The late 198os and early 1990s in Adelaide was a period after the 1980s property boom and during ‘the recession we had to have’. I was living alone and working long hours tutoring and cleaning (early morning and evening) in order to keep up the mortgage payments on the cottage. The high interest rates meant that the good times were no longer rolling. Keeping the cottage during the recession meant the end of my photography as I had neither the time nor the money for it.
One aftermath of the 1990s recession in South Australia was that many workers who had become unemployed during the recession were unable to be re-employed in their old, or in a similar, job. Over time many of these people simply gave up any hope of ever finding appropriate employment and slowly slipped into the ranks of the hidden unemployed.
The ongoing decline in manufacturing and the emergence of the post-industrial, service sector meant meant limited job opportunities for young people and great difficulty in finding work. the new jobs were low paid, casual and part time jobs with the changes to the nature of work benefiting the employer. The official response to the high levels of unemployment was to argue that the central role once played by manufacturing in the old economy would steadily be replaced by new service industries and service jobs.
The pundits were saying that we were in a transition period. It was going to be a bumpy ride with painful changes and global shocks. Destroying the old, creating the new is the new normal. Many existing jobs will disappear. Embrace the new. It’s a rapidly changing world. Embrace the uncertainty. Look towards Asia not Europe.
Deep structural changes were underway though the 1990s. The so called “change process” was one where better skills was the key to better jobs and better lives, since the new competitive, global economy placed an emphasis on high levels of skills and knowledge. In an economy based on knowledge and characterised by intensifying, fierce competition workers become knowledge workers. The early signs of the new economy were the internet, increasingly powerful computers, the emphasis on STEM areas–science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the emergence of innovations hubs.
Given this kind of scenario, it is the university sector that produces a highly skilled workforce, generates new jobs and new industries to replace the ones that are disappearing. Universities will be even more essential to help people reskill, upskill and reinvent their jobs.