The Australian Government’s Employment White Paper, “Working Future”, outlines a comprehensive vision for Australia’s labour market, focusing on creating an inclusive economy where every job seeker can quickly find suitable employment. This article delves deeper into the White Paper’s emphasis on building capabilities through employment services.

The Power of Quality Employment Services

A quality employment services system isn’t just a service; it’s a catalyst for better social and economic outcomes for job seekers facing barriers to work. It plays a vital role in building more efficient and inclusive labour markets, strengthening growth and productivity. Additionally, employers benefit from a well-functioning employment services system, gaining access to a broader pool of applicants as well as training and support services.

The Challenges Faced by the Sector

Consultations for this White Paper revealed that Australia’s employment services system is seen as ‘transactional’ and inadequately tailored to the diverse and complex needs of its job seekers. Stakeholders argue that the most disadvantaged job seekers receive insufficient support, services lack personalisation, the system is fragmented and challenging to navigate, and there is inadequate employer engagement.

Additional issues highlighted include reduced qualifications and experience among frontline consultants, and increased caseloads. Consequently, quality support to job seekers has suffered.

The White Paper reports that the current approach prioritises placing job seekers into any job rather than matching them with roles that best suit their skills and interests. While this approach minimises labour market scarring and offers experience in entry-level positions, it can push job seekers into precarious employment that does not deliver better outcomes.

The Disconnect in Employer Engagement

According to the White Paper, the employment services system does not consistently meet employers’ needs, and there is a lack of effective engagement between employment services and employers. This disconnect has led to a decline in employer participation in the system.

However, there remains an opportunity to improve collaboration between employment services, employers and the broader community. For example, employers could be better supported with innovative job design, recruitment practices and inclusive workplace development strategies.

“More needs to be done to embed partnership with employers in our biggest programs, particularly employment services.” – Working Future White Paper1

To adequately address the needs of job seekers facing barriers to employment, it is imperative to invest in initiatives aimed at enhancing work readiness, skill development, and employer engagement. There is also a need for improved coordination between various programs and services, such as the NDIS and Workforce Australia, to offer comprehensive and holistic support to people with disabilities. Achieving this requires employers to build capacity to understand the specific needs and expectations of job seekers experiencing long term barriers, as well as employers actively participating in the efforts to better support a diverse workforce.

Eight Principles For Reform 

The Government has taken steps to improve employment services including:

  • First-Principles Review: A House of Representatives Select Committee is conducting a review of Workforce Australia, with the aim of recommending future reforms by November 2023.
  • Redesigning Disability Employment Services: A new model is being developed to better support people with disabilities, starting in July 2025.

In addition, the new employment services reform principles will guide future improvements to the system, ensuring it remains relevant and effective for job seekers, employers and industries. The principles2 are:

  1. Services as investment: Services are viewed as an investment that unlocks individual potential, addresses employer needs, and works with industry to enhance growth.
  2. Strong stewardship: There is strong Australian Public Service stewardship in the system and the outcomes it delivers to ensure that individuals are ‘not left behind’.
  3. Dignity and respect: Services protect the dignity and respect rights of individuals.
  4. Pathways to decent jobs: Services provide a pathway towards decent jobs that provide the flexibility and security that individuals need.
  5. Employer engagement: Employers use employment services to help meet their workforce needs, and can access guidance on innovative job design, recruitment practices, and inclusive approaches to workforce development.
  6. Collaboration: Employment services are designed through collaboration with individuals, employers, and the community.
  7. Early intervention: Services help people at the earliest opportunity, informed by fit-for-purpose assessment processes.
  8. Grounded in evidence: Reforms are grounded in evidence, high-quality evaluation, and continuous learning and improvement.

Emphasising Evidence-Based Approaches

As highlighted in Principle Eight, the Government outlines the importance of evidence-based employment services. Drawing on both Australian and international best practices, they aim to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, ensuring that policies and programs remain effective and responsive.

The Vital Role of Place-Based Services

Another critical aspect highlighted in the White Paper is the significance of place-based services (Principle Six). It’s essential for employment services to be tailored to the unique needs of local communities and labour markets. By engaging at the local level, programs can become more effective and coordinated, aligning with the specific requirements of communities.

A Call for Collaboration

The next phase of reform aims to support employers in hiring job seekers who may require additional supports. This involves training and capacity building to enable employers to better accommodate job seekers with complex needs in the workplace. To achieve this, greater collaboration with employers is essential – along with a commitment to invest in long term relationships – particularly within the employment services sector.

Workplace Learning Needs To Improve

The White Paper emphasises the benefits of workplace learning for employers such as increased productivity, improved use of technology and innovation. Work-related training can help to close skills gaps and improve job-specific skills. Workplace learning can also contribute to increased employee engagement and retention. However, Australia ranks in the bottom half of OECD countries for improving the use of employees’ skills3. Research shows:

  • Less than a third of Australian workers engage in work-related training annually4
  • A quarter of all Australian employees report unmet demand for training5
  • 72 per cent of employees report not being offered any training or professional development in the past two years6.

Feedback from the consultations also highlighted the lack of professional development and workplace learning in the employment services sector.

Prospert sees an opportunity for providers to get ahead of reforms by investing in employer engagement audits and workplace learning.

Our audits help providers understand their current state and identify any gaps needing closure if they are to achieve their employer engagement aspirations.

Typical areas of focus include frontline and leadership capacity and capability to engage employers effectively and whether this is impacted by process and systems support.

A tailored employer engagement learning partnership helps solve capability challenges.   Backed by decades of experience, our Learn@Prospert platform provides online learning, live coaching, and mentoring programs that have transformed the employment services sector.

Our online learning platform offers blended learning using live skills development sessions, group coaching and one-on-one professional mentoring. Learners actively engage in an online community while line managers are supported to maximise staff learning outcomes.

Our courses help address the issues raised in the White Paper, especially around effective employer engagement. To find out more visit: https://prospert.com.au/learnprospert/

If you’d like to discuss the “Working Future” White Paper, get in touch. We’d love to share our thoughts and provide advice to your business.

Sources:

Working Future: The Australian Government’s White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities, September 2023

OECD, Skills Strategy 2019 – Australia: Skills to shape a better future

OECD, ‘Preparing for the future of work across Australia’, OECD Reviews on Local Job Creation

Shah, C., ‘Employer-supported training in Australia: participation, demand and supply’, NCVER, (2017)

Business Council of Australia, Unpublished survey, (2023).