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Two years on from Ford factory closure, how are workers coping?

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The closure of Australia's car manufacturing industry forced hundreds of people into unemployment in Victoria's second largest city, Geelong.

Standing outside the now boarded up doors of the Geelong Ford factory, former workers Tony Anderson and Henry Fuller have bittersweet memories.

Mr Fuller tells SBS News coming back to the factory is like visiting a cemetery.

"It's kind of sad to see it all boarded up now," he says. 

"It was good while it lasted and I don't regret too many things, I learned a lot of job skills here." 

Both men are in their 50s and were forced to look for other forms of employment after Ford announced 1,200 redundancies in 2013.

600 manufacturing workers lost their jobs across its Broadmeadows and Geelong plants in 2016.

 

Henry Fuller and Tony Anderson
Former Ford employees Henry Fuller, left, and Tony Anderson outside the old Ford Factory in Geelong.
SBS News

Mr Fuller is one of more than 60 per cent of the factory's former workers who have found work since the collapse of the industry. He now makes a living driving buses.

"I found it quite difficult moving into another job but once I got moving into it things were fine," he says. 

"I just had to learn all the processes that the bus driving companies have which are different to Ford's but some of the principles are the same." 

The Geelong Skills and Jobs Centre has been assisting Ford's former workers over the past few years.

Adviser Bob Hope says most have now settled into something else. Some have retired. 

"We've got a majority of ex-workers into work or having an outcome that was suitable to them, it could be retirement or work or there's a minority now looking for work," he said. 

The closure of the Holden plant in South Australia in October last year marked the end of car manufacturing in Australia, an industry that employed tens of thousands of Australians.

Geelong Skills and Jobs Centre
The former Ford workers are receiving support from the Geelong Skills and Jobs Centre.
SBS News

And while the majority of the former Ford workers at Geelong have found their feet, the transition for some has been challenging.

At 53, Tony Anderson is struggling to get an apprenticeship.

"I'd put myself in that category of struggling, trying to get an adult apprenticeship due to my age. It's probably the hardest part, trying to get someone to employ you in your fifties," he says.     

It's probably the hardest part, trying to get someone to employ you in your fifties. 

- Tony Anderson, Former Ford worker

Mr Anderson says he is surviving on his redundancy and the financial support from his wife who works full-time.

"With my wife working that's still able to pay the bills but it does take its toll because somewhere along the line you do have to get a job.

"All the rhetoric that the federal government gives you about over-50s, employment, apprenticeships and all this retraining stuff you see on the TV, I'm still waiting to see it."

While the loss of hundreds of jobs at Ford was a blow for Geelong, the city has revived its fortunes and is now one of the fastest growing parts of Australia. Its population is expected to reach at least 320,000 by 2036.  

Deputy Mayor of the City of Greater Geelong, Peter Murrihy, says one reason behind the city's growing population is cheaper housing.

"It's because of the affordability that people want to come to Geelong, they see the opportunity that Geelong offers for young families to set up here." 

The Assistant Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Paul Difelice, says the assistance provided to the Geelong workers has definitely had positive outcomes.

"It's a good job that was done and it's still ongoing, there are still some automotive component companies are still battling to whether they stay open or not."

Mr Fuller hopes his own experience in losing a job and finding another will encourage people facing similar challenges.

"I want them to know that you can move on. Change is not necessarily a bad thing, it's just a different thing. Use all the support networks that are available, get advice from other people, try to find out where the jobs that you might be suitable for are and move on, go for it."

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