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Stop whining, the BlueScope job losses aren't so bad

For all the wailing over the BlueScope job losses, a good percentage of those actually losing their jobs will be quietly delighted.

For all the wailing over the BlueScope job losses, a good percentage of those actually losing their jobs will be quietly delighted.

THIS might seem harsh but someone has to say it: for all the wailing over the BlueScope job losses, a good percentage of those actually losing their jobs will be quietly delighted. The same goes for plenty of other retrenchment stories that tug at the heartstrings.

Many BlueScope employees and (much more likely) independent contractors and their families will be facing a period of worry about alternative employment. For some, the security and comfort of dozens of years in well-paid jobs with one employer in a single location will be gone. There are very genuine concerns about mortgages and bills, but also grandstanding by Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes as he attacks the Reserve Bank, BlueScope, market forces, China, fat cats, mining companies, the government, the opposition, just about everyone except Craig Thomson. But give him time and he'll eventually get there, too - the field's just a little crowded at present.

From a journalistic viewpoint, the obvious thing to do is produce sympathetic pieces about noble Australian workers, framed by the searing glare of a blast furnace, giving a lifetime of service to the dark satanic mills only to be thrown on the scrap heap of globalisation. (Fade to black-and-white stills of worried faces in hard hats, cue John Williamson's True Blue, back-announce with a serious shake of the head and segue into the story coming up next, a miracle diet that also cures cancer.)

The reality is not necessarily as bleak. Using the 1000 jobs to go at Port Kembla as an example, the average age at that site is mid-40s, meaning BlueScope's call for expressions of interest in voluntary redundancy will find a proportion of the workforce getting close to retirement age who are being offered a couple of years' extra pay to leave now instead of just a pat on the back in several months' time.

Retirement aside, at any one time a proportion of a workforce is quitting or about to quit to try something different, chase a love interest, whatever. Heavens, some employees are Gen Ys! The people to feel sorry for are any who have recently resigned without a redundancy package.

For those prepared to back their skills and stick up their hands for redundancy, the prospects are far from bleak. Our unemployment rate remains low. So far, more than 40 companies have contacted BlueScope to inquire about the availability of workers. While Howes claims BlueScope represents the death of manufacturing, the reality is that Australia suffers from a shortage of heavy industrial skills. A key reason why more resources engineering isn't done in Australia is that we don't have the capacity to do it.

Sure, most of those 40-plus companies are not based in Port Kembla, but it's the nature of a dynamic economy that opportunities ebb and flow from one region to another. The 'Gong offers an attractive lifestyle, but so do other towns and cities. And if FIFO (fly in, fly out) becomes part of Wollongong's fabric, the city will just be joining the rest of the nation.

What we constantly underestimate is our ability to adapt, to innovate, to improve our lot. It's harder for some than for others, but overall we benefit from concentrating on the things we do best, not from protecting those that are done better elsewhere.

Disclosure: I've been boned myself - turned out I was one of the lucky ones paid to leave Channel Nine as it started to go downhill.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.


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