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REBECCA BAIRD: How men close to me have been affected by the unemployment crisis sweeping Dundee

After an illuminating investigation into long-term unemployment among men, Rebecca reflects on the experiences of her dad and partner.

Rebecca and her dad, who faced mid-career unemployment after redundancy. Image: Supplied.
Rebecca and her dad, who faced mid-career unemployment after redundancy. Image: Supplied.

All my life, my dad worked in a warehouse.

I never understood what it was he did inside that big metal building.

What I knew was that he had a hardhat and a headset and his T-shirt had the word ‘logistics’ stitched on the chest.

I didn’t know what that meant, only that it left him knackered every night when he came in off the backshift.

And that every morning he sent me off to school with a little flask of soup to match his big Thermos.

But my dad’s always been a man of many talents.

Whether he’s making a perfect playlist for a barbecue, packing suitcases in the car for a family holiday or planting the garden for the upcoming season, Dad’s a wizard with knowing what should go where, and when and how.

As it turns out, that’s what ‘logistics’ meant. He was good at his job. And then he lost it.

I’m sharing this with his permission because my own recent investigation into male unemployment in Dundee revealed what I knew anecdotally to be true: there is a lost generation of Scottish men who, once ejected from the workforce, find it nearly impossible to get back in.

My dad was one of them.

When, after 20-odd years, he suddenly didn’t have that warehouse job anymore, it became clear that despite his talents, experience and intelligence, my dad was not an “employable” man.

He left school after his Standard Grades at 16. And from the moment he left, he worked. Hard.

Employers don’t want to take chances

First in a woodyard, where he met my mum.

Chemical plant shutdowns paid the bills for a bit after that. And then he landed at the warehouse, where he stayed until I was in my 20s.

When that job was gone, dad – at that point in his early 40s – decided to see it as a chance for a fresh start.

But that would require employers to take a chance on him. And as it turns out, employers don’t want to take chances in a cost of living crisis.

Dundee dad Ewan Sutherland opened up about his experience of long-term unemployment in the city after being made redundant four years ago. Image: Kenny Smith/DC Thomson.

After a gruelling few months of uncertainty, dad finally found another job in a window manufacturing company. They were one of the first employers to actually meet him face to face, after countless faceless applications.

Soon, he became one of the most valued employees in the entire firm, and the most proficient.

And then the company folded, three years later, in 2021. Another pandemic casualty.

Dad was back to job searching, three years older but still a long way from retirement. This search took even longer.

For months, he was glued to his laptop, tweaking his CV, filling out endless application forms and refreshing his email inbox.

My mum would come home from work and join in, in true partnership mode, writing tailored cover letters for companies to help him cover more ground.

It all hit a brick wall of silence, while for months the savings depleted.

Where are prospects for men coming to Dundee?

My partner went through the same thing in 2022. After studying a masters degree in Dundee, he moved here permanently in the hopes of building a life here.

We naively thought, given his vast experience in management roles and the fact he has two degrees, that he’d find a job quickly and easily.

Rebecca and her partner Steven, who also struggled to find work in Dundee for a full year. Image: Supplied.

But at 34, he had been out of employment for a couple of years to study, and to care for a relative full-time during the pandemic.

That gap in his CV was seemingly enough to stop his every application in its tracks. He applied to the void, and the void laughed back for almost a full year before he got an interview, never mind a job.

Unemployment takes a toll on everyone

I have to admit, at times I gave both of them a hard time. I saw how demotivated these men in my life had become and tried to pin their unemployment on their attitudes.

But in truth, I know it was the other way around. They were trying. And in the end, both succeeded. But for both, the search was soul-destroying.

My partner, who worked multiple jobs throughout his 20s to survive, struggled with the idea of having to prove to Jobcentre employees younger than him that he was in fact looking for work so he’d be able to pay his rent.

Rebecca and her dad. Image: Supplied.

My dad, scunnered by the whole endeavour and regularly crushed by rejection after a dangling hope of a call back, withdrew from us and became very down.

Relationships were strained. Households were not happy.

That’s the reality of long-term unemployment, especially for these generations of men. It isn’t just a case of signing on, sitting back and scrimping.

It’s day-in, day-out boredom, shame, anxiety and disappointment. It’s an all-out battle for even the chance to introduce yourself.

And if the authorities don’t step in and address the issue, it’s going to fuel the already-raging fire that is male mental ill health in Scotland. Our men deserve better.