Future of Employment Services in Australia – Responding to the Rebuilding Employment Services Report

Firstly, a thank you to the Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services members, and those that sent in submissions, as this is a mammoth piece of work, with much thought and feedback that has been considered for the final report.

This blog, ‘Future of Employment Services in Australia – Responding to the Rebuilding Employment Services Report’, is a personal opinion piece and I am not political party aligned, but collaborate with people who have common ground in relation to education, employment, entrepreneurship, and VET.

Depending on when you started your career in employment services, traineeships, and apprenticeships, disability, education and/or VET you might remember the CES – Commonwealth Employment Services.

Mid 1990s is when I connected with people in the service, which had its heyday but became outdated, time consuming for clients with long wait lines (back then in CES and Centrelink offices), and people scanned physical job cards on a board to look for jobs – imagine that now!

The fact that the Rebuilding Employment Services, Final report on Workforce Australia Employment Services, House of Representatives, Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services, November 2023, Canberra, with 650 pages and 75 recommendations suggests “A rebuilt Commonwealth Employment Services System” sounds an alarm bell.

Now, there definitely needs to be a guiding vision, but not just for the potential new service, more for the Australian workforce overall.

What is most interesting in the report is the “Critique and analysis of the current Australian system”, something I don’t think I’ve seen before from the Australia Government.  Statements such as,

“The nature and extent of mutual obligations is like using a nuclear bomb to kill a mosquito.

Employers have fled the system, dodging floods of inappropriate job applications. Providers are forced by the payment and performance frameworks to repeatedly try to place jobseekers into unsuitable vacancies to chase outcomes payments so they can pay their staff and make a profit, yet there are inadequate incentives or support for business to take on disadvantaged jobseekers. The system is unbalanced, focussed on supply rather than matching demand, and employers’ disengagement from the system also means that people are missing out on more effective in-workplace training.”

And a memorable quote, “Five ice cream shops all selling the same vanilla ice-cream, lined up side by side, while the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) studiously manages market share so everyone gets a lick.”

On self-employment and entrepreneurship, you can appreciate this content is of interest,

13.46   The Entrepreneurship Facilitators program provided advice and support to people wishing to start or grow a business, as well as referrals to other small business support services including S-EA. Entrepreneurship Facilitators deliver services through a mix of group support, networking events and light-touch individual support.54

13.47   The Australian Entrepreneurs Alliance (AEA) stated that the Entrepreneurship Facilitators program was similar in many respects to S-EA, but was more flexible and person-centred:

  • S-EA is funded per person and per activity, and providers are allocated a capped number of places for coaching. By contrast, the Entrepreneurship Facilitator program was not capped, and facilitators have the flexibility to design services based on individual and community need.
  • S-EA is not funded to provide the ongoing support that some participants need if they are not able to demonstrate the viability their business after 12 months. The Entrepreneurship Facilitators program was able to offer this ongoing support.
  • The staff in S-EA are often employees of large corporations. Facilitators were typically specialists with experience in founding and growing a business.55

13.48   A decision was taken in the 2023–24 Budget to cease the Entrepreneurship Facilitator program from 1 July 2023.56 The AEA told the Committee that while there have been some changes to the S-EA program there is still a ‘huge gap’ in the available supports for people looking to start a new business or grow an existing enterprise.57 The AEA called for supports that were previously offered under the Entrepreneurship Facilitators program to be rolled into a new ‘Self-Employment+ Services’ delivered by Self-Employment Facilitators. According to the AEA, this new program would:

  • help clients to validate their business idea;
  • support clients to become more financially sustainable;
  • connect clients into the local ecosystem and with other small business owners;
  • provide services for clients who have completed S-EA but need additional assistance in order to continue and grow their business;
  • refer clients to providers where there is a good fit; and
  • assist small business owners at risk of failure and returning to unemployment.58

Because the Self-Employment Assistance program is government designed, it suggests a very old fashioned and out of date approach to the business plan template, and again formal training is not often relevant, nor contemporary.

Recommendations that I’ve made for Self-Employment Assistance to the Select Committee relate to:

         Perhaps the business plans sections could be broken down and approved as PBAS or microcredentials so there is reward and recognition for this hard work.

         Self Employment Assistance could be broken down into 2 sections. The first being up to 2 months and the second part being the balance of the 12 months.

         60 days to put together and validate the business plan, with additional support, coaching and mentoring

As a provider we have paid for petrol for clients.  There needs to be a flexible fund beyond the $300.00 to cover expenses that could be used for things such as petrol, car registration, insurance, uniforms, equipment, tickets for business events, coworking spaces, market stalls etc.  Funding for clients based in regions should be loaded higher as there is more distance to cover and barriers to address.

If there is a future version of Self-Employment Assistance, it needs to be designed and facilitated by people who have small business, startup and entrepreneurial first hand experience, i.e. they are founders, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and specialist coaches/mentors.

It is positive to see that, 13.128 In particular, the Committee is supportive of reviewing S-EA to help ensure that participants in the former Entrepreneurship Facilitators program can be supported and consideration should be given to expanding eligibility for S-EA to make it more accessible for disadvantaged cohorts such as migrants, women, First Nations peoples, and people from CALD backgrounds. Review of the S-EA program should include consideration of the proposal for a ‘Self-Employment+ Services’ put forward by the AEA, and engagement with both the AEA and the NS-EA, among other key stakeholders.

There is much feedback and criticism from employers about the current Workforce Australia with positive highlights being the customised, regional work by the Employment Facilitators, which should be built upon in the next iteration of employment services in Australia.  Taking services in-house for the public service to run them has pros and cons, and this seems to be the way that DEWR is heading so I wonder if that means the cancelling of contracts with current Workforce Australia providers?

2024 will be the year to tease out this report and recommendations, but not just accept them all.  Asking people for feedback and suggestions is important but it doesn’t mean that everything that is recommended is right, fit for purpose or world-class.

By way of example, comparison with other countries is a good thing, but are we picking the best options from across the globe and making them relevant for an Australian context?

And there are some obvious things missing… like real examples of innovation which probably lie in the raft of submissions.  This line is key but may get missed in all of the detail, “Testing possible approaches to reward and incentivise innovation within the performance framework also warrants consideration.”

In Chapter 16. on Implementation and transition arrangements, reforms suggested include, “implementing service improvement trials, the creation of communities of practice, and the implementation of measures to require the sharing of information among service partners and with government, with a view to starting building a culture of learning, innovation, and experimentation as soon as possible. is also critical if employment services are to realise their full potential;”

But I’ve witnessed the fact that people do not understand how Communities of Practice work, the theory that underpins this approach, and how to facilitate effectively.

Innovation must be core to the vision for the future of employment services in Australia, and not the ‘word’, rather the ‘demonstration’.  This could be supported by something like an Innovation Fund to test and trial new, emerging, and exciting approaches.  There is much that the Australian Government and employment services can learn from the innovation ecosystem, including startups and scaleups that take a lean approach to solve problems for customers, get to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) quickly and cost effectively, iterating experiences, products and services based upon real client feedback and insights.

And if you work in a general Workforce Australia provider, I’d suggest that you might want to consider various career options, because if some of these recommendations go ahead there could be a CES with regional hubs staffed by public servants, and specific services for client cohorts that may be outsourced to specialist providers.

Over to you – what are your takeaways from the report and where to next?

Scroll to Top