Rather than suffer rebuffs from employers or undertake badly paid and menial jobs, men who have been out of the labour market long-term prefer to channel their energies into voluntary work where they feel their contributions are valued, according to Flinders University research.
A research project by student Megan Moskos on long-term unemployed men in South Australia has caught the attention of Anglicare, which has used the findings to assist in setting up an initiative called the Work Bank.
The Work Bank aims to tap into "fragmented work" - very short-term and casual contract employment that may only constitute a few hours a week.
Anglicare's strategy is to support and promote unemployed people into these jobs, and the program's ultimate aim is to help in developing work skills and habits and a record of work experience that can either be used to apply for more substantial positions, or to lead to self employment.
Ms Shandy Arlidge of the Work Bank said the narratives of the men interviewed by Ms Moskos had been invaluable in informing Anglicare about the issues surrounding long-term unemployment and the men's perceptions of barriers to re-entry to the workforce.
"It gave us a valuable insight into how these people have rationalised their situation, and how we can help them to regain their enthusiasm for paid work and assist their transition back into the workforce," Ms Arlidge said.
As the basis for her honours thesis in sociology, Ms Moskos conducted a series of in-depth interviews with 17 men aged between 25 and 54 who had been out of the labour market for extensive periods, ranging from two to 10 years.
Ms Moskos said that the men, who came from the northern suburbs and Adelaide's CBD, often felt that they had been displaced from traditional blue-collar industries and excluded from the labour market by circumstances beyond their control.
Most of the men had formerly worked in full-time jobs as labourers or process workers.
Ms Moskos said that the men cited employers' requirements for higher educational standards, the increasing level of automation in industry and the movement of many industries offshore as major contributing reasons for their problems in finding work.
Some of the men also had criminal records, which created additional difficulties when applying for jobs.
Ms Moskos said that in many cases, continued inability to secure employment led the men to remove themselves from the labour market.
"To save some measure of a positive sense of self, they had chosen not to look for work any more," she said.
Ms Moskos was told by many of the men that after losing full-time employment, they found the nature of the alternative low-wage jobs they secured to be menial and unrewarding.
"Their accounts suggested that they found being on welfare was better for maintaining a positive self-identity than going out and doing demeaning and meaningless work for very little compensation."
But far from conforming to the popular image of long-time welfare recipients as work-shy or idle, most of the men actively pursued voluntary work, Ms Moskos said.
"By working in voluntary roles, the men found that they could identify positively with the outcome of their labour, seeing it as beneficial for the community, while participating actively in life," she said.
"It goes completely against the conceptualisation of the welfare cheat or bludger.
"They have actually been very successful in creating a positive space for themselves."
With the Commonwealth Government recently stating its intention to push unemployed people out of long-term voluntary positions and into paid work, Ms Moskos sounded a note of caution.
"The literature suggests that they will be forced back into a labour market that doesn't have sufficient opportunities for them anyway," she said.