Employment Services: Transformation is coming

Written by Kelly Mason
General Manager
A review of the “Working Future” White Paper

Things are happening in employment services.

The energy is different. Conversations are being had. Narratives are shifting. 

It feels like a change is coming. And it feels really positive.

The recent release of the Australian Government’s Employment White Paper, “Working Future,” and conference presentations at NESA and the IEP Summit have got our attention, and it’s for all the right reasons.

The Working Future White Paper presents a roadmap and vision for an inclusive and dynamic labour market, with an emphasis on creating opportunities for everyone to find meaningful and sustainable employment.  

The white paper explains the Australian Government “wants the future employment services system to invest in people’s potential, building their human capital and connecting with broader social services, to help people overcome barriers to participation and build pathways to decent jobs.”

Five objectives have been outlined in the paper, and we’re most encouraged by objective number 5  – Overcoming barriers to employment and broadening opportunity and its key policy areas:

  • Building capabilities through employment services
  •  Reducing barriers to work.

Let’s unpack this further.

Understanding the current system

Entrenched disadvantage and chronic long-term unemployment affect a significant percentage of all job seekers nationwide, and these statistics have remained consistent for many years. Unemployment disproportionately affects several cohorts, including young people, people with a disability, and First Nations people.

People experiencing prolonged unemployment have much lower levels of wellbeing than employed people. As their confidence and motivation decrease, they lose sight of their employment goals and begin to feel hopeless (Whelan et al., 2018). Unemployment has a narrowing and restricting effect on these people.

The paper confirms that “more needs to be done to boost employment opportunities and overcome entrenched and intergenerational disadvantage.”

While the current Workforce Australia and Disability Employment Services contracts are designed to provide improved, enhanced services to the most vulnerable, frontline staff across the sector are often challenged by the constraints of the systems.

Feedback from the consultation on the White Paper showed that the existing system is viewed as overly transactional, heavily focused on compliance and inadequately resourced to effectively support its diverse client base. Services for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged cohorts lack personalisation and insufficient levels of support, and the system is complex and challenging to navigate.

The paper also highlights the shift in service delivery from providers over the years, resulting in less personalised servicing and less qualified and experienced frontline consultants. Caseloads have increased significantly, and staff spend over one-third of their time meeting contractual compliance obligations and administration.

The whitepaper highlights how the current work-first approach delivered by employment service providers is not effective in improving outcomes for long-term unemployed individuals. Employment is the main route out of disadvantage for most working-age people, but it needs to be secure work; otherwise, people risk falling back again (McLachlan, R et al., 2013).

If the system is not geared to best support people, the outcomes remain the same.

Transforming the system for clients

Currently, around 44 percent of individuals in the system retain their employment following placement for less than 12 weeks.

The whitepaper suggests that the current work-first approach has the benefit of a quick boost in the labour market and helps people build experience in entry-level jobs. However, this may lead to insecure and unstable employment that does not lift a person out of disadvantage and into a job that meets their values or plays to their skills and strengths. Their wellbeing may also continue to be negatively impacted.

Incorporating wellbeing services

When people experience positive wellbeing, they are opened to a path of positive change and greater employment opportunities. Enhancing wellbeing has been found to increase the likelihood of employment, improve attitudes towards work, and strengthen coping skills (Cole, 2006). Moreover, when people find jobs that further contribute to their wellbeing, they are more likely to be successful in those jobs and to stay employed for longer (AtWork, 2021).

Positive wellbeing is essential for employment services. It is the guiding force keeping job seekers, frontline workers and management, moving in the same direction: towards successful, sustainable employment outcomes. Organisations with positive wellbeing cultures experience higher staff retention, more sustainable business outcomes and increased revenue (Gallop, 2023). Taking the time to invest in people and their skills, generally delivers better labour market outcomes over the long term (Card, D et al., 2018).

Employment providers can achieve these outcomes if frontline staff have the knowledge and strategies to build their emotional intelligence, and harness positive energy. Professional development programs such as Job Coach Certification and Coaching Skills for Leaders have been designed to give frontline workers and leaders in employment services, the coaching skills they need to achieve better outcomes.

By taking a strengths-based and supportive role, providers can motivate and nudge their clients to change their thinking. Promoting a lifelong learning culture among both businesses and individuals, to create a workforce that is more adaptable and better equipped to seize future employment opportunities, is a goal for the Government.

Another critical aspect highlighted in the whitepaper is the importance of appropriate skills development for job seekers – in particular, foundation skills.  

Foundation skills enable participation, build an adaptable workforce and form the basis for developing specialised skills that make us more productive and engaged. These skills include language, literacy, numeracy, digital literacy, and employability skills such as critical thinking, organising, problem-solving, creativity, communication and teamwork.

The whitepaper states, “Improving access to foundation skills for adults will allow them to pursue further learning, boost their employment prospects, and participate more fully in the community. Expanding access to all adults, including those experiencing shifts in their industry or job, will help facilitate structural change in the economy, while lifting the level of human capital in the workforce.”

Expanding beyond foundational skills, job seekers also need to build their psychological work readiness skills which include self-esteem, confidence, resilience and motivation.  

Results of a 2019 trial conducted by the Australian Government Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) revealed positive impacts of a wellbeing intervention for long-term unemployment. The intervention focused on three key wellbeing indicators of resilience, satisfaction with life, and self-esteem, and participant outcomes included increased motivation towards employment or further study. Individuals who completed the intervention experienced:

  • Increased autonomy during a time of uncertainty.
  • Enhanced confidence to build new skills to develop competence.
  • A strong sense of belonging and connection with their peers and the trainer.

With this in mind, providers have the opportunity to provide tailored and targeted training and development, to ensure their clients have the skills they need to feel more confident about their journey to employment. Interventions such as The Bounce Program™, are ideal for providers to implement with their clients.

Our programs help address many of the issues identified in the white paper, particularly around building the capabilities of providers and overcoming the barriers to employment. 

To find out more, read our latest whitepaper: Activating Hope in Employment Services


AtWork Australia, (2021). The atWork Australia Job Seeker Wellbeing Index. Retrieved 06082023 from https://www.atworkaustralia.com.au/jswi/

Card, D., Kluve, J., & Weber, A., ‘What works? A meta analysis of recent active labour market program evaluations’, Journal of the European Economic Association, 16(3), 894–931 (2018)

Cole, K. (2006). Wellbeing, psychological capital, and unemployment: An integrated theory. joint annual conference of the International Association for Research in Economic Psychology and the Society for the advancement of Behavioural Economics,

Commonwealth of Australia (2023). Working Future: The Australian Government’s White Paper of Jobs and Opportunities. Retrieved 09102023 from https://treasury.gov.au/employment-whitepaper/final-report

Gallup, (2023) State of the Workplace Report. Retrieved 0910203 from  https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx

McLachlan, R., Gilfillan, G. & Gordon, J., Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia, (Productivity Commission 2013), https://www.pc.gov.au/research/supporting/deep-persistent-disadvantage, accessed 19 September 2023. 

Whelan, N., McGilloway, S., Murphy, M.P. and McGuinness, C., 2018. EEPIC-Enhancing Employability through Positive Interventions for improving Career potential: the impact of a high support career guidance intervention on the wellbeing, hopefulness, self-efficacy and employability of the long-term unemployed-a study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials, 19, pp.1-18. 


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