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Expert strata, facilities & building management services

Canberra, you are difficult to find work in!

By Brad - 17 September 2013 60

I’ve found Canberra to be a very different experience in gaining employment, compared to my previous home, Sydney. I really need to vent.

I’ve worked as an onsite technician in the fields of Security Systems, Communications and IT. For the past seven years I’ve had no issue obtaining work, and have spent a grand total of 2 days unemployed when one company was affected by the financial downturn in 2009.

I have to say my job-seeking experience has been less than desirable since moving to Canberra in July (To be with my partner who lives here, after 4 years it’s about time). I have spent since April this year applying for jobs, including many of those APS / ACT Government positions requiring lengthy selection criteria responses. I’ve only been lucky enough to land temporary work this month. Whilst that’s like gold at the moment, they can only give me work when large projects are on! Five months unemployed isn’t fun.

Has anyone else had this problem? I really can’t stay silent and continue to chase one empty opportunity after another. I’d really rather not go on welfare, nor would I want to go work for Woolies or Maccas given my qualifications and experience.

What’s Your opinion?


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60 Responses to
Canberra, you are difficult to find work in!
watto23 10:29 pm 17 Sep 13

I know the company I work which has numerous departments in Canberra was looking for service desk and desktop support people. But they have multi year contracts in place with a few departments. That said they’ve struggled to find people this year, almost as if people wouldn’t change jobs due to uncertainty regarding the election.

Hosinator 9:29 pm 17 Sep 13

With your skills I would concentrate on work in the private sector. There are a lot of Data Centre operators in Canberra who may require skills in this area. Also consider the likes of IBM, HP, Verizon. If you can increase your knowledge of UNIX/Linux and firewalls, you might be able to locate work with some of the Internet Security Gateway providers. Telstra, Macquarie Telecom, Verizon are companies to consider in this field.

ausbradr 8:59 pm 17 Sep 13

Thanks for the advice. I’m really beginning to think the calling / door-to-door approach is going to be the next step in my search for work. Emailing some local recruiters recently gained no replies. At least I’m covered for September with my temp work, as great as it is to work for them, they can only give me work when there’s work for them to give to me. I’ve moved here to live with my partner, and the prospect of going back to Sydney (thus back to rushing here on weekends) just to find work really doesn’t please me.

bd84: My track record for getting jobs has been pretty great. Granted that has been in Sydney. I have a good understanding of what jobs are in my skill level, and thus haven’t had issue. My approach to applying for jobs in Canberra hasn’t changed. I’ve applied for jobs ranging from APS1-4. I can write a criteria response, though it might not be up to the APS standard with their terminology as has been mentioned.. I’d like to invest some $ in having it written for me, but given the prices those writers charge and my situation, it’s a costly gamble I’d rather not take. I’ll happily hire someone and pay on results though.

curmudgery: I’ve been trying to apply with these contractors and agencies. It seems they don’t want anything to do with me if I’m not coming in with any security clearance. I’m really prepared to roll up my sleeves and work for them if they could just have some faith and help me out.

harvyk1: I totally understand the dressing up vs. dressing down issue. I quite enjoy putting on my suit these days because it means someone has taken the time to offer me an interview. Naturally it’s well presented and neat. Hell, I’ve even cut my hair (it was at shoulder length, but professionally straightened and extremely near) lest there was any prejudice in any employer about males with long hair! Every base on the presentation front covered. (Hopefully not, but we know how some people can be).

wildturkeycanoe: I do lots of work in technology. I hold 2EF(NSW) security licence (ACT conversion pending), National Open Cabling registration. My jobs have been in the fields of Electronic Security for enterprise / government, Telephony (PABX, VoIP, DECT/WiFi), Nurse Call Systems, Wireless Networks, LAN cabling, Information Technology (Windows Servers, Databases), and I have hobbyist experience with Linux. I’ve done a bit of everything, from pulling cables to programming/administrating these systems.

mlr: I second that question. I don’t understand their language that well. I do know they like their S.T.A.R method, but I think it’ll take more than just knowing that.

banco 8:02 pm 17 Sep 13

mlr said :

Does anyone have any recommendations for people or companies with proven experience at writing (converting?) applications into ‘PS speak’, as goody658 and others suggested?

If you have friends in the public service maybe get them to look over it. There’s no secret formula. Once you’ve got one decent version you can adapt it for different criteria.

Masquara 6:01 pm 17 Sep 13

Go through an agency – but make sure you are on the temporary employment registers of all the govt departments first, or have emailed their HR area on some pretext or other. Reason? After the department gets to know you, they can hire you without the agency – PROVIDED the agency did not introduce you to the department. That pre-existing “introduction” is vital. I did a contract with an agency who wanted a $17,000 “placement fee” when I was offered permanent work. I was able to demonstrate that I had been introduced to the agency prior, and they were able to hire me without complication. The fee might not have actually prevented my employment but it was sure looking like a risk and an impediment.

mlr 4:35 pm 17 Sep 13

Does anyone have any recommendations for people or companies with proven experience at writing (converting?) applications into ‘PS speak’, as goody658 and others suggested?

DJ Mac 4:23 pm 17 Sep 13

You should ring and ask why you didn’t get the jobs you have applied for. It will help you tailor your applications more. They are required to respond if you ask. Going through the same thing at the moment so I do feel your pain. Hang in there you will get there eventually. But until then the temp agencies are your best bet – I have found the trick is to ring on Wednesday after lunch (sounds strange but – that is when they are least busy…)

wildturkeycanoe 2:32 pm 17 Sep 13

I feel your pain, but I have to disagree with bd84 that you can’t get a job on the first try. I’ve been in the A.C.T for 13 years and had always been able to get a job [usually first go], if I wasn’t poached by someone or got a job through word of mouth. I got my first job here in 2000 by simply walking to a business and knocking on the door with my portfolio in hand.
That said, I have to agree with everyone else that timing is the main reason you are struggling. Since the election was called last year/earlier this year, the construction industry went south. It seemed that the government just put a halt on all major works and were just waiting for the election results before starting any of them up again. It hit home when myself and another half a dozen sparkies were made redundant in February as part of a second round of cuts from a reasonably large local company. I thought “No worries, with my experience I’ll have another job in no time.”. Unfortunately, for the first time in my life I became unemployed [even though it was only for a week or so]. After the first two rejections I didn’t hold back on applying for anything and everything in order to keep my family fed and eventually it paid off around the sixth application, though it hurt having to take a 25% pay cut in order to get employed again.
I also tried for an APS job, but I didn’t even get a response until about a month and a half later saying I was unsuccessful. I can only suggest that door to door might be the best option as I’m sure you’ve tried the internet job sites and recruitment agencies [who in my mind are only in there to keep themselves employed, as I had quite an issue with one of them over a job I was told had been filled, but then re-advertised the very next week without having even given me the courtesy of an interview.].
Private sector is probably the best bet but with the coming of the Abbot, more PS staff will end up on the same playing field as yourself. Diversify perhaps, but I think we are in for tough times, all of us.

What kind of work do you do? If your technician skills are anything related to building and commissioning data centers, I spoke to a guy recently in the data installation industry and they are looking for people who can connect lots and lots of little wires together.
Good luck.

harvyk1 2:13 pm 17 Sep 13

Avoid any job which asks for selection criteria. IME it’s a waste of time.

The best jobs tend to go to friends of “those in the know”, so your best bet is to start asking around your friends and former colleagues if they are aware of anything.

Recruiters can be a good asset if used appropriately. Don’t simply send a resume into a recruiter and do nothing more, again be proactive and build a relationship, that’s again when the best jobs become available to you.

Make sure you are asking for the right amount of money. Aim too high and you’ll get rejected, but aim too low and the potential agency / organisation will wonder what’s wrong. There are various resources out there to help you size up your skills with the average wages.

Finally, make sure you scrub up well. IT is one of those industries which people are certainly dressing down in (and I personally love no longer wearing the tie), but when you are applying for jobs and contracts it’s full suit time…

Remember that when looking for a new job, you need to play salesman as much as “brilliant IT guy”

Dilandach 1:33 pm 17 Sep 13

One fairly important aspect is security clearance. Without one, it makes finding a job difficult in canberra and especially so in the IT area if you’re aiming for APS or a private company that is contracted to a department.

My advice, look into which private company works in which department. Keep applying for roles in both APS or private sector. APS applications are a slow process at least with private companies you generally find out within a month.

…i’d steer clear of the soul suckers that are agents / recruitment agencies.

miz 12:17 pm 17 Sep 13

I would agree with Neanderthalsis – it’s just unlucky timing. Essentially, people are staying put, and there are few new positions on offer. To illustrate, a recent APS 5 recruitment round in my Dept – the first in over at least a year – reportedly attracted over 700 applicants from far and wide (including former public servants from Qld and NSW), of which over 400 people were short listed. Scary stuff, and to be honest, I can’t see it getting better any time soon now that the Mad Monk has ascended.
Don’t give up though – there is usually more contract work in IT than in other areas. I wish you well.

curmudgery 12:13 pm 17 Sep 13

At the risk of telling you what you already know, a lot of IT (and other) work is arranged by the big employers through agencies with you as a contractor. It’s in an agency’s interest to keep you employed and they provide admin support and advice – they are your ‘friend at court’. Years ago, the pick of the crop (in my opinion) was a firm called Strategem in Fyshwick. Contract work can then give you time and opportunities to establish something more permanent if that is your wish. Good luck to you both.

bd84 11:26 am 17 Sep 13

I’m pretty sure in the real world that most of us don’t just apply for a job and immediately get it. It can take a dozen applications before you are successful. There’s stats out there somewhere about it, the number could be more.

If you can’t write you will have major difficulties getting a government job as you are more than likely not going to adequately address the selection criteria. If you haven’t written a lot of them, get someone to help you with it or invest some $ and have someone write it for you.

The other main problem is people who apply for jobs above their skill level. Be realistic, if you don’t get the higher level jobs, go for a lower one and work your way up.

I would be going to work for woolies if I was desperate and out of options to keep food on the table and roof over my head.

neanderthalsis 11:23 am 17 Sep 13

Bad timing is probably your biggest problem. Many departments have had hiring freezes in place for some time due the the Labor Government’s efficiency dividend and will no doubt continue under the new owners. This has a flow on to the private sector as well as there are fewer high paying jobs going, more people wanting to save rather than spend in case the razor gang comes knocking.

Your frustration with selection criteria is not uncommon. The APS selection process was designed, in my opinion, to keep non-APS types out of the APS. Only an institutionalised drone has the time and the systemic knowledge to plough through APS selection criteria. If you are set on the APS, temp or contract work is the way to get your foot in the door. Get a few contracts, get to know the APS lingo (and the people likely to be hiring when a permanent job comes up) and just wait for your chance.

Also, try reading this: http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications-and-media/current-publications/cracking-the-code

goody658 11:19 am 17 Sep 13

Sorry to hear your troubles.
I have always worked in the private sector however I know that unless your selection is written in public service language they wont even take a look. I have used a third party in the past to write the criteria for me.

After many failed attempts on my own I looked for outside help,using the application that was written for me i made it to the interview stage. They wont make anything up they just use the information and examples you give them., then write it into PS speak.

I know this is sometimes frowned apon and i will prob cop some heat but unless you know how to word and structure your answers its going to be difficult.

Hope something happens for you

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