When you meet someone for the first time, one of the easiest ice-breakers is ‘what do you do for work?’. The other person replies and instantly you’re swapping answers.
What do you say, however, if someone replies “I’m looking for work”?
The judgement and the condemnation that follows such a statement is something three of Wagga’s community members feel all too often.
Narelle Wilson, Jacob Cant and Elle-Jane Wright are trying to break down the barriers preventing them from getting a job, all the while feeling the judgement of others.
The Riverina’s unemployment rate has risen to 5.1 per cent, the highest figure in more than three years.
The data, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier this year, shows a steady increase in unemployment across the past two years.
Mrs Wilson is 60 years old and has been looking for work for a few months now.
“I haven’t worked for a long long time,” she said.
“My husband passed away about 12-and-a-half months ago and, of course, now I have to work and organise my own bills.”
Mrs Wilson has four bulging discs which, combined with her age, she believes is the reason she finds it hard to get employment.
“I honestly think that has stopped me a little from getting a job,” she said.
“I will admit there are some nights that I have to take pain killers, especially when I am mowing the lawn, but that doesn’t stop me from mowing the lawn or doing what I have to do.
“No one really wants to take the risk. It’s hard because I've said I'll try anything and I'll give it my best shot. I'm not a lazy person.”
Her unemployment is not because of a lack of effort, with Ms Wilson doing multiple courses to try and improve her resume.
“I have got my RCG (Responsible Conduct of Gambling) and my RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol), with Sureway’s help,” she said.
“I have done a kitchen and cafe course.
“I actually went to the take away shop up at Tolland and offered to do a day’s work for nothing to show what I can do, but I didn’t realise you can’t do that these days.”
Although the job hunt has been trying, Ms Wilson is still positive about her chances and makes sure to let her personality shine.
“I went for a job interview at Aldi and I actually thought I was in with a chance,” she said.
“The two ladies were wonderful and they asked me what hobbies I had.
“I made a joke and said ‘I’d like to tell you I run five kilometres a day and play tennis’ to break the ice to make them realise I am here and I am willing to give it my best shot.”
Knowing what some people say about the unemployed is hard, Ms Wilson said, especially when people assume older people are ‘dole bludgers’.
“It’s not right, older people need to be in company for a start,” she said.
“If they're stuck at home and they can’t do anything, that makes it harder for them.
“I know a lot of young ones who aren't bothered to even look for a job.
“They’re happy to be on the dole, and that annoys me because here I am at 60 and I can’t get a job.”
If she could tell her prospective employers anything, it would be “give me a chance”.
“I am willing to do what I need to,” she said.
“I'll give it my best shot.”
Jacob Cant is 24 years old and has been unemployed since 2015, through no choice of his own.
“Every time I get told I don’t have enough experience, it’s pretty hard to get a go when no one will give you a go,” he said.
“You can’t get experience if people aren't willing to give you a go.”
In an effort to make himself more employable, Mr Cant has been working hard to pick up more skills.
“I did a RCG and RSA last year,” he said.
“I did a certificate two in hospitality, a TAFE course for certificate three, a sports retail course, I’ve got a security course come up.”
Mr Cant knows all too well that people have less than positive opinions of someone who is unemployed.
“They think you're lazy,” he said.
“That you’re not really trying to look for work, but that’s not the truth because in my experience I just apply for anything and everything and get told I am not suited to the job.
“I don’t want to live with my parents all my life, I want to move out and not live off them.”
Mr Cant encourages others to look past their snap judgement and get to know a person before you comment on their job status.
“It upsets and annoys me when people judge me,” he said. “Get to know people and give them a go.”
Elle-Jane Wright is 24 years old and recently became unemployed after her epilepsy manifested, but has a long-term ambition of studying to be a midwife.
“I was told I was a liability,” she said.
“They weren’t very supportive and my shifts got cut back gradually.
“I understand how it [the epilepsy] can be difficult for businesses, but it’s a kick in the guts when you’re trying and you can’t help it.”
Ms Wright said she loves talking to people and socialising and would love a job that allows her to do that on a daily basis.
The perception that the unemployed are lazy and don’t want a job is something Ms Wright has to deal with, even from her family.
“It’s disheartening,” she said.
“People just see you as not having a job and even your family can be like that and be judgemental.
“People don’t understand unless they’ve been in this position and sometimes you wish they had been so they could understand.”
Ms Wright said it’s hard when she sees her school friends getting married and working in successful job.
“When you have none of those things, it’s a bit disheartening,” she said.
“Then you’ve got people who punch you when you’re down.”
Ms Wright would encourage others to learn about someone before coming to a snap judgement about their unemployed status.
John Karhu, an employment advisor with Sureway, said he was passionate about finding the right job for his clients.
“I interview the clients and ask them what their top five job positions are,” he said.
“There’s no point in us getting these guys jobs where they are going to be miserable.”
Mr Karhu said communities had preconceptions and stereotypes about those who are unemployed, but he does his best to tell people the realities.
“Wait till you meet someone before you make the judgement,” he said.
“People, particularly my clients, want to work and they get upset when they get knocked back.”