‘I’ve gone for 200 jobs and still can’t get one’
Wide Bay-Burnett has been revealed as the state's epicentre of unemployment, with an extra 3500 locals left without a job in the past year.
Unemployment in the region has soared to 10.2 per cent, up from 7.3 per cent the year before and almost three percentage points higher than the state's rate of 7.7 per cent.
Local with decades of experience, including one who worked as an air traffic controller, are now struggling to get a gig stacking shelves at a local supermarket.
Dejected locals told The Courier-Mail they were now applying for entry-level and low-skill jobs, but still being knocked back for someone younger.
Men in the area have been hardest hit, with unemployment now at 13.3 per cent (up from 7.8 per cent in June 2019).
In June last year, the median job search duration was 23 weeks in Wide Bay. Now, it takes 31 weeks.
Steve, 54, was recently let go from a long-term job as an air traffic controller in the Middle East because of coronavirus and moved home with his wife and daughter, 9, in Gympie.
"For me as a 54-year-old male who doesn't work in trade and doesn't have any construction skills there is nothing, literally nothing," he said.
"After working as an air traffic controller for the last 25 years, I now find myself unemployed for the first time in my life, with a very specific skill set that doesn't blend with many of the jobs available."
His family is managing to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, but are stressed about the upcoming cuts to the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement, which will reduce from $1115 to $815 a fortnight.
"My income has gone from $250,000 a year down to $500 a week," he said.
Steve's wife Dee, who has experience working as a teacher's aide, is also desperately trying to find work.
"While some may say there are no problems and plenty of jobs, it is far from the truth for many like us," Steve said.
Local city and business leaders say it seemed many were turning back low-paid jobs because of the current JobSeeker rate, in the wake of coronavirus.
"We have got frighteningly high unemployment rates around pockets of Wide Bay," MP Llew O'Brien said.
Mr O'Brien said the region needed the State Government to provide "shovel-ready projects", while business leaders say election candidates needed to focus on job creation for the area.
"We are trying to re-engage the boutique manufacturing, that Maryborough was once known for," Hervey Bay Chamber of Commerce president Sandra Holebrook said.
Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour said unemployment had long been an issue in the region, and one of the biggest issues for the Fraser Coast was attracting and training workers with the right skills.
"Health care, social assistance and manufacturing are the largest employers in the region and continue to grow, offering significant job opportunities," Cr Seymour said.
"We're working on training solutions through a health leadership program in Hervey Bay, while we're doing all we can to attract major industries to our region to secure more sustainable jobs like those provided by the Rheinmetall/NIOA munitions factory in Maryborough once it is operational."
Several Wide Bay locals seeking work told The Courier-Mail they felt many of the positions available in the area were marketed solely towards young people.
"There is plenty of work if you're a younger person, both of my kids (boys aged 14 and 16) could work five nights a week if they wanted to," Hervey Bay local Rohan Allen, 55, said.
"I've done hospitality but they're looking for younger kids.
"I've thought about going back into washing dishes, but the adverts are all looking for kids after school and that kind of thing."
Mr Allen lost his job training people to work in the rail about two months ago, and is trying desperately to upskill to land a new job in the area so that he doesn't have to move away from his family again.
"Hopefully (my children) can see the struggle I'm going through at the moment so they can hopefully get a trade and not have to work away from family and stay in the Bay," he said.
Single mother Elenka Parkin, 42, from Gympie was let go from her long-term cleaning job in March, having previously worked in an abattoir for 13 years.
"I've probably gone for 200 jobs, as soon as they hear you're a single mum or over 40 years old, they won't even look at you," she said.
"I'm a legitimate worker but it seems like they just want the young ones."
"Nobody wants me and it's getting a bit heartbreaking actually … people need to give us a go."
However Maryborough jobseeker and single mother Rachel Le Masurier, 29, is fearful that new jobs created in the munitions factory won't be given to locals.
"If they need extra employees they bring them up from Brisbane," she said.
"I'd work in a processing line, if it was Monday-Friday, I'd do anything."
Ms Le Masurier said she has been actively looking for work in customer service, retail and hospitality since relocating from the Gold Coast five years ago.
"I've been here for five years and I've been able to get one job and it was casual," she said.
She said Maryborough was an "absolutely perfect" place to raise her daughter, but the only thing missing was stable employment.
"It's like my life is on hold until I find stable work," she said.
To contact people featured in this story for job opportunities, please email Danielle O'Neal.