On July 1st 2015 ‘Jobactive’ replaces ‘Job Services Australia’ as the means for folk who are out of work to find employment.
A quick look at the recent purchasing results suggest that a number of previous JSA providers are sadly to become no more.
What did they do wrong?
The answer is; not much.
The measurement tool used by the funding body delivers scores across a range of results and throws up scores from 1-5 across a bell curve. Changing the players redistributes the remainder also across a bell curve and the ratio of results essentially remains the same so 5% will always be at the highest end of the score and 5% at the lowest with the bulk of results in the middle – in this instance 3 ‘Stars’.
There’s a lot of words used to justify this process and central to the argument is that the process differentiates between ‘high performing services’ and ‘poor performing services’ – the language is clearly designed to prejudice the casual reader against the latter.
It is difficult to imagine that employment service providers actually make much difference to the labour market in which they operate – employers are influenced by micro and macroeconomic events and policy but do not of themselves have the ability to overly change demand.
So the market for vacancies and placements equals XYZ and that’s the market and there you go – employment service providers may assist employers to access incentives, workplace modifications provide training to their clients to meet local labour market demand and not much more. It would be difficult to imagine a recession ending due to the efforts of even the ‘highest performing’ providers.
What about the unemployed users of such programs?
These are by definition, members of a marginalised group, ‘the unemployed’ and as such lack much access to the powers that determine their fate – they are generally poor or on their way to a poorer lifestyle, they are not necessarily going to be able to find their own employment (otherwise, for the reasons already noted, they would have), instead they are reliant upon service providers who operate in the market described above.
They may have made a choice and picked a provider they feel most able to meet their particular needs and the most disadvantaged amongst these, the long term unemployed frequently truly value the relationships they form with the staff at their chosen provider.
The employment service staff are also an important consideration in the process – many have decades of experience, long term relationships with job seekers and equally long term and valuable relationships with employers.
Despite noises to the contrary these workers do not simply migrate to new providers (and you rightly ask, if they did then the point about ‘higher performing services’ is surely questionable?). Instead they leave the industry, disillusioned and their experience is lost and has to be regained by the new provider.
The gap between the loss of knowledge and its recreation forms part of the ‘lost opportunity costs’ that bedevil employment provision – by the time the new ‘you beaut’ service picks up the staff required to service their new contract, train them, make themselves known to employers, settle in the required management practices etc… the possibility of genuine gains are lost.
These are the facts that the evidence supports – numbers of people placed into meaningful employment by providers remains at a fairly poor but consistent level and actually goes backward when these ‘improvements’ take place.
There are solutions and some have even been used in the past and shown to be effective.
The constant threat of essentially arbitrary business reallocation and loss of contract/employment needs to go. It can be replaced by a market driven response that rewards providers for actual outcomes that make a difference to the unemployed – if you can afford to stay in business on the basis of a bounty hunter system that only rewards actual outcomes then you should be allowed to do so; for profit, not for profit – anyone that actually makes a difference.
Letting the marketplace decide who stays and who goes will drive up the quality of service to both employers and the unemployed.
You can scroll back through previous blogs to see a range of suggestions for improvement that centre on one thing; putting the people that benefit from service, employers and the unemployed, at the heart of service delivery rather than the needs and ease of the system.
My commiseration to those providers and their staffs leaving the field, knowing you did nothing wrong is no consolation.
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