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By Llewellyn Reynders.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 21 November 2014.
Victoria has an unemployment problem, with our unemployment rate now at levels not seen for over a decade. While it is true unemployment can affect anyone in an increasingly precarious job market, the reality is that it is more likely to affect people already facing disadvantage. When unemployment rises, it is these people who will likely be affected soonest, most often, for the longest periods, and with the most serious consequences. These are the people mostly likely to lose their jobs, and face the most difficulty finding one. They are also most likely to experience long-term unemployment, or to be excluded from the workforce altogether.
VCOSS has produced a new paper that outlines strategies for Victoria to respond to our rising unemployment. Tackling Unemployment: Towards a workforce participation plan for all Victorians outlines the groups at greatest risk of unemployment, including young people, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, single parents, older people, and some people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It is these groups that are most severely affected when there are not enough jobs, and when people lack the training for the jobs that are available.
Tackling Unemployment sets out four interlinked strategies to tackle unemployment:
1. Build vulnerable people’s skills and capabilities
Our workforce is changing, and vulnerable people need the skills that will help them secure a foothold in the workforce. By investing in education at all levels – from early learning, keeping young people engaged in school, and strengthening vocational education, apprenticeships and training systems, we can help Victorians at higher risk of unemployment develop the capability and agility to stay in work in a changing world. Integrated community services also have a role to play, especially in working with people at risk of unemployment to stabilise their lives, develop their job skills and connect with tailored education and employment opportunities.
2. Create the jobs vulnerable people need, where they need them
Too often, governments rest their jobs plans on creating any jobs, anywhere – rather than thinking about who might be employed in those jobs and where they will be located. To successfully tackle unemployment, the type of jobs created, and the areas they are created in, are just as important as the sheer number created. Effort needs to be invested in creating jobs that vulnerable jobseekers might be able to fill, in the communities they live in. Through employment-intensive inclusive growth, regional development and local area solutions, as well as job-creating social projects and infrastructure, we can more precisely target the jobs needed. The community sector has led the way in creating social enterprises that provide entry-level positions for people to gain work experience, and is a major employer itself, both within the overall labour market, and for people facing disadvantage.
3. Develop inclusive and flexible workplaces
A major barrier to some people getting a job is finding an employer willing to take them on, especially if they have limited experience or a history of unemployment. By expanding wage subsidies, we will support employers to help people transition to the workforce. We also need to tackle bias in employment decisions, by working to help employers see the value in employing older workers and people with disabilities, for example, and to improve inclusive workplace practices that give people the flexibility to balance work with their other responsibilities, and maintain their health and wellbeing. Finally, the Victorian public sector should lead the way in establishing equity targets so that its employees represent the diversity of the Victorian community.
4. Improve labour mobility and availability
If people can’t get to where the jobs are, they won’t be able to work. By establishing more affordable housing in job-rich areas, and improving public transport so that people can reach more of the jobs available, we can expand the employment opportunities for people facing disadvantage. At the same time, by helping people, especially women, to manage their caring responsibilities with childcare and substitute care, we can help improve their availability for work.
Llewellyn Reynders is Policy and Programs Manager at VCOSS.