Travers McLeod - Speaking Notes | Jobs & Skills Summit | 1-2 September 2022

2 September 2022
Read: Travers McLeod’s ‘Lifting participation and reducing barriers to employment’ panel transcript below

I want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to elders past and present and to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people here or watching online.

In 1945, Ben Chifley used the metaphor of the trapeze artist to describe the Australian social security ideal. He said:

“The trapeze artist’s net protects him through the whole course of his life. The net is not, of course, part of the main show; that goes on high above, and the higher it goes, the better we enjoy it. … But anyone who has ever seen an artist miss his hold knows what peace of mind the constant presence of the net means to performers and audience alike. So it is with social security. The modern ideal is that there should be social security provisions to protect every citizen in his or her emergencies, from the cradle to the grave.”

I want you to think about that net in Australia right now, one we’ve all needed through COVID.

For too many Australians, the reality is if you’re disconnected from the education system or thrown off the jobs ladder, you fall into a net where you don’t bounce but you sink.

It’s a net where you’re sentenced to interact with a broken employment services system, where mutual obligation and income support can trap you in deeper disadvantage, instead of opening the doors of opportunity and equipping you to walk through those doors .

I was proud to hear Shaima and Nathan, who we’ve supported at the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, share their experiences. What we’ve heard at BSL, where 2500 staff and volunteers focus on key transition points across the life course, is that interacting with the employment services system is actually more of a trap when what we need are trampolines. It’s simply not designed to build capability and confidence in the places and situations disadvantaged jobseekers find themselves, places where the things you need to build a career – like transport, early learning, housing, care, and training – are often lacking.

There are over 770,000 people in the Workforce Australia system, a number still up 26% since before COVID. It’s the $7 billion elephant in the circus. For what it’s worth, BSL’s view is disadvantaged jobseekers might be better off overall and the money better spent if Workforce Australia is given the boot. They need a different deal and a different system.

I’ve been asked to give a couple of examples of where it works for employees and employers.

The first is where there is proactive business engagement. At BSL, we’re working with around 130 employers in our Given the Chance program and with Jobs Victoria to build career pathways for jobseekers marginalised in the labour market.

These employers, like ANZ, Arup, Scalzo Foods and the North-East Link in Victoria, want to build pathways for young Australians, people with disability, people exiting the criminal justice system, and people from migrant and refugee backgrounds whose talents we underutilise.

These employers want their operations to look like and support the communities they serve. While some have been incentivised by the Victorian Government, who have made inclusive employment a clear goal in capital projects, many recognise these employees as their best.

When Shayne Elliott started at ANZ and toured his sites he noticed a pattern. The best employee put forward was often a “Given the Chance” employee from a bilingual refugee background who helped the bank to connect with and speak the languages of more customers.

I hope employers here can commit to much more ambitious social procurement employment targets.

The second example goes to how we create better partnerships at local and regional level.

BSL convenes the National Youth Employment Body and its network of Community Investment Committees. They’re in places like Logan, Shoalhaven and Warrnambool. They are genuine partnerships between government, employers, training providers, employment services, and young people– to build pathways to benefit jobseekers, employers and communities.

These groups have worked together to engage unemployed young people into aged and disability care careers. We’re seeing similar place-based approaches used to grow agricultural careers, and to building economic empowerment and dignity for women .

These approaches aren’t new. But they’ve been the exception. We need to double down on these sorts of regional and community job deals , and reimagine how government, business, educators and unions work together. This is what the brilliant economist Mariana Mazzucato means by a mission economy and an entrepreneurial state . It’s an approach that’ll create more trampolines for the jobseekers who have had the roughest run in Australia for too long.

The Brotherhood of St. Laurence (BSL) is a social justice organisation working to prevent and alleviate poverty across Australia.

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