, reassuring them somehow, like misery.
Following my initiation to Jobsearch I stop using the Job Network Service Provider’s computers. Instead I continue to bring my laptop to Jobsearch and pull the connection from an existing terminal to hardwire myself into internet.
Am I somewhat surprised not to see any of the other job seekers likeminded in using their own computer? Somewhat, considering the technology hosted by my Job Network Service Provider is so archaic and woefully inadequate to support to the clientele number, or orchestrate effective Jobsearch.
I also assumed just like vagabonds with pedigree dogs and Buddhist monks with Nike cushioned soles, everyone had a laptop and iTouch connectivity these days. But clearly this was not the case. Public transport, flat footing on hard ground, and my weekly Jobsearch appointments strike with a renewed appreciation for the spectrum of indentured and desperate people about us all the time – who we brush shoulders with, give a non committal nod of recognition, or even say ‘hello’ to every day, without a clue to their lack of fortune.
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