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Is Job Services Australia made to measure for disadvantaged jobseekers?
Abstract and Figures
Unlike other OECD countries that have experienced large increases in unemployment, the main challenge for employment services in Australia is to assist a cohort of relatively disadvantaged jobseekers into jobs in conditions of low unemployment. When the Job Services Australia (JSA) system replaced the Job Network in 2009, the Government set three goals: to target the most disadvantaged jobseekers, to give providers more flexibility to individualise assistance, and to encourage investment in training and other programs to upgrade the skills of unemployed people. This paper makes a preliminary assessment of JSA against these three objectives. Given the limited evaluation evidence so far available, the approach taken is to compare relevant design features of the Job Network and JSA, use the findings of relevant evaluations of employment programs in Australia and elsewhere to hypothesise the likely impacts of key changes, and to compare the available data on JSA clients, the services they receive and their employment outcomes with the hypothesised impacts. The paper concludes that JSA shifted resources from those already in long term unemployment to those most at risk of it and this is reflected in the employment outcomes achieved by these two groups. The sequence of activation of jobseekers in JSA is more flexible than the Job Network, however (with the exception of Stream 3 and 4 jobseekers in their first year of unemployment) providers lack the resources and incentives to take full advantage of this greater flexibility and the payment system remains administratively ‘heavy’. There has been a marked shift in labour market assistance towards vocational training, funded mainly from mainstream training budgets. While use of Work for the Dole as an activation tool has diminished, there has been a modest increase in subsidised employment in mainstream jobs for long term unemployed people, a relatively effective program. The effect of these shifts in program investment on employment outcomes depends to a large extent on the quality and relevance of training, which depends in turn on whether providers are tailoring training to jobseeker and labour market needs or offering activation at the lowest available cost.
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