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NFPs are stepping into employment services gaps

In the absence of an adequate employment services system, Australia’s not-for-profit sector is stepping up to fund social enterprises that help disadvantaged job seekers into work.

New research shows we’re on the money.

There is a crying need for greater funding of innovative, employment-focused social enterprises.

A new report from the Centre for Social Impact has found such social enterprises are directly reducing the costs of welfare, health and housing services by offering employment pathways to people who experience barriers to workforce participation.

At Settlement Services International we see this every day. We are in a unique position in that we deliver the government-funded jobactive program as well as running our own employment-focused social enterprises.

We are witness to a complex employment services program, where an estimated 64.9% of jobseekers have been on jobactive for over a year, and one in five have been on it for more than five years.

A particular deficiency is the lack of specialist providers for jobseekers from migrant and refugee background, who face unique barriers to employment including lack of local work experience, limited local networks and limited English language proficiency.

The challenges of this system was brought home to me in this week’s Q&A, when I heard Ricci Bartels talk about being retrenched from her job in her early 60s and subsequently spending three challenging years as an unemployed welfare recipient.

Bartels is a respected community advocate who worked for decades with refugee and migrant communities — including taking a leading hand in founding our own organisation. It is simply heartbreaking to think that someone with so much to contribute was left languishing.

In my experience, the key ingredients to supporting individuals to navigate, enter and remain in the workforce long-term are individualised employment pathways, job readiness support, pre-employment training and work experience, effective job-matching and post-employment support.

This suggests there are workable responses to the problem of workforce participation. In the absence of a funded solution, SSI has partnered with community-minded individuals and organisations to create a number of social enterprises that aim to get vulnerable jobseekers job ready. In a single year, we’ve helped more than 500 people gain work experience in warehousing, merchandising, retail, customer service, marketing and more.

Our social enterprises also deliver a broader social impact. For example, our low-cost supermarket, The Staples Bag, saves around two tonnes of food per week from landfill while providing affordable groceries to low-income earners.

It’s a win-win-win that has seen around 40% of Staples Bag work experience participants go on to secure employment.

I’m not saying we have the panacea to the challenge of long-term unemployment in Australia, but SSI’s anecdotal experience and this new research demonstrate that employment-focused social enterprises are worth considering more widely.

Long-term unemployment is not solely a problem for government to solve. There is a need for greater responsibility sharing from all corners of our society. Community, corporates and government must come together to explore and appropriately resource and support new ways to address unemployment and support more Australians to engage in meaningful, sustainable employment.

About the Contributor:

Karen Bevan is the General Manager Service Delivery – Community for SSI.

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