Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Call me Richard.

"When you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it."
Theodore Roosevelt


Some days ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my wallet, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. I came across an ad: "Deck Hand - Duties would include setting nets, handling of sharks, gilling, gutting, cleaning, loading and unloading of boat". I lodged my resume. What a marvellous opportunity. This is going to be just like that Tom Hanks movie! (not the one where he talks to the ball, the one where he catches all the shrimp and gets rich and gets the girl).

Days later and crickets chirp in my inbox. Sigh. Mom is relieved. When she found out I wanted to work on a boat, she screamed at me about how I was going to mangle my hands after committing some inevitable dumbassery, and then get abducted by the pirates of the Indian ocean.

C'est le vie. I came to Perth in large part to make some money to pay off some student loans and continue travelling. The minimum wage in Australia is around $16, typically more like $20-25, and the minimum weekly wage is $600. I heard all sorts of encouraging stories from backpackers who worked in Australia years before, like one who earned $30,000 in three months and then spent the rest of the year travelling the world. In particular, Australians, backpackers, and blogs hype the mining boom in western Australia which has been going on for at least 20 years. There's even a 60 minutes episode about it.

These mine sites are so remote that they need to fly you out to the sites. These fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) positions are lucrative: they pay upwards of $10,000 a month with food and housing provided. It's common for young Australians to work the mines for a few years until they can buy a house and a car and then move on to do something they are passionate about.

The pay is this high for various reasons. As I mentioned, Australian wages are high to begin with. Wages are inflated since you're working and living full-time at a camp, and you work 12 hour shifts. There's also a shortage of labour: it's a huge country with lots of mining to be done, but only a population of 22 million to do it. 

My pipe-dream was to get one of these FIFO jobs at an open pit mine driving a dump truck or operating some sort of machinery. Then, I would invite a bunch of my friends from back home to come work at the camp and turn it into a work crew full of my friends. I even made a list of people that aren't in grad school to invite: Kotu, Evan, Bianca, McCaskey, Brian W, Phuc, Geoff, Ned, Zach P, Miranda, Marazzi, Ed, Gibly, and Chase. 

Check out my wheels.
Image credit: wis.
This dream is dead now. After spending the first week and a half applying to FIFO positions, I realized it was damn near impossible. The companies decided to backpackers are not worth the bother after many flew away to travel after their first few paychecks. They might consider a foreigner if they had several years of experience, which obviously I don't. There are some FIFO positions for inexperienced backpackers yet, but they are vanishingly rare, not advertised widely, and there are hundreds of people who want the jobs. You basically need to have a friend in a high place and have a lot of luck.

Part of the problem is that in recent years, there was too much publicity given to these lucrative mines. The cat's out of the bag and thousands of people fly to W Australia every year to catch one of these jobs. People like me innocently call recruitment agencies inquiring if they have any FIFO positions and annoy the hell out of them because they've been asked the same question 40 times that morning.

I persisted. I'm young, willing to be trained to do just about anything, work long hours, and to be relocated anywhere in Australia. I'm an employers wet dream! Right? Nah. Recruiters are looking for 15 year olds with 20 years of experience, and they want you to be a resident. 

I've grown progressively more promiscuous with my job applications. I looked into jobs that provide accommodations, such as remote farms, ranches, and horticultural jobs or working at vacation resorts. I feel like I've applied to everything at this point. Fishing boat, data entry, receptionist (+ other admin jobs), science tutor, laboratory technician, a packing facility, taking minutes at government meetings, going to stores as an undercover agent to grade employee performance, a movie extra, medical transcriptionist... the list goes on.

Part of the problem with the testimonials other backpackers have given me is that many backpackers fund their travels by intermittently working at bars and other service industry jobs. They have no problem getting recruited in the hospitality sector. In my case, I have a short resume since I just graduated from college. Nevertheless, I think I do a fairly good job of selling my analytical skills and writing and computer ability.

Fingers crossed I get a job soon! If not, I'm going to start volunteering for WWOOF on an organic farm until I get employed.

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