12 Mar 2006, Comments Off on Placeholder jobs

Placeholder jobs

Author: Helen


What’s a placeholder job? a placeholder worker? Ah, you don’t know, dear reader, cos it’s a neologism I just made up. If this catches on, you never know, I might get a footnote in the OED. It would go something like this: “~holder job, n. a job where the incumbent makes little or no money after work expenses, esp. child related; ~holder worker, a worker in a placeholder job.” You can say you read it here first.

I was talking to a friend a while ago about looking for a job in the 1990s after being at home with my daughter for a couple of years. My CV before that showed that I had been a supervisor in the Victorian public service (with glowing references available) and then had left to be a professional musician (well, scratching a living, anyway) for a while. Perhaps that was what made me so unattractive to every employer I encountered. Then I had a couple of years as a stay-at-home mum. I found it very difficult to get back into work again.

“I felt like road kill,” I said.

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration, isn’t it?”

Well, yes, possibly. I did get to a lot of short lists and interviews. But before I finally cracked it for a proper job, I had to go back to the grinding humiliation of that scourge of the underemployed– telemarketing. There is a big difference, I think, between somebody with a professional degree – optometry, medicine, law, or whatever – and someone with an arts degree who has worked in “administration”, doing back office stuff. If you’re one of the latter, and your last gig was a few years ago, you’re going to find things very difficult.

Finally someone was willing to give me a try. And who was that? It was my previous employer (now morphed into a private company). Jeebus wept. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but only someone I had actually worked for would take me on, despite a good track record in my last period of (office) employment.

Fast forward three years and I pop out kid no. 2, but this time I’ve finally cracked it for permanent employment – after a few short contracts, naturally—and even maternity leave. So I go off for a year with my baby and then—after a campaign besides which Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps looks like a picnic – I actually manage to get him into the childcare centre of my choice. Degree of difficulty: extreme. That’s a whole blog for another day.

It was already apparent before his first day that the child care fees would eat up the greater part of my salary. When you take into account the other things like train/bus fare, petrol, lunches and work clothes, a woman on a low-to-ordinary ordinary salary range isn’t making much on the deal. Maybe some women who aren’t working are just making an economically sensible decision not to work for nothing. So, why do people like me do it?

To summarise: if we take a year or three out of formal employment, we are forced to rejoin the workforce – if we can – doing work beneath the level of our training and experience, and it’s very demoralising.

This article addresses that problem– and it’s very welcome to me, because this nuts-and-bolts side of the equation isn’t talked about enough. (It’s just a wimmin’s issue, right? Just because it’s to do with the ability of a large section of the population to participate in the workforce, that doesn’t make it an economic issue, fer cryin out loud. And just because it’s to do with the lack of political will for governments to admit that the state has a role in fixing the problem doesn’t make it political. Back in your box, ladies!)

So, “Placeholder jobs”: A job held by a woman who is making little or no money after childcare and other work-related expenses are taken into account, who still elects to keep that job because otherwise she’d be de-skilled and have to go back several rungs on the ladder.

I’ve certainly been there. And the placeholding is beginning to pay off. But if I didn’t have a good job, with family friendly hours and a career path and all that, I might just decide to stick it. And I think that’s an important factor behind any so-called “opt-out revolution”.

Paul Norton of LP has more. Peter Costello, are you really listening?

(Note to pedants: I generated the graphic from hetemeel.com. The “dictionary” image form is a temperamental animal with its own ideas. You can type “noun” in the space provided till you’re blue in the face, but I ended up with “v”. there every time, so after a while I caved and published it as it was because I liked the idea. I do know the difference between a noun and a verb, and the fact that the rendition of a dictionary entry is not quite accurate. Really.)

Comments (0)

  • third cat says:

    I like your new word very much and will do all I can to promote its use.

  • Helen says:

    Could everyone go forthwith and read this woman’s wonderful blog?

    I’m from Adelaide and so many good bloggers (and other people) seem to be too. Unley! Woohoo!…

    I reckon that young gel was a bit rude not to offer you a jelly snake…

  • brownie says:

    No placeholders for the woman who wrote the AWB a memo about their deals. She has three children who did not seem to stop her from doing all this (and one of her jobs was facilitating live sheep exports the bitch) –
    Jane Drake-Brockman, Managing Director
    Trade and Environment Solutions
    Executive Director Australian Services Roundtable

    Jane Drake-Brockman is a international trade policy expert, with extensive trade policy and trade negotiation experience, having held senior trade advisory positions in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including Charge d’Affairs at the Australian Mission to the European Union in Brussels. She has 30 years of economic and trade policy experience in government ( Treasury, DFAT), international government (UNCTAD, Commonwealth Secretariat, OECD), business, academia (Visiting Fellow, Australian National University) and Parliamentary affairs (Chief of Staff to Hon Andrew Peacock). She has provided expert advice over the last decade to a range of domestic and international clients on WTO and regional trade policy issues. She is Convenor of the Australian Services Roundtable, the recently formed peak business body for the services industries in Australia.

  • Helen says:

    Yeah but, Brownie, at managing / executive director level, this isn’t such a problem. At the salary level they are on they don’t have the problem of childcare expenses eating up the greater part of their disposable income. They might have one less holiday to Port Douglas per year but it doesn’t dictate their employment decisions.

    It’s the majority of women on $20,000 to $40,000 who are affected by this, so Ms Drake-Brockman isn’t a good example – just as Ivy League sororities aren’t a great place to get data on womens’ life choices (I’m referring to the ‘opt out revolution’ Lisa Belkin thing).

    I wonder how she explained the live sheep thing to her kids.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    Also, the Drake-Brockmans are a Very Old Australian Pastoral Family. So it’s most unlikely she established and maintained this career on a completely level playing field in any case.

  • Zoe says:

    Helen, my friend has a three year old and a nine month old. She has just returned to her job working three days a week. For ninety dollars a week after expenses.

    As for me, I’ve worked casually or on short term contracts making half to two thirds (pro rata) what I used to. And am now looking for a job. *sigh* One with maternity leave! I am waiting to see about a placeholder job today.

  • Helen says:

    It’s interesting that Costello and co. are looking into it but I’m not holding my breath for any really intelligent, radical solutions.

  • Kate says:

    Great post Helen. (And they wonder why we young women are so leery of having babies?)

  • BlueBolt says:

    I had my 2 kiddies earlish (planned but not timed) and had sketchy work while they were babies. I struck the ‘out of the workforce’ speedbump when going back to full time work. So I put that I had run family day care from home. I learned how to deal with difficult people, time management, conflict resolution etc.

    Its amazing how many (usually male) employeers don’t see through this ruse.

    Plus – where are all the fathers working parttime to share in the caring etc???

  • david tiley says:

    There’s more than placeholder jobs – there’s placeholder people.

    Like Costello. Standing in for someone real.

  • Helen says:

    Bluebolt – brilliant.

    Plus – where are all the fathers working parttime to share in the caring etc???

    Ah that, my dear Bluebolt, is the other necessary part of the equation, left out because it would have resulted in a 15000-word mega-post. If that part of the rubiks cube ever clicks into place, we will start to see some real progress.

  • Jennifer says:

    Great post. I don’t have a solution, but it’s nice to see the problem so neatly encapsulated in a word!

  • brownie says:

    Bluebolt’s brilliant gameplaying deserves congratulations.
    Hoist em on their own petard!.

    re Drake-Brockman: she wrote the memo (that Downer says does not exist) alerting to the Iraq payments from AWB.

    and ZOE sums up the whole damn thing –
    ‘my friend has a three year old and a nine month old. She has just returned to her job working three days a week. For ninety dollars a week after expenses.’ precisely placeholding.

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