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Taking a New Approach to Engaging Disadvantaged Job Seekers

28 August 2014 at 12:27 pm
Lina Caneva
Start with the jobs, not the candidates, to deal with unemployment challenge, writes Kevin Robbie, an Executive Director at Social Ventures Australia.

Lina Caneva | 28 August 2014 at 12:27 pm


Taking a New Approach to Engaging Disadvantaged Job Seekers
28 August 2014 at 12:27 pm

Start with the jobs, not the candidates, to deal with unemployment challenge, writes Kevin Robbie, an Executive Director at Social Ventures Australia. 

The latest unemployment figures reiterate a trend we’ve been aware of for some time – youth unemployment in Australia is too high, and on the rise. In some areas the issue has reached crisis point, with figures from The Brotherhood of St Laurence showing rates of over 20% in some communities in Tasmania and Queensland. In Victoria, youth unemployment has leapt to a 15-year high and become a key issue in the upcoming state election.

National seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for July showed a dramatic spike in the unemployment rate for 15-19 year olds, from 17.8% to 20.4%. The headline and commonly used youth metrics also rose, to 6.4% and 14.1% respectively, higher than they’ve been in over a decade. Young people who are out of work are also spending longer unemployed, with average durations climbing.

At the same time programs with a record of success in helping young people into work are losing government funding.

It’s clear that a new approach to addressing the issue is needed, which is why Social Ventures Australia (SVA) has joined together with Mission Australia, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Jesuit Social Services to develop the Industry Employment Initiative (IEI). The IEI aims to change the way employers engage with young and disadvantaged job seekers and, with the support of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and a number of forward thinking corporate and philanthropic foundations, the initiative was launched this week.

Key to the program is that it is designed to be a ‘one stop shop’ for large employers, who find the current system fragmented, bureaucratic and difficult to navigate.  It also turns the current system on its head by looking first at employers who have job openings and skills needs, and then working closely with them to source candidates to fill the roles. To do this, the approach co-designs the job pathway with the employers, and then embeds significant on-the-job training opportunities and intensive pre and post placement support for candidates, many who may not have had a job before.

The evidence from similar programs suggests that the vast majority of people placed in this way make a successful transition to ongoing employment. A partnership between NAB and Jesuit Social Services saw approximately 85% of participants go on to find work in their chosen field, either at NAB or in the business community. Similar success has been seen in the UK and US through this approach, which has shown evidence of high retention rates.

The aim of the IEI, alongside securing real and sustainable jobs for young people and meeting skills shortages for businesses, is to develop clear evidence that this innovative approach works, with the end goal of influencing government towards adopting effective policy design.  Our hope is that it will change the game for the way we deal with unemployment in this country.

But it’s early days yet. The support of our corporate and philanthropic donors has been crucial in getting the idea off the ground, and we are working with a number of large national employers at present to explore how we could support them to be pilot employers in the program. We expect to kick off with our first employer partner in coming weeks.

The co-funding approach taken by the group of progressive foundations funding the pilot shows how philanthropy can be the engine of social innovation, and a catalyst for systems change. These funders recognise that they are on a journey with us, and they are as enthusiastic as we are to learn and build an evidence base for initiatives that really work to solve exclusion and disadvantage. We’re hoping more foundations will join us on that journey.

We’re also eager to talk to potential employer partners who want to create entry level jobs for young people who need that start in life, and we can help  provide support and funding to do this well.

The reward will be a loyal and skilled workforce, and the knowledge that you’re doing your part towards a more equitable and prosperous Australia.

About the author: Kevin Robbie is Executive Director, Employment at Social Ventures Australia (SVA). Robbie has worked in innovative social change for over 20 years, primarily in the UK. He has held senior management roles in a range of organisations, including seven years as Chief Executive of Forth Sector, one of Scotland’s leading social enterprises. He has also been a special adviser to the UK Government Cabinet Office, worked on a wide range of development partnerships and projects and served on a number of Not for Profit and Government Advisory boards.  


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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