Old job skills may not always fit new Illawarra roles

Cheap Asian imports and the high Australian dollar forced Illawarra manufacturing icon Poppets to close in 2011.

Cheap Asian imports and the high Australian dollar forced Illawarra manufacturing icon Poppets to close in 2011.

Jane Robinson says the Illawarra has much greater diversity now than perhaps 10 years ago with opportunities in many sectors.

Jane Robinson says the Illawarra has much greater diversity now than perhaps 10 years ago with opportunities in many sectors.

It's not easy for an economy - and the people whose endeavours form an economy - to go through a major change.

It's even harder when the skills required for the future are very different from the skills present in a job that is now gone.

The new opportunities may fit people other than those who have been recently laid off.

Jane Robinson saw this firsthand in her work as the Commonwealth Department of Employment's local employment co-ordinator for the Illawarra.

"The Illawarra had enormous strength in its manufacturing capability for decades and it still has ... and this will be the case for the foreseeable future.''

In her five years in the region, Ms Robinson helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers to find new jobs after retrenchments from a long line of companies including Poppets, King Gee, Bonds, BlueScope, Shinagawa, Orrcon, Wollongong Coal, Illawarra Coke Company and MM Kembla.

She said large-scale economic changes took time and could come with significant difficulties for many of the people involved.

"Transitions like this in regional economies are inevitably difficult and painful, and take place over a long period of time," she said.

"The Illawarra had enormous strength in its manufacturing capability for decades and it still has ... and this will be the case for the foreseeable future."

The most detailed figures available on employment by industry for the Illawarra are from the 2011 Census, when manufacturing made up 10.2 per cent of the workforce. This had shrunk from 16.2 per cent in 1996.

Given the major job losses since 2011 when BlueScope halved production, this figure will be significantly lower today.

And while healthcare has grown by almost the same amount as manufacturing contracted from 1996-2011, this doesn't mean a worker can step out of a coke oven and into a nurse's uniform.

Often Ms Robinson's work involved identifying training needs, working on job search skills, holding seminars and job fairs, and offering advice to people who may have had the same job for most of their working life.

"The transition for individual workers depends very much on their characteristics, qualifications, occupational history and educational background," she said this week.

"So people who have got lots of transferable skills, or an educational background that can help them transition into a new area of the economy, perhaps with some reskilling, can do quite well in the transitioning phase.

"Workers that have less transferable skills, lower education levels, a more narrow background, and perhaps of advanced years, will find greater difficulties."

Ms Robinson said the Illawarra had much greater diversity now than perhaps 10 years ago, with the university creating new opportunities, the service sector growing, health and education providing a growing number of jobs, and hospitality employing more people.

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