AMES Annual Conference, Melbourne

Speech
  • Assistant Minister for Employment

[E&OE transcript]

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here today at your conference.

Since becoming the Assistant Minister for Employment six months ago, I have had the pleasure of meeting with Graham Sherry [Chair] and Catherine Scarfe [CEO] on a number of occasions to learn more about AMES.

Both have been strong advocates for your organisation and the people you serve.

Earlier this year, I also had the opportunity to visit AMES in Footscray to see first-hand how you are helping people to find and keep a job.

Let me say I was impressed with the positive and pro-active approach on display by Ary Laufer and the team.

I was pleased to see job seekers being encouraged to take up a job—even if it meant moving to a new area or trying a different occupation.

This is exactly what we need more of—people who can encourage and support job seekers to take up opportunities wherever they exist.

People who know how to form partnerships and work across boundaries.

Like you, I understand that being in a job brings a range of benefits to a person and their family.

Of course there are the financial rewards—but there are also emotional rewards.

Work provides people with a sense of identity and purpose—and is often a source of friendship and support for many people.

For refugees and migrants, being in work can help people to feel part of the Australian community sooner.

It also provides a way for people to give back to the community that has helped them.

From my own experience in my electorate of Cowper working with migrants—I know that both of these things are very important to people who choose to make Australia their home.

For over 60 years, AMES has been delivering innovative and integrated services to refugees and migrants.

Since 2009, AMES has delivered more than 16,000 job placements for culturally and linguistically diverse job seekers and more than 7000 job placements for refugee job seekers.

Above all, you have been instrumental in reducing isolation for refugees and migrants and helping them to build a new life in Australia.

For these reasons, I think the theme of your conference—‘Better Together’—was well chosen.

I think it captures the essence of your organisation and your way of working.

Government priorities

I’d like to take a moment this morning to outline the Government’s priorities for employment services and some of my ideas for how we can be ‘Better Together’ into the future.

The Coalition Government has an important agenda to deliver.

We are committed to growing a strong and prosperous economy that promotes workforce participation, productivity and jobs growth.

We are committed to helping people to move from welfare to work sooner.

To help achieve this, we have introduced a range of new payments and incentives.

These include the Job Commitment Bonus; the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Payment; and the Seniors Employment Incentive Payment.

While these incentives and payments are important, they cannot drive change alone.

Job seekers need a high performing and more efficient job services system that better meets their needs and the needs of employers.

The Government is committed to having an employment services system that is focused on the main game – namely, getting more people into work.

As a country, we simply cannot afford – financially or socially – to leave people out of the workforce.

Our future depends on having as many people as possible participating in the workforce and making a positive contribution to our country.

This is essential if we are to have the standard of living and range of services that we would like into the future.

For these reasons, the Government is determined to get more job seekers into work.

The importance of partnership

But we cannot do it alone.

To help people move from welfare to work will take a concerted effort – from job seekers, providers, employers, and the Government.

Since I assumed my responsibilities as Minister I have been travelling around the country to hear first-hand about what is and isn’t working.

The message I have received loud and clear is that the system itself is holding you back—and it is putting employers off.

Neither of these things help job seekers.

I have heard repeatedly that our employment services system has become mired in red-tape and that it has lost focus.

I have heard that you are hungry for change and seek a return to a simpler system that rewards performance.

On the other side of the coin, employers tell me they are being presented with job seekers who are not ready - or interested - in work and do not meet their needs.

Employers want to see more job seekers arriving at their doors with the skills they need to meet the vacancies on their books right now.

Employers are also seeking a simpler way of interacting with you and more seamless support from you.

Unfortunately, too many employers see Jobs Services Australia as a last port of call for recruitment purposes – rather than the first port of call.

I want to change all of that so you are able to do what you do best – that is, helping people find and keep a job.

This is how you give people the opportunity to build a better life in Australia.

I’d like to stress that Government is still considering options for the new employment services contracts for 2015 onwards.

The options, however, have been informed by feedback from organisations such as AMES, NESA and Jobs Australia – as well as my discussions with job seekers and employers.

Let me elaborate.

Budget context

I am sure it will come as no surprise to you that we face a tough Budget context.

The Government has to deal with $123 billion in projected deficits and $667 billion in forecast debt.

It is essential to the future of this country that we get our public finances back under control.

If we do not have the right fiscal and economic settings to support business and jobs growth then we will see more people on the unemployment queue.

None of us want that.

As with all Government spending, it is important that the money that is provided for employment services is

well-targeted and delivers on the outcomes that taxpayers expect.

It is the case that we will need to be smarter and more efficient with the resources that are available in the future.

Within that context, the Government will place a high priority on the following principles for 2015 onwards:

  • A stronger focus on meeting the needs of employers
  • Better servicing of job seekers – especially those with greater barriers to employment
  • Keeping job seekers active and engaged through Work for the Dole, and
  • Supporting providers through new forms of partnership and eliminating red-tape to reduce your cost pressures.

Let me take a minute to talk to each of these principles in turn.

Employer engagement

Employer engagement is a priority for the Government.

In 2013, 300,000 people were placed into work through the Jobs Services Australia system.

When we look beyond this figure, however, we find that very few employers are using Job Services Australia providers — a mere 8 per cent of employers say they are aware of or use the service.

So to encourage more employers to bring jobs your way we must do more to meet their needs and cut complexity out of the system.

We must think differently about working with employers and start to work more on their terms.

After all –  employers are the generators of jobs in our economy – not government.

The Government is considering new ways of partnering and supporting employers to help open up more job opportunities.

We want to make it easier for employers so that they are more inclined to work with you.

Better servicing of job seekers

As well as enhancing relationships with employers the next contract needs to free you up to better meet the needs of job seekers.

A more flexible contract will enable you to better tailor services to job seekers, especially those with barriers to employment.

The Government is committed to ensuring that people who have barriers to employment receive a quality service that helps them to address their issues.

We are committed to this concept – however, we have an open-mind on where and how those services are delivered.

There will be opportunities for AMES to think differently about how you deliver your service and partner with others who may need your service.

I am committed to ensuring that the next contract is far less prescriptive than the current one.

I want you to have the space to be innovative in the way deliver services for job seekers - particularly those who may need other forms of help in addition to your service.

As many of you will have heard me say before, training must be better targeted and form a clear line of sight to a job opportunity - as opposed to training for training’s sake.

I cannot stress this enough, the Government values better targeted training.

I see improving someone’s language and literacy skills as value for money.

However, I do not see sending someone off to a barista course for the third time in a region where there are no barista jobs as a good investment of taxpayer funds.

The Government is considering ways to ensure that the service delivered to job seekers is less prescriptive from your point of view – but more effective from the job seeker’s point of view.

Work for the Dole

As many of you would know, reinvigorating Work for the Dole is an election commitment of this Government.

I am keen to ensure that people doing Work for the Dole are exposed to more work-like situations so as to enhance their employment prospects.

This means there is likely to be a significant ramping up of the number of Work for the Dole places required.

The Government will be looking to minimise the red-tape impact on potential host employers who may offer a Work for the Dole placement.

You will have a key role in making sure that any new Work for the Dole arrangements are delivered smoothly and effectively.

This will provide new opportunities for you to think about how you work with others in your local community.

Better support for JSA

I understand that in order for you to provide better servicing, you need a different style of support from the Government and department.

I know that red-tape is high on your agenda.

NESA and Jobs Australia have told me that frontline staff can spend up to 50 per cent of their time on administration.

This is too much effort on the wrong sort of tasks.

I have heard you loud and clear on red tape and have made a number of changes to lighten you load in this regard.

Last November I announced changes that eliminated the need for you to keep paper copies of records, extended the timeframe for lodging certain claims, and gave you more certainty by simplifying arrangements for contract changes.

Last week, I announced the Government’s second round of red tape cuts.

Under these new reforms, you will no longer need to collect documentary evidence from employers or job seekers to verify a person’s employment.

Instead, from 1 July 2014, we’ll use information about a person’s earnings and hours of employment already collected by the Department of Human Services.

The Government’s red tape reforms announced so far represent a saving of more than $23 million for employers and providers.

I am committed to continuing to reduce your red tape burden during 2014-15 and as part of the new contracts going forward.

Finally, I have also heard from many of you about your wish to be able to partner with each other and with other services more effectively.

The Government is keen to promote new forms of partnership – especially those that will help deliver on our priorities of better employment engagement, better servicing and Work for Dole.

The Government also recognises that there are opportunities to help drive efficiency across the whole system through economies of scale.

We are committed to ensuring that quality servicing I delivered across the country and we are open to new ways of achieving this.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, AMES has every reason to feel confident about the future.

Your history shows that you are able to respond to need and adapt to change.

In the context of 2015, I encourage you to think about how you use your expertise and skills more broadly to better engage employers and create new opportunities for job seekers.

I also encourage you to think about your own skills as case managers and how the move away from a prescriptive, transactional system may free you up to try new approaches to engaging employers and servicing job seekers.

In my mind, your role will shift from filling in forms to building relationships.

The future will require staff that can encourage, coach and market job seekers more effectively.

We need people to talk the language of employers – to understand their needs and design services that fit that need.

The Government is committed to ensuring that services are available to all job seekers, regardless of where they live.

We are committed to quality services for refugees and migrants but open-minded on how it may be delivered.

There will be opportunities for organisations, like AMES, to work differently with others.

You are in a strong position to help others to be better by being with you.

Thank you.                             

For more information

Media mailbox: media@employment.gov.au