Workforce Australia job services shakeup must engage employers better

By Jo Ingold

June 29, 2022

man walking into a Centrelink office
Several simple yet effective changes can be made to services like Workforce Australia to help employers open up to a variety of job seekers. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

The government’s new ‘Workforce Australia’ offers employers a golden opportunity to access an untapped market to address current workforce shortages.

Workforce Australia replaces ‘Jobactive’ at the beginning of July. But evidence shows that just a fraction of Australian employers currently use government employment services.

The truth is that employers have long been neglected in the design and delivery of job services. But Workforce Australia will measure providers’ services to both employers and jobseekers.

For many reasons, the introduction of Workforce Australia signals an opportunity to press the reset button and do things better. Not just for job seekers, but for those who we’re expecting to employ them.

We have a massive skills shortage, there’s lots of government investment in skills and employment, and up to two million Australians who could be working or would like to work more. But we need to match all of this up.

Current workforce shortages across Australia offer a golden opportunity for job services to show real value to employers and help them think differently to attract staff.

Recruitment costs employers a lot of time and money and, especially in the current environment, job services offer alternative and valuable HR support.

But to make this work in the long run, we need to move away from transactional engagement, where a job seeker is simply matched with an employer in a ‘box ticking’ exercise.

Instead, we need more ‘relational’ engagement, where providers engage with employers to better understand what their needs are, and how simple workplace adjustments could help them access this untapped workforce.

My workforce inclusion research in Australia, the UK and Denmark shows long-term success is driven by strong interpersonal relationships between service providers and employers.

Workforce Australia is a positive opportunity for providers to work with employers to not just meet what employers think they need but to help them diagnose the issues with their current recruitment and other workplace practices.

Many organisations are simply held back by their own processes.

But there are several simple yet effective changes that service providers can implement to help employers open up to a variety of jobseekers, particularly those who face extra barriers to work, including Indigenous Australians, older people, young people, people with disabilities, or sole parents.

There are some good examples of such changes to practice brokered through trusted relationships between employers and service providers.

Such as working with large retail employers that normally hire online to agree on alternative recruitment. Candidates come along in person instead and demonstrate their capabilities and motivation to work. They can also benefit from employment preparation co-designed with the employer, including familiarisation visits.

A call centre can simplify its selection process to start with an informal individual or group conversation. This takes away the daunting parts of the interview process while allowing prospective employers to assess the soft skills, behaviours and attitudes that are important, such as in customer-facing roles.

Providers can encourage employers to shape jobs and workplaces to be more appealing to the many job seekers currently excluded from employment. This includes flexible shift patterns for people with caring responsibilities, or working with employers to accommodate different disabilities in their workplace.

It’s going to be challenging, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to shake up hiring. We can do things differently and benefit from a diverse talent pool across Australia.


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