Politics & Policies

Future of Employment Services in Australia – A report on stakeholders views

In July 2018, the Department of Jobs and Small Business (the Department) commissioned the Social Research Centre to review and analyse the submissions received in response to the Discussion Paper, ‘The Next Generation of Employment Services’ which was released for public comment in late June 2018. Over 450 responses were received from individuals, employment service providers, community and not-for-profit organisations, employers and peak bodies. This report presents a summary of the main issues raised, and responses to, the Discussion Paper.

Background

Employment services in Australia are currently governed by the jobactive contract, which has been in effect since 2015. The jobactive contract is set to expire in 2020, and with this date rapidly approaching, there is a need for the Department to consider the future of employment services. To facilitate the move to a new contract, the Department engaged in a ‘public consultation’ process. This involved publishing an online Discussion Paper which outlined some proposed changes for the future employment services contract, and inviting a range of stakeholders to provide feedback on the ideas that were presented. A similar process was undertaken prior to the move to jobactive in 2015.

This report distils the submissions to the discussion paper, which were thematically coded and synthesised, into key emerging issues from the main consultation themes. The report provides a summary of the findings on the nine main areas covered by the Discussion Paper:
• Government employment services today, and goals for future employment services
• helping disadvantaged Australians into work
• empowering job seekers and employers through improved online services
• better meeting the needs of employers
• assessing job seekers to tailor support to their needs
• incentives for job seekers to find work
• targeted regional and local approaches
• a service culture built on competition and quality
• transitioning to a future employment services model.

The insights provided in this report will help to inform the deliberations of the Advisory Panel and the recommendations to Government. This is a summary of the broad range of views, from an extensive range of stakeholders. For a complete capture of all concepts, views and feedback, the reader should refer to the individual submissions.

Aim and method for the analysis of submissions

The objectives of this report are:
• to determine what issues were most salient, and for which groups
• outline the key deficits and positives associated with employment services
• Highlight suggestions for improvement to be implemented in the 2020 contract
• Gauge the sentiment/reaction of stakeholders to ideas presented in the discussion paper
Stakeholders were able to submit responses to the paper in one of two ways:
• an ‘online’ submission: this type of submission involved stakeholders responding using a set template that was prepared by the Department. This template had five set questions for stakeholders to respond to, with the option to also upload an attachment
• a ‘full’ submission: this type of submission was less structured than the online responses and allowed stakeholders more freedom to respond in the manner they wished to. Stakeholders were able to submit longer documents, detailing their thoughts on the paper.

Summary findings

Stakeholders were broadly supportive of the key elements of the reform vision. They recognised the need for change and welcome the opportunity to have input into the design of the new model. Stakeholders demonstrated support for:
• a targeted and tailored service for job seekers
• providing better and more tailored assistance to employers
• increasing the level of support available for disadvantaged job seekers
• a flexible and positive approach to activating job seekers
• an approach that is tailored to the local area.

Online servicing

Stakeholders acknowledged the potential of digital technology to assist job seekers, employers, and providers alike, although they expressed concerns which were largely centered on accessibility and usability of a digital service, and the fear of isolation from human interaction this could lead to. Most supported the idea of a blended service, providing the best from both service types. Job seekers were particularly concerned about being able to access these services, with challenges noted around access to smart phones and other devices, the cost of data to use online services, and the digital skills to navigate services and apps.

Adapting to a changing labour market

Stakeholders felt the new employment services system needed to recognise and adapt to a changing labour market. The decrease in the availability of full-time work in entry level positions and the increase in contracting arrangements through the gig economy has changed the way people interact with the labour market. Stakeholders feel this should be reflected in the new model.

Servicing employers

Employers are typically time poor, and desire efficient simple interactions with employment services. The importance of the relationship between providers and employers was emphasised as being essential to better meet the needs of employers. The main priority of employers is to find appropriate candidates to fill their vacancies; stakeholders (including providers) suggested that they require little further incentives to hire job seekers but require job seekers with the appropriate job-ready employability skills.

Employers and community services supporting job seekers expressed a desire for ongoing post-placement support to ensure the needs of employers and the job seekers they hire, are better understood.

Holistic servicing of job seekers

Stakeholders want to see a more holistic approach to servicing and providing assistance, with an employment service that is integrated with other social services. This would allow employment services to provide job seekers with information and access to other social services needed, assisting job seekers with all their needs. Job seekers in particular highlighted the need for a more personalised in-depth servicing and support from consultant, with time spent discussing needs and circumstances rather than a cursory discussion to check compliance and progress.

Holistic assessment of job seekers

Stakeholders (across all stakeholder groups) consistently expressed a preference for an holistic job seeker assessment that focused on strengths as well as support needs. This would consider all aspects of a job seeker’s life and circumstance and would be flexible enough to account for changing circumstances and would allow employment services to facilitate and provide holistic assistance.

There was strong support for a positive focus on job seeker activation, which recognises and rewards achievement, with less focus on meeting consistent ongoing obligations. Stakeholders advocated providing job seekers with greater control and choice over the services they receive, how they are assisted, and their long-term goals.

Regional and local approaches

Comments and ideas on regional approaches were consistent throughout stakeholder submissions. They expressed a desire to see an employment service that adapts to regional variations in labour markets, emphasises stronger relationships with local communities and facilitates place-based solutions to employment.

Market competition and service quality

Many current employment service providers and community service organisations expressed concern over what a new market structure might look like. There was widespread acknowledgement that some level of competition was required to provide choice and continued improvement but there was also concern over a crowded market, and that competition hinders collaboration and potentially limits diversity and innovation.
Providers also desired greater stability in the market through longer term contracts/licenses. They felt this would assist with staff retention, and improving the quality of employment service consultants.

There was broad support for a provider licensing model.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Future of Employment Services Report | Department of Jobs and Small Business – Document library, Australian Government

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