Tassie pilot a chance to do jobs differently

February 6, 2024

It’s hard to describe the feeling when you help a client get a job. It’s a bit like it’s their birthday and kind of like it’s yours as well. The transformation is instant. Their eyes light up and they lift their head a little higher. They walk into the office with the biggest smile on their face. I always told my clients the best gift they could give to me was to never see me again. Working in employment services is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done because of that moment. It’s something we try to live every single day.

But, at the same time, I hated working there because the system I worked in was, and still is, broken. It’s broken because people are seen as dollar figures. It’s like a video game where, if you put all the things in the right boxes in a certain time frame, you win a gold star. You get a client off the books as quickly as you can to get the money and you spend more time doing the paperwork than actually trying to get them a job. My clients were never a game to me. I tried my best to work around the system to get the best outcome for them, but it wasn’t always possible.

I’ve said before that being unemployed is a kind of trauma that’s hard to come back from. There’s a stigma attached that’s hard to shake off. People think employment services are there for so-called dole bludgers. But I saw a broad range of people come through the door, from teachers and lawyers all the way to sex workers. It didn’t matter how educated someone was or where they’d grown up; the fears and anxieties each person had about finding work, about finding a purpose again, were the same. Everyone thinks it won’t happen to them until they’re in that position. And when you’re there you deserve a hand up—an employment services system that takes an interest in what a person actually wants to do, at the same time as giving the community what they need. It sounds impossible—a flying unicorn. But it already exists and it’s in my backyard in Tassie.

The Tasmanian state government runs a program called the jobs hub network. It’s so good that so far it’s produced 3,000 job outcomes and engaged 5,500 employers. There are seven jobs hubs across the state, located in regional areas like Sorrell, Fingal and Scottsdale. They each operate a little bit differently, but the gist of it is the same. They’re grassroots organisations that work with local businesses to match them up with clients who might be a good fit for them. It doesn’t sound like rocket science, does it?

We saw it work recently in St Helens. A major construction project was happening and they did haven’t enough workers for the job, so the hub worked with them and other providers to help fill the gap. They found clients who were capable and suited to the work and helped them with the necessary pre-employment training. All of these clients were then offered work. The employer said it was such a good experience that they’d work with the job hubs again.

These hubs are successful because they’re focused on a good outcome for the client and a good outcome for the local business—not focused on a dollar figure attached to the client. And they don’t have excessive demands for paperwork and reports. They take away the red tape and put the people back into employment services.

The Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services has recognised that Tassie is onto a good thing here. They want us to show the rest of the country how to do it. The committee recommended that the federal Labor government fund a trial of the jobs hub network as soon as possible. All going well, the model will be used as a blueprint to roll out similar hubs across the country. It’s a no-brainer. This is something Labor can jump onto right now. I don’t want to wait eight months for their formal responses to the committee report and then another four months for them to decide to take action. The proof is in the pudding. The jobs hub network has the numbers to show they work. Minister Burke shouldn’t delay in giving funding to these hubs to shore up their future and show the rest of Australia how it can be done. And, when that pilot is funded, the government needs to let the hubs run how they want—no mindless paperwork for the sake of it and no excessive red tape. These guys are good at what they do because they aren’t trapped in a cage of bureaucracy. They’re good at it because they understand their communities and the people in them.

I spent 15 years working in our current employment services system. It’s not a secret that it’s failing people. Funding a jobs hub pilot in Tasmania is a chance to start doing things differently, so let’s start right now.


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