Australia’s low headline unemployment rate of 6.1% masks the growing issue of long-term unemployment. Since 2008 long-term unemployment has risen by more than 150%; today, nearly one in four unemployed people have been out of work for at least a year.
Long-term unemployment can lead to poor physical and mental health, homelessness, social isolation and atrophied work skills, with most of these exacerbated the longer someone is unemployed. Unfortunately, evidence shows that if you have been unemployed for a year there’s a 54% chance you will continue to be unemployed for two years or more.
At the same time, it’s predicted that Australia will need as many as 800,000 new workers over the next five years. Already up to 41% of Australian employers report difficulties filling jobs – however, only 7% use the government system to recruit. Not only does this put a huge number of entry-level positions out of reach for disadvantaged job seekers, it leaves an entire pool of potential talent untapped.
The Industry Employment Initiative (IEI) is a collaboration between SVA, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Jesuit Social Services and Mission Australia. We’re prototyping a new approach to three key issues:
- Few national employers engage with the current government system.
- Too many job seekers undertake ‘training for training’s sake,’ without line of sight to a job.
- Many disadvantaged job seekers ‘cycle’ in and out of the system, with insufficient support and inadequate ‘work-readiness’ preventing them from gaining sustainable employment.
The IEI uses a demand-led model, starting with an employer’s needs and working backwards from there, and plays the role of broker between employers and service providers to ensure deep engagement, holistic support and tailored training that has direct line of sight to a job.
This year, providers who have secured 2015-2020 employment services contracts will have to hit the ground running on new employer engagement obligations and, promisingly, many have committed to using demand-led strategies. Here are some of the lessons that the IEI team has learned to date:
Take the time to understand each employer’s needs and to tailor pathways that meet them
Drivers, capacity and priorities will be different for each employer. Some will want to address workforce development issues; others will have corporate responsibility and diversity goals.
Some employers need candidates who already hold qualifications; others will want them to undertake a traineeship within the company. Some employers see mentoring disadvantaged candidates as a development opportunity for existing staff; others don’t have the capacity to provide that level of support but are happy to work with external mentors.
Taking the time to understand and respond to each employer’s context, processes and challenges is a critical first step in creating a successful pathway.
Understand and articulate the business case for involvement
Although many employers want to support disadvantaged job seekers, it’s the WIFM (What’s In It For Me?) that will get them over the line. For IEI employers, this means access to candidates who are the right fit for the organisation, training programs that are tailored to the employer, and holistic support that increases the candidate’s ability to perform.
Find the right internal champion
In large organisations, there are many people who need to be involved with programs like the IEI. Setting up processes for input from across teams is important, and having the right internal champion will make things infinitely easier. The best internal champion is someone who understands the business case, has an interest in supporting disadvantaged job seekers and – importantly – has the right level of influence to keep things moving.
Choose employers carefully
Disadvantaged job seekers need support to succeed. The IEI provides a significant amount of holistic support, but we also expect employers to put in the effort at their end. This might mean being flexible with hours or KPIs at the start, giving job seekers the chance to make and learn from mistakes, or investing in additional training. At the end of the day, if an employer isn’t willing to provide that support, it’s not the right environment in which to place a job seeker who is vulnerable.
Done well, demand-led pathways can make a big difference for jobseekers and employers alike. That’s why the IEI is committed to building an evidence base that will change the system for the long term so that those who are willing and able to work are given the best chance possible of finding and keeping a job.
 Fowkes, L., “Long-term unemployment in Australia”, Australian Policy Online, 2011
 DEEWR, Building Australia’s future workforce, 2011