Response to the DEEWR s Review of Job Services Australia and Disability Employment Services January 2011

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1 Response to the DEEWR s Review of Job Services Australia and Disability Employment Services January 2011 Regional Development Australia brings together people and information to promote collaborative decision making for the sustainable and just economic development of Sydney, with a focus on employment growth.

2 Regional Development Australia Sydney (RDA Sydney) welcomes this opportunity to comment on the Review of Job Services Australia (JSA) and Disability Employment Services (DES), as proposed by DEEWR. RDA Sydney is a partnership between the Australian, State and Local Governments created to strengthen regional communities. RDA Sydney is part of a national network of 55 RDA committees made up of local leaders. The aim of RDA Sydney is to work with government, business, community groups and key regional stakeholders to provide strategic and targeted responses to economic, environmental and social issues affecting Sydney. This response underpins the objective of RDA particularly to consult and engage with the community on economic, social and environmental issues, solutions and priorities and support informed regional planning. RDA Sydney has just completed a Regional Plan for Sydney that describes Sydney s attributes, industries, employment base and key advantages. It sets out the economic, environmental and social vision for the region, articulating the drivers of change, identifying strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and listing priorities for action. The Plan includes inputs from stakeholder consultations and draws information from 66 other existing plans and reports published by the Australian, NSW and Local Governments and other key agencies. In the last six months, RDA Sydney has consulted with key stakeholders from 65 organisations representing: peak bodies, State Government departments and agencies, local councils, regional organisations of councils, industry associations including chambers of commerce urban research centres, Australian Government department and agencies Consulting firms Business development organisations Private companies Think tanks Training organisations. 2

3 This response provides comments from a Sydney metropolitan perspective. While RDA is not an expert on employment policy, we are able to provide some input based on what we learned through the broad range of consultations conducted in the process of developing the Regional Plan for Sydney and through our own expertise and past experience. Issues addressed: Suggestions for assisting long term unemployed people who face multiple disadvantage Disability Employment. Skills training Mature workers. 3

4 RDA Sydney supports the Review of Job Search Australia (JSA) and Disability Employment Services (DES) as it offers an opportunity for continuous improvement and the chance to consider more innovative and flexible practices to better assist the most disadvantaged groups of jobseekers in Sydney. RDA Sydney believes that both JSA services and DES may need to make some improvements for Sydney to facilitate the level of workforce participation that will ensure continuous economic development and social inclusion in the near future. Currently, workforce participation rates average in the per cent range for most areas of Sydney, but according to Skills Australia, this rate needs to be lifted to 69 per cent by 2025 in order to provide the required workforce, to mitigate the impact of the ageing population and improve social inclusion. JSA services and DES have a crucial role to play in achieving this. On the other hand, the total number of jobs in Sydney will need to grow from 2.09 million in 2006 to 2.85 million jobs in 2036 (an increase of 760,000) according to the Sydney Metropolitan Review 2010 Discussion Paper. While actual job numbers are important, the key will be how those jobs will be filled not just in terms of numbers but with people with the right skills. This will pose major challenges to JSA. Most organizations consulted did raise concerns about employment. The need to better assist disadvantage jobseekers (refugees, Indigenous, youth, mature workers) find jobs; the constant risk of skills shortages; the current mismatch of employment opportunities with the local workforce skills, and the constant unmet demand for trade-base skills, were some of the issues raised by key organizations consulted. Most organisations strongly recommended focusing comprehensive efforts on the most disadvantaged communities to break the cycle of unemployment. DISADVANTAGED JOBSEEKERS How can JSA services assist long-term unemployed people who face multiple disadvantage be improved? According to statistical data, there are some groups in Sydney who are partially or totally excluded from employment opportunities. The Western Belt of the Sydney region has the highest unemployment rate, with West Central experiencing the highest rate at 8.7 per cent. Current and past approaches to break the cycle of unemployment in pockets of entrenched disadvantage (Campbelltown, Bonnyrigg, Canterbury, Blacktown, Blue Mountains) have produced mixed results. Unemployment still remains the norm for most of the groups living in those enclaves, particularly in social housing as well as for other jobseekers facing multiple disadvantage. The consequences of unemployment - poverty, limited social networks, family tensions, poor mental and physical health, limited skills and work experience - are all factors that aggravate social exclusion. Without adequate intervention the cycle of decline tends to become perpetuated. RDA Sydney believes that DEEWR alone cannot alleviate social exclusion and that to address these types of problems a cross-sectoral approach is needed. 4

5 RDA Sydney recommends that place-based strategies be adopted in which all relevant service providers work with a multidisciplinary approach to address the barriers (health, housing, education etc) experienced by disadvantaged jobseekers. This would encourage service providers to communicate and work together to help clients, producing the desired outcomes. Initiatives taken along these lines have proved to be successful. We recommend strategies focusing on particular geographical areas that incorporate local approaches and that these strategies be included in the JSA contractual arrangements. The current work experience program is being provided only by non-for-profit organisations. RDA Sydney suggests that it be also opened up to for-profit organisations and government departments and agencies, so as to enable jobseekers to acquire a broader range of skills, have more options for work experience placements, and the opportunity to build networks and contacts in a broader diversity of workplaces and professional fields. A clearly defined work experience plan is critical for the success of the placement, for both parties (employer and jobseeker). Work experience needs to be sold as an employment attraction strategy where employers can benefit from trying potential employees, especially in areas of skills shortages. More funding needs to be allocated for targeted programs focusing on training and mentoring early school leavers, including foundation skills for employment and life. Cross-sectoral strategies focused on particular groups of young jobseekers have proved to work well. A good example is the Pathways for Refugee Youth (SIPRY) which assisted young people in Fairfield and has been described as one of the most successful intervention models. JSA services staff should be trained in overseas qualifications recognition procedures in order to better assist skilled migrants find employment in their own professional field. Lack of support services on arrival has been identified as a challenge. Stream One doesn t currently provide much assistance to this target group. A large number of skilled migrants need information, links, resources and assistance at an early stage. Sydney has a highly skilled workforce that could be significantly more productive with an investment in information services, retraining and language skills and JSA services have a central role to play in this. RDA recommends DEEWR allocates funds for the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). JSA services staff members also need to acquire expertise in RPL to better assist trades people trained overseas. Lack of knowledge in this area can contribute to a waste of skills and to underemployment. RDA recommends DEEWR works closely with industry taskforces and TAFE to create RPL competency based procedures. Targeted programs focusing on retraining and mentoring mature age workers need to be developed. Currently there are few initiatives assisting this disadvantaged group. Attracting mature age workers is vital to gradually increase workforce participation. There are opportunities to retrain mature age workers into mentoring and retraining in their own industry. All initiatives to assist the homeless should include an employment component. Employment in fact should be an integral part of any social integration strategy. JSA services need to work closely with Housing NSW and other organisations in the implementation of the employment components of the 5

6 Regional Homelessness Action Plans. RDA recommends JSAs work closely with community housing providers and homelessness services to develop employment pathways for jobseekers. RDA Sydney recommends that the Taskforce for Strengthening Government Service Delivery for Job Seekers continues to explore best practice and innovative initiatives to help disadvantaged jobseekers. Indigenous mentoring is exclusively done by Indigenous mentors. RDA recommends that a support structure be created for Indigenous leaders to provide mentoring and attract other leaders willing to provide mentoring. TRAINING How can better links between vocational education and training providers, employment services and employers be developed? Currently no formal links between JSA services and DES with RTOs and Group Training Companies (GTCs) exist. GTCs and RTOs should communicate with both JSA services and DES through a regular and formal channel. The PAGES meeting is linked with Centrelink and DEEWR, we recommend RTOs attend these meetings. This would assist JSA services and RTOs to regularly communicate with each other at a local level to coordinate activities more effectively and avoid duplication around specific opportunities, particularly before course intakes. JSA services and DES are in a prime position to identify skills shortages locally and assess the current and future characteristics as well as changes taking place in the local labour market. A formal channel to feedback this information to government needs to be created as it could assist DEEWR to plan and develop local employment and training strategies. RDA Sydney believes there is a need to adequately resource JSA services and DES to adequately promote apprenticeships and traineeships to local employers and work in partnership and collaboration with apprenticeship groups so as to better advice individual jobseekers. DISABILITIES Any policy refinements should ensure services remain focused on assisting job seekers with a disability to gain, keep and achieve sustainable employment. Unlike JSA services, DES are not eligible for the Employment Pathway Fund (EPF). They can only use service fees to purchase interventions for their clients. RDA Sydney recommends that EPFs be available to DES so that they are better equipped to assist clients with multiple needs. RDA Sydney believes that shorter term job placements are in fact a positive practice in disability employment. For job seekers with episodic disabilities short-term job placements may simply reflect the impact of disability on their initial capacity to maintain continuous employment. Continuous placements may be inappropriate for job seekers with mental health conditions. This needs to be acknowledged in the DES contractual arrangements. 6

7 RDA Sydney recommends the establishment of structures such as social enterprises and labour hire employment where these clients with mental health conditions can find flexible, intermittent and possibly ongoing employment. Businesses should also be encouraged to take up third party contracts with social enterprises. RDA Sydney believes that the NSW State Government s Disability Employment Plan is a positive strategy. It focuses on what the public service can do as an employer or procurer of services to help advance the cause of people with a disability. The aim is to encourage government departments to procure goods and services to those organizations that employ people with a disability. This is a condition to secure contracts. RDA Sydney recommends similar programs be embraced by the Federal Government, including DEEWR. RDA Sydney recommends flexible servicing options in the form of telephone video conferencing, , and group work, particularly for those clients without transport or living in locations with poor transport infrastructure as well as people whose disability impact on their mobility. 7

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