Dole capital Bundaberg suffering from poor confidence, qualifications

Qualifications, perception and a lack of confidence have been linked to Bundaberg's high dole figures.

dole-capital-bundaberg-suffering-from-poor-confidence-qualifications photo 1 Photo: Bundaberg's Centrelink office is one of busiest in the country, with almost 4,500 residents receiving unemployment benefits. (ABC: Dominic Cansdale)

Bundaberg leads the nation in two categories: macadamia production and the number of people on the dole.

The most recent data from the Department of Social Services shows that at the end of 2016, 4,465 people living within Bundaberg's postcode were receiving unemployment benefits through the Newstart Allowance.

That is up from 3,662 in December 2013 when Bundaberg was fourth behind suburbs around Liverpool and Mount Druitt in Sydney, Dandenong in Melbourne and Cairns in far north Queensland.

Nationwide, 759,292 people were on the Newstart Allowance in December 2016, an increase of 75,906 people on 2013 levels.

Despite being home to a horticulture industry worth an estimated $500 million a year, Bundaberg performed the worst out of more than 2,600 postcodes.

'A multitude of reasons'

Impact Community Services runs a range of education programs for more than 4,000 people a year in Bundaberg, including training programs for the unemployed.

Manager of research and innovation, Nathan Spruce, said there was no single cause for Bundaberg's stubbornly-high unemployment rate, but there are jobs available.

dole-capital-bundaberg-suffering-from-poor-confidence-qualifications photo 2 Photo: Nathan Spruce says there are jobs available to Bundaberg locals, but some need better training and qualifications. (ABC Wide Bay: Dominic Cansdale)

"I don't think we're ever going to get away from the fact that some people just simply don't want to work, but I think it can also come down to other factors like work readiness," he said.

"The way that people have been applying for jobs or have they been applying for jobs that are not suitable.

"I think it comes down to the qualifications that people have that are suitable for that particular type of position."

Mr Spruce pointed to almost a dozen different local projects due to be delivered over the next 24 months, including a $70 million plasterboard factory, as examples of why training and qualifications are vital for job seekers.

"The biggest one for Bundaberg at the moment is going to be the introduction of the NDIS which will create a range of jobs from either actually providing support to people with a disability or looking to manage administrative practices behind the scenes," he said.

"It depends, as well, if somebody is willing to move away for work to follow a particular career, or in line with experience they've got if opportunities are not available here."

Moreover, the perception that there are no jobs damages the confidence of job seekers, according to Mr Spruce.

"It's about having the confidence to go up to somebody in the face of negative feedback or negative social media," he said.

"If somebody gets into that psychological role of 'there are no jobs' then maybe it's the case of 'what is the point of asking'.

"There are jobs out there. Whether that is somebody's dream job at that particular time that's a different matter."

'We're not dole-bludgers, we want to work'

dole-capital-bundaberg-suffering-from-poor-confidence-qualifications photo 3 Photo: Josh Sbresni, Sue Tasker and Mark Hennessy run a second hand clothes and furniture shop that offers training programs. (ABC Wide Bay: Dominic Cansdale)

Angels Community Group runs employment training and work for the dole programs out of a second hand clothes and furniture shop in Bundaberg.

Executive officer Sue Tasker rejected the 'dole-bludger' label placed on those receiving unemployment benefits.

"A number of our work-for-the-dole guys actually come back and volunteer after their time is up so I guess I get a little bit upset when people say everyone on the dole are bludgers," Ms Tasker said.

"We have some great workers [and] given the fact that if we were in another town, they would probably be working."

Corey Buckholse is involved in the Angels Community Group's training program and said he had been unemployed for the past three years.

"I've applied for hundreds of jobs and either they don't get back to you or I think they just throw your resume in the bin," Mr Buckholse said.

"I've done gardening and maintenance, warehousing logistics, retail, furnishing stuff ... I've done everything and just can't get a look in anywhere.

"A lot of us really do want to really get back in the workforce, it's just we haven't had the luck getting back in yet."

While some of Bundaberg's economic indicators are improving, its unemployment rate has not dropped below the current state average of 6.7 per cent since 2009 when it recorded a rate of 6.6 per cent.

"I don't know whether to leave town or what to do," Mr Buckholse said.

"You want to follow the work but then you've got to find accommodation and the money for that."

There's jobs on farms but 'locals won't take them'

dole-capital-bundaberg-suffering-from-poor-confidence-qualifications photo 4 Photo: Blueberry grower Allan Mahoney says there are plenty of jobs on farms but locals are not taking them. (ABC Rural: Kallee Buchanan)

In a region known as a national food bowl, Bundaberg is a popular spot for backpackers looking for stable, short-term work picking fruit and vegetables on farms.

Chairman of Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers, Allan Mahoney, said the regular demand for farm work was not being taken up by locals.

"You're better going to a contractor or backpacker scenario where the contractor will take care of all the paperwork," he said.

"Locals are always welcome to turn up, there's been ads on social media, ads in the newspaper, they go through the job centres, they just don't turn up.

"I've seen hundreds and hundreds of people walk on to a farm. They're not after an agriculture job.

"'Sign off my form and I'll be out of your way' [they say], and unfortunately that's the culture that's come into the industry."

Mixed results for economy

A March 2017 economic analysis by Lawrence Consulting found that per capita income in Bundaberg has grown by 4.9 per cent over the past five years, well above the state average of 4.1 per cent.

Gross Regional Product is estimated at be $4.4 billion at the end of 2016 — an annual increase of 2.1 per cent which is slightly above the state average of 2.0 per cent.

Tourism supports more than 5,000 jobs in Bundaberg, with visitor numbers increasing by 2 per cent in 2016.

But there are blackspots, with Bundaberg's total productivity falling by 4.5 per cent in 2016, while Queensland's average grew by 0.8 per cent.

Between 2014 and 2016, the number of businesses registered in Bundaberg dropped by 1.2 per cent to 6,537.

dole-capital-bundaberg-suffering-from-poor-confidence-qualifications photo 5 Photo: Member for the seat of Hinkler, Keith Pitt, is calling for government departments to be moved to regional areas like Bundaberg. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

The federal seat of Hinkler takes in the Bundaberg region and the coastal city of Hervey Bay, which recorded the 10th highest number of people on unemployment benefits in the country.

Nationals Member Keith Pitt said he had been working to address the region's "unacceptably high" unemployment rate since his election in 2013 and that Bundaberg now needed "more action, less talk."

Mr Pitt has joined a chorus of Nationals MPs calling for government departments in Canberra to be moved to regional areas.

"I'm a passionate advocate for decentralisation," Mr Pitt said.

"We absolutely need to be assuring that there are departments being pushed out into the regions. In the digital world you can work anywhere."

But Mr Pitt said there was an attitude problem among some job seekers.

"Fundamentally what businesses are saying to me is they need staff who are work ready, people who are willing to turn up to work, who are willing to do what's required, to leave their mobile phones at home or in their locker, to be dressed, to be on time, to do what's instructed," he said.

"Really fundamental and basic things."

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