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New report signals shift to fairer employment support

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Wide-ranging reforms put forward by a major inquiry into the Federal Government’s system to support disadvantaged jobseekers would create a more equitable system that delivers specialist support and better employment outcomes for migrants and refugees, according to the non-profit SSI, which provides employment support to jobseekers across NSW, Queensland and Victoria.  

The Workforce Australia Employment Services Committee today handed down the long-awaited findings of its inquiry, which has recommended wholesale reforms and a blueprint for a rebuilt Commonwealth Employment Services system.  

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said in recent decades, the employment services system has become heavily compliance-focused, to the detriment of jobseekers and at a cost to the government.  

“This report signals a return to the core purpose of this system: working with job seekers to help them get meaningful and sustainable work and build their economic security. We welcome this as a root and branch review of employment services and thank the Committee and the Inquiry for their vision” she said.  

“It is encouraging to see recommendations for fundamental systemic change that will further this vision. SSI urges the government to accept these recommendations and implement them in full.”  

Roumeliotis highlighted that it was welcome to see recommendations for specialist providers working with First Nations communities, migrant and refugee communities, and people with disabilities being included in a rebuilt Commonwealth Employment Services system. SSI particularly welcomes the recommendation that these specialist services should be established as a priority,  

“Migrants and refugees face unique barriers to gaining meaningful employment, so it makes sense to ensure employment services are not one-size-fits-all. Key challenges include limited English language proficiency, lack of Australian work experience and social networks, along with issues in having their skills and qualifications recognised,” she said.  

“Failure to address this will leave migrant and refugee individuals at risk of living in poverty, and decades of research and other inquiries have shown that generalist support fails to meet the needs of these communities.”  

Roumeliotis added that the recommendation to introduce digital literacy training and support would also benefit refugee and migrant jobseekers, for whom this is one of the main challenges to accessing government and essential services, alongside language barriers.  

“Digital and online modes of service delivery can provide greater flexibility to jobseekers. However, there is a risk that the move to digital and online jobseeker services in employment programs could exacerbate access issues for these cohorts,” she said.  

“It is particularly pleasing to see a recommendation around digital tools for employment support being available in multiple community languages to better reach newly arrived job seekers.”  

The review has recommended changes to workforce standards in the industry to re-professionalise the employment support sector. SSI has long called for the development of such standards, setting out minimum skills, competencies and qualifications.   

“Learning, improvement and evaluation are core parts of building a successful employment support service system. People supporting disadvantaged job seekers need to have the skills and competencies to work with people who have barriers to employment. This will have a direct impact on the quality of support offered to jobseekers and their employment outcomes,” she said.  

SSI welcomes the Inquiry’s comprehensive set of recommendations to reduce the emphasis on mutual obligations and other compliance measures for disadvantaged job seekers. SSI has seen first-hand how many of these measures created hoops through which jobseekers had to jump to maintain income support. There is little evidence of the effectiveness of these measures in creating employment pathways, which is the stated goal of the employment services system.   

“The proposed reforms have moved away from an employment support system that focuses on compliance mechanisms and reduces the threat of financial hardship. This is a win-win for job seekers and service providers alike,” Roumeliotis said.  

“Trust and rapport are critical to employment programs so that participants are open to expressing their aspirations, sharing their strengths and challenges and are able to get the support they need.”  

Roumeliotis enthused SSI would continue to review the comprehensive recommendations of the Inquiry and looks forward to the government’s consideration of endorsing and implementing them in full. 

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.

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