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Wanted: Sit Vac Glossary

Wanted: Sit Vac Glossary

by Duncan Graham

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Is NZ the land of opportunity where all who want work can work? The old adage of Buyer Beware applies in the job market as much as used car yards.

Fed up with your job and want something new? Like planning an overseas trip it’s best to learn the language before take-off. Otherwise you could alight in an ‘Awesome Position’ getting a ‘Handsome Remuneration’ and facing ‘Challenging Opportunities’ when in reality you’ve flown into a failed state and lost your baggage along the way.

Of course some jobs are still there – aren’t they? Immigration publishes labor shortage lists to lure overseas candidates; weekend papers have plump lift-outs pregnant with alluring ads; business forums groan about critical staff shortages - but that’s not the whole story.

Clinicians from Kazakhstan who’ve mislaid qualifications and fudged references may tread a red carpet into a regional District Health Board, but the rest stumble along a dead-end goat track.

Okkers and boomeranging Kiwis are particularly unwelcome. Employers follow the Ministry of Economic Development’s advice and buy local, rewarding stayers who’ve taken the tough times with the good.

Those who’ve sought refuge overseas during every pay and conditions drought, returning once the economic La Nina reversed may have long CVs but little chance of making the short list.

Overseas experience, higher degrees from universities where you can’t see through the stained glass for ivy, jobs in top international companies? Not impressed. Who knows what infectious ideas they’ve picked up during OE and snuck through quarantine. However those spotted sauntering down Queen Street or Lambton Quay through sun and sleet across the decades will see their applications rocket to the top.

Stats say that despite the economic downturn, aka recession, anyone who wants to work can get a job. Missing here are the adjectives. Like ‘worthwhile’ and ‘appropriate’.

There are openings cleaning hotel toilets and Work and Income will help match your lavatorial skills to employers flush with guests. Fine if you want to start at the bottom, but not if you’ve been there, undergone that, and gained qualifications to get out of the mire.

AWOL returnees are amazed to discover the growth in suburbs, prohibitions, graffiti and employment agencies offering ‘key appointments’ that are clearly better than ‘sits vac’. Seven pages promote these pin-stripes, also known as recruiters or human resource consultants, in the Yellow Pages. That’s double the space allocated to massage parlours and adult services combined. There’s the rub.

Aren’t the agencies here to help the ambitious get a job? Wrong. They’re here so they have a job. That’s their ambition. Outsourcing hasn’t lifted standards in the messy business of finding and keeping staff. For all their flash rhetoric few brokers return calls or acknowledge letters, just as the task-masters of yesteryear behaved when there were 100 labourers for every gravedigger’s job, the ultimate dead-end position.

Consultants dress up dross, like real estate agents. And like that industry it’s time for controls. Or warning labels: Applying For Jobs May Damage Your Language Comprehension.

No-one now sweats in an overcrowded office with a ventilation system that breeds Legionnaires. They enjoy a ‘fast-paced situation’ or ‘fun environment’ where they ‘develop relationships’. Indeed. One vacancy promised a ‘clean, fresh and happy environment with gentlemen clients’. Curiously it wanted ‘ladies’ over 18. Other ads are gender neutral and don’t discriminate on age, but their positions are vertical.

Common are pictures of families on the beach or young couples in the snowfields, undermining the point about the workplace wonderland.

These jobs promise ‘great rates’ and ‘awesome conditions’. Undefined, even in the glossy ‘information pack’ applicants have to download. This means the cash-strapped job-hungry spend up big on quires of paper and litres of coloured ink that promote the HR company and little else.

Back to the phone and a matey chat: So what’s the bread? Too direct, absolutely last century; the euphemism here is ‘remuneration’ and antipodean jollity unwelcome. “The package will be commensurate with experience and qualifications.” What range? “Yet to be determined, but in keeping with market rates.” Whose market, which rates? Honey tone turns toxic: “Just check our website.”

Short cut: Check the salary rate in Oz and divide by two.

Also undisclosed are company names. Beware: The ‘respected major corporate’ that looks so worthy could be your present Neanderthal slavedriver planning your exit.

There are some plusses. ‘Girl Friday’ has gone the way of the Moa, shouldered aside by ‘Executive Assistant’ who should be an ‘Organiser Extraordinaire’. This bit of French polish is clearly a cut above an extraordinary organiser, though she still gets to make the tea. She? Inequality isn’t confined to the boardroom.

The medical sector, always straining to get bed-pan emptiers, has hired snappy punsters to ambush the unwary: ‘You can be a picture of health in our DHB!’ ‘We have just the prescription for YOU!’

Meanwhile the adjacent news pages reveal political, staffing and wrist-slashing management crises. Only diagnosed masochists would want to join such dysfunctioning systems.

Also new are ‘communication consultants’ that entice columns of journalists away from disclosure to enclosure. Much sought after in the health industry.

In the Orwellian workplace devised by the HR companies you join the ‘crew’ of a ‘leading edge’ company in a ‘key sector’ of the economy. ‘Team’ is passé. Positions are always ‘senior’. Smart applicants should do their research. ‘Worldwide leaders’ may be pushing brands you’ve never seen in supermarkets, while a ‘strategic company’ can be a subterranean Dodgy Brothers partnership with a strategy of flying come nightfall.

The finest oxymoron is Wellington City Council’s ‘Parking Enforcement Ambassadors’, which sounds like advertising for ‘Undertaker Doctors’.

One show that actually shoots straight is the police. They just want ‘administrative clerks’.

The ads are plainclothes. None are arresting. Happy snaps are banned, along with PR fluff, fancy typefaces and commissioned logos. Boring, boring. Aren’t there any fun folk in the force? Is everything slow-paced among the Mr Plods?

At least they don’t taser the language.


Duncan Graham is a former Australian Journalist now living in Wellington. See

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