We have a national crisis with issues associated with skills and employment. This includes apprenticeships, skilled migration, youth unemployment, temporary work visas, retraining, vocational training, TAFE, employment for disadvantaged groups and more. One reason is that the government funded employment services have failed.
This is not the fault of the businesses or associations that won the tenders to deliver services. It is failure achieved through the approach by decades of governments, Coalition and Labor, who have followed ideology from text book driven policy makers on how ‘the private sector will do a better job’.
The private sector will always do a more efficient job. But many believe that no private sector organisation should make a profit from the ills of the needy unless they can do so of their own accord without government support. The current employment support system, called Job Active, has government funds provided by a tender process to businesses to provide a service for the long term unemployed and others. These businesses do what a private business must do, they make a profit otherwise they would fail as businesses. As a result there will be cost cutting – like a good business should do – and services to clients will probably be at the most minimum level possible - are we happy with that?
The end result has been poor service for the target groups and poor service for the small business community who are the largest group of tax collectors in the country. This system has also created some millionaires, but on the back of the long term unemployed? Perhaps if the system had been designed better the private sector could have succeeded but we need a fix and we need it now.
We believe we need a new version of the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES). The CES was one place for job seeking, retraining, access and support with Vocational Training (VET), works testing of the unemployed, support for older unemployed, local economic development, entry level training, youth support, skilled migration, temporary work visas, a local response to labour shortages, assistance with moving skilled, or for that matter unskilled workers, to locations with jobs and skills needs, support for people with a disadvantage or disability, support for ex-offenders, industry restructuring assistance, and the list goes on. One place, a one stop shop. Not perfect but better than what we have now.
Now post CES the small business community in the main isn’t even aware of the services that are funded by government. The employment services are piecemeal and confusing. We have to go to one place for assistance with employment of long term unemployed, or any unemployed; we have to go to another place for information and administration of apprenticeships (and isn’t the apprenticeship system in tatters); we have to go somewhere else if we wish to employ a person with a severe disadvantage or a disability. Then somewhere else again when we are dealing with skilled migration. Centrelink will annoy employers non-stop with requests for information on an individual’s employment situation when this was previously easily done through the CES. There is also no local place for staff from ombudsmen and regulators to use as a base of activities and for vital information on potential misbehaviour and fraud. There is no local representative of the federal government to help create and implement economic development or skills development campaigns. There is no local body that can assist large and small organisations going through major change including large retrenchment processes.
We can fix this but politicians and policy makers will have to confront the real world not the text book world. We can provide a better community response to unemployment and skills development through a central community based organisation. We can achieve this through one of two ways: by a grant system replacing the current tender process; or develop a structure providing support run out of Centrelink offices.
In the end we have to acknowledge that change is now a constant. The services described above actually provide change management support to people, businesses and community. That is a good thing and that is good business practice. We do need to make sure we don’t create government funded competition with the private sector employment agencies who have been a part of the general market for decades. We can do that and we can make this work.
Note: Peter Strong worked in the CES from 1977 to 1990 in Albury, Inverell, Wollongong and Goulburn. He held positions such as Youth Officer, Employment counsellor working with disadvantaged groups and as a manager of regional employment services.
(A message for laissez-faire economists: you are a bunch of shallow intellects who have failed all of us due to your lazy pomposity: end message.)