Employment Services Measures

Budget Review 2021–22 Index

Matthew Thomas

The main employment services-related budget measure is the introduction of the New Employment Services Model (NESM) (Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2021–22, pp. 92–93), with several other budget measures in line with, and providing support for, the new model. Details on the NESM are drawn from fact sheets on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website.

In 2019 the Government began trialling the model in two regions, with the findings of the trial yet to be released. Under this budget measure the Government will begin rolling the NESM out nationally from 1 July 2022.

The New Employment Services Model (NESM)

Digital Services and Enhanced Services

The new model provides two types of service:

  • Digital Services—job seekers receiving Digital Services will self-service online. The most job-ready and digitally literate job seekers will receive this service.
  • Enhanced Services—more disadvantaged job seekers will receive Enhanced Services delivered by employment services providers.

Under the NESM, job-ready job seekers will self-service online through Digital Services for 12 months, after which they will be transitioned into Enhanced Services. If job seekers have neither gained employment nor been sufficiently active in building their employment capacity while using digital employment services, they may be transferred to an Enhanced Services employment services provider. Job seekers will be reviewed periodically while using Digital Services, have access to support from a Digital Services Contact Centre, and be able to transfer to an employment services provider at any time.

As its name implies, Enhanced Services is a more intensive form of support provided to job seekers who are disadvantaged and face barriers to gaining employment. It will focus on early intervention and individual case management, with job seekers able to participate in a wider range of activities than is currently the case, including approved non-vocational activities and work experience.

Mutual obligation and compliance

The NESM will employ a points-based approach to job seeker compliance, with job seekers required to complete activities during each reporting period to accumulate the requisite number of points. Job seekers will have some flexibility in the activities they are able to undertake, with a higher number of points being allocated for intensive activities. There is to be a reduced emphasis on the number of jobs applied for, and greater focus on the quality of job applications. This is intended to create a lower volume of unsuitable job applications and reduce costs and red-tape for business.

While job seekers are to be granted more flexibility in meeting their mutual obligations requirements, they will be required to undertake more intensive activities, and to do so earlier. Job seekers in Digital Services who are not working or studying after four months will be required to complete Employability Skills Training. If they are in work or study after four months, self-servicing job seekers will be required to participate in online learning modules, intended to help them increase their likelihood of gaining employment or working more hours.

Job seekers in Enhanced Services will be required to participate in an intensive activity for two months following six months unemployment (rather than 12 months as is currently the case), with Work for the Dole being the default activity. Job seekers who transfer to Enhanced Services after 12 months in Digital Services will be required to participate in an intensive activity within three months.

The payment structure for employment services providers has been restructured under the NESM to account for the fact that providers will have smaller caseloads and be delivering personalised and intensive services to disadvantaged job seekers.

A new funding model for providers

Under jobactive, providers are paid six-monthly administration fees for each job seeker, and outcome payments where job seekers move off income support for 4, 12 and 26 weeks. Partial outcome payments are also paid where a job seeker gains employment that reduces their income support payment on average by 60%. The payments are higher for job seekers who are assessed as having a greater level of disadvantage and who have been unemployed for longer periods.

These payments are to be replaced by a one-off, up-front engagement payment intended to support early intervention; in-service progress payments for demonstrable improvements in job seeker employability; and outcome payments that are significantly weighted towards rewarding employment outcomes for especially disadvantaged job seekers. The payment structure also includes a bonus for employment outcomes for very long-term unemployed job seekers (unemployed for two years or more).

The main objective of the payment structure is to tackle the ‘creaming and parking’ problem. This is where providers prioritise the most job-ready job seekers in order to maximise their outcome payments while claiming administrative fees for disadvantaged job seekers, but putting insufficient effort into securing employment outcomes for them. The creaming and parking problem should be reduced under the NESM, given that the most job-ready job seekers will be self-servicing and no longer able to be ‘creamed’. However, it is not clear that the problem will be, or can be, dealt with entirely under a system that is built on rewards for outcomes.

The NESM—background

In early 2018, in the lead-up to the expiry of the jobactive deed in 2020 and in response to ongoing and extensive criticism of the jobactive system, the Government appointed an independent Expert Advisory Panel to help shape the future design of employment services in Australia. The Panel’s report was provided to the Government on 15 October 2018.

The report found that Australia’s employment system was not meeting the needs of many job seekers and employers.

It determined that a substantial number of job seekers are able to find work themselves, with limited or no employment service provider assistance. Further, it was found that these job seekers are subject to compliance requirements that in many cases do not help and may actively hinder them in gaining employment. Other more disadvantaged job seekers were found to be not receiving the intensive individualised support they need from providers who have high caseloads (they are being ‘parked’ by providers).

At the same time, the report found that very few employers are using the jobactive system, and many of those who do use the system reported being inundated with inappropriate job applications as a result of the job search requirements placed on job seekers.

The report recommended that the employment services system be re-structured to focus on helping those job seekers who most need assistance.

To this end, it proposed that job seekers who are job-ready and digitally literate should no longer use the employment services provider network. Instead, these job seekers would self-service, using online employment services. The resources saved and employment service providers freed up through many job seekers self-servicing would then be dedicated to providing intensive, face-to-face services and support to disadvantaged job seekers.

Before the 45th Parliament was prorogued, the Government made a commitment to implement many of the Expert Advisory Panel’s recommendations.

A trial of the NESM is being conducted in Adelaide’s southern suburbs and on the New South Wales Mid-North Coast from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2022, before the model is rolled out nationally from 1 July 2022. A report of the evaluation of the trial has yet to be publicly released. As a result, it is not clear how successful or otherwise the NESM is likely to prove in terms of outcomes for job seekers and employers.

That said, the findings of a trial of the online delivery of employment services that operated between 1 July 2018 and 15 April 2020 suggest that job-ready job seekers are unlikely to be disadvantaged under the NESM. Job seekers who used online self-servicing arrangements were found to be as likely to exit income support and employment services within six months of commencement (with exits used as a proxy for employment) as a matched group of job seekers receiving employment services provider-based services. These job seekers were also as likely as job seekers in the comparison group to not return to income support within six months following their exit date. The compliance of trial participants was found to be broadly similar to that of job seekers receiving support from employment service providers.

The possible implications of the NESM for disadvantaged job seekers are less obvious. While employment service providers’ caseloads will be reduced, much will depend on their ability to provide the quality intensive assistance required by long-term unemployed job seekers or job seekers with complex needs. The performance of providers will be regularly evaluated, with poor performers not having their licences renewed.

Despite the Budget’s significant focus on skills training (see the article in this Budget Review on skills training), the financial incentives for providers to refer job seekers to training are limited, with the focus of the NESM—like that of jobactive—being employment outcomes.

Other employment measures

As a part of the Budget, the Government has provided additional funding for programs that are directed at disadvantaged job seekers—most notably the Transition to Work program ($481.2 million over four years from 2021–22, Budget Paper No. 2, p. 92) and the Local Jobs Program ($213.5 million over four years from 2021–22, Budget Paper No. 2, p. 89).

Under the Transition to Work program a network of community-based organisations is contracted to provide intensive, pre-employment support to early school leavers aged 15 to 21 years to improve their work readiness and help them into work or education. The program is intended to assist young people who are at high risk of long-term unemployment and welfare dependency. An interim evaluation of the program suggests that it has resulted in positive employment and education outcomes.

Under the Local Jobs Program, Employment Facilitators work with employers and other key local stakeholders (such as employment services providers, higher education and training organisations) to work collaboratively on developing employment and training opportunities. The Budget measure expands the program from 25 regions particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic or most experiencing ongoing disadvantage, to all 51 employment regions. The Local Jobs Program bears some resemblance to the Priority Employment Initiative that was introduced in response to the global financial crisis. This initiative drew on Local Employment Coordinators (whose role was similar to that of Employment Facilitators) and involved Skills Expos. These expos were the equivalent of the Jobs Fairs, for which $6.2 million has been allocated over two years from 2020–21 as a part of the Budget (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 90).

Funding of $15.6 million has also been provided in 2021–22 to increase all wage subsidies to $10,000 (some are currently up to $6,500) to align with the subsidies to be introduced under the NESM (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 89). In light of the substantially lower than anticipated take-up of the JobMaker Hiring Credit that was introduced as a part of last year’s Budget (as at 22 March 609 employees were being funded under the scheme), the Government indicated in March that the design of the scheme would be looked at and tweaked in the context of the Budget. No changes to the scheme were announced in the Budget.

Significant savings are being realised by the Government in the employment services area, not only as a result of the low take-up of the JobMaker Hiring Credit, but also due to efficiencies associated with the NESM. The latter savings of $1.1 billion over the forward estimates are to be redirected ‘to fund policy priorities’ (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 93).