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You Can't Become A Working Class Man (Or Woman) If There's No Jobs

When I grew up you could leave school with no skills and still find a job.

30/03/2017 2:43 PM AEDT | Updated 30/03/2017 3:42 PM AEDT
Liberation Music Australia
"Take it from a working class man -- we all deserve some hope that we can achieve our dreams."

I'm told I have more No 1. albums in Australia than even The Beatles, but just like many other people my path in life to this point has been a turbulent one.

I grew up in poverty in the outer suburbs of Adelaide. My parents, who were Scottish immigrants, came from worse poverty than I did. I've written about the hardships and trauma of my childhood and teenage years recently in my memoir Working Class Boy.

I've also been lucky. And I don't just mean incredibly lucky to get picked as a teenager to join a band called Orange that became a much bigger band that we called Cold Chisel.

At my high school, in the early 1970s, there were supposed to be people who came around and gave career guidance to students, but they never came near me. The only thing I can remember anyone telling me was to leave school as quickly as possible to get a job in a factory. There was no talk of university or extra study for a wild kid like me. I was told to just "get a job", it didn't matter what it was.

Unlike today, where big employers such as in the car manufacturing industry have raced out of Australia, there were many job opportunities for kids without skills who did not come from middle-class families.

So proud of my big brother John Swan being given the Australia Day honour. I am proud of him every day!

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Back in the day, even if your family was disadvantaged, you could leave school without a Year 12 qualification and no skills to speak of and still find a job and build a future.

Youth unemployment rates when I was a teen in the early 1970s were around 3 percent. What a difference the decades make. Today, the youth unemployment rate is over 13 percent across Australia, and to our shame is much higher in some suburbs and rural areas.

In the 21st century, for young people growing up in suburbs such as Elizabeth in northern Adelaide, or Frankston in south-eastern Melbourne, or Logan in Brisbane, or anywhere in outer-western Sydney, it's that much tougher. From parents to governments, we owe it to the next generation to do better on this, don't we?

35 years ago I married this beautiful girl, I love her to the moon and back. How lucky am I?

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I didn't look very hard for work in 1973 when I was 16 and looking for my first full-time job.

At my stepdad Reg's insistence, I did send out applications for a bunch of apprenticeships and, lo and behold, actually landed a gig with the South Australian Railways as an apprentice moulder in their foundry (the job, among other things, included pouring molten metals at about 2000°C).

I found a mentor in one particularly gnarly old guy, Tony, who took me under his wing and taught me what he knew. Tony had been working at that foundry for most of his life and before he retired he wanted to pass on his knowledge to me.

While I did not last the distance of that apprenticeship -- I was determined to chase my rock 'n' roll dream -- I do think about those days in the foundry from time to time.

The job I did is now long gone, and if it exists anywhere it is being done somewhere offshore. There are no manufacturing jobs for life like the one Tony had, either. The world of work has become that much more complicated.

Yet too often we blame the victims of these huge economic changes rather than addressing the challenge of helping people into working life.

At a human level, whether you live in Elizabeth or somewhere more flash like Point Piper in Sydney, I think we all have dreams for a happy life, however we define it.

Take it from a working class man -- we all deserve some hope that we can achieve our dreams.

_____________
This column was written for the Brotherhood of St Laurence's Youth Unemployment Monitor
. This year, Jimmy received an Australian honour (AO) for his contribution to the arts and not-for-profit organisations.

His first children's book, Och Aye the G'Nu will be released on 1 April. The companion CD featuring The Wiggles will be released by ABC Music on 31 March. For more information go to www.jimmybarnes.com.


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