Employment Services in Australia: Per Capita analyses major party policies

The Australian independent Australian progressive think tank Per Capita has analysed Coalition and Labor employment service policies – specifically the “jobactive” program – and published the results.

Given that the jobactive program is strongly connected to the training of many of Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged workers and that a number of CCA members provide employment services, CCA has extracted from the Per Capita survey.

Per Capita response to the major parties

Neither platform constitutes the overhaul jobactive needs. Our report Working It Out recommended a complete overhaul of the jobactive system to recognise the fact that there are not enough jobs available for everyone who wants to work. Unemployed people need services that support them into training, education, or work, not services that punish them for struggling to comply with activities that do not and cannot increase the demand for labour.

Comments on LNP platform 

  • Welcome the wider variety of mutual obligation activities, but details needed.
  • Concerns about the switch to digital service provision, because historically digital service provision in social security has further disadvantaged vulnerable groups.
  • Concerned that the new payment structure will not address the churn in the system or incentivise providers to place job seekers in activities that would benefit them but do not necessarily attract a bonus payment - for example, training opportunities.
  • Does not acknowledge that employers almost never explicitly look to hire unemployed workers, or explain how employers will be incentivised to engage with the jobactive system. Currently, only 4% of employers use jobactive to find workers.

Comments on ALP platform 

  • Welcome reviews into Newstart and Work for the Dole.
  • Welcome the tailoring of mutual obligation activities.
  • Welcome the reforms to provider incentives and funding
  • Concerns about retaining compliance by private service providers, as the platform does not appear to include a move towards a share of public service delivery. Recommend the restoration of at least some service delivery to the public sector, particularly to address the needs of long-term unemployed workers and those with significant skills gaps and other special needs, and to oversee the compliance side of the service.
  • Concerns about staff training and caseload size. Staff are often not trained to deal with vulnerable people in sensitive situations and have no specific expertise in the local labour market.

Per Capita Report Working it Out: Employment Services in Australia

The purpose of this September 2018 Per Capita report (full report available here in PDF) was to critically examine the current mainstream employment services system, jobactive, and assess the experience of unemployed workers with the system against its stated objectives and promised services.

With respect to education and training, the report found (pp. 49-50):

There was a time in Australia when on-the-job training was the norm. The way employers got skilled workers was by training them. Over the past 40 years this has become increasingly rare. Instead, employers expect to hire trained and experienced workers, pushing the obligation for training onto the government and the individual.

The current jobactive program theoretically provides for training and education for the purpose of gaining the skills required by the current labour market. However, in the experience of many unemployed workers we interviewed, the system is not in tune with the needs of employers or able to identify and fill the actual skill gaps of individual workers. Instead, unemployed workers are often sent on basic courses, for example in ‘computer literacy’ or ‘time management’, without any assessment of their need to do those courses, or their relevance to the job market. (p. 49)

Assessing and assigning appropriate training to meet current employer needs requires detailed knowledge of the local labour market, training opportunities, the unemployed worker and the time and resources to put this knowledge to use. In all but the rarest cases, frontline jobactive workers do not have the skills or resources to perform these tasks or gain the necessary knowledge.

With respect to older workers, the report found (pp. 50-51):

For unemployed workers aged over 55, this was the most common reason given for having trouble finding work. There is significant evidence that older unemployed people face additional barriers obtaining work following the loss of a job in their fifties. In a 2017 report, researchers at the University of South Australia found that a third of people they surveyed who were aged over 50 had experienced age discrimination when applying for work, and that people in this age group found it hardest of all workers to find new employment following redundancy.

There are also reports of direct discrimination by employment agency staff towards older unemployed workers, for example explicitly telling them they are “too old” for a job.

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