Olivia lives with the rare Kleefstra Syndrome.

News Articles and analysis

Supporting vulnerable displaced workers to gain skills and employment

A growing number of Victorian workers are facing involuntary job loss due to business closures, downsizing or their particular jobs being made obsolete. [1]  This is driven by significant changes to the Victorian and Australian economies including technological advances, globalisation, and a shift away from traditional industries such as manufacturing, to service industries, including health care and social assistance and education and training.[2]  Displaced workers, particularly those who are vulnerable, often experience long periods of unemployment and if they do gain work it is more likely to be in part-time or insecure work arrangements, with lower pay, less hours and less job security. [3] Thus the “costs of job displacement may be substantial and long-lasting” [4] for the individual, their families and the broader community.

While job displacement can affect all workers, older workers, younger workers, and people with low education or skills levels are more at risk of job loss.[5]  Older workers and people with low education or skills are also more likely to experience difficulties gaining employment and a lower income following their job loss. [6] Mature age workers are more likely to lack formal qualifications[7] and to face age-based discrimination[8] which can limit their ability to obtain new employment. Lower skilled mature age workers are therefore especially vulnerable to poor employment outcomes, particularly those that have spent most of their working life in an industry/occupation which is disappearing or significantly contracting.

Victorian workers are directly impacted by many of Australia’s recent industry restructures which have resulted in mass job losses, such as the automotive industry, Alcoa, Qantas and SPC Ardmona. Many of these site closures have, or will occur, in parts of Victoria already experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and higher unemployment, compounding the difficulties already faced by these workers when trying to gain new employment. For example, many of the suburbs most affected by the industry specific site closures such as Norlane, Broadmeadows, Dandenong and Kyabram were also identified as the most disadvantaged localities by the 2015 Dropping of the Edge report.[9]

NCVER’s recent Melbourne Forum on VET’s role in re-skilling displaced workers highlighted some of key strategies required to support vulnerable workers, particularly lower skilled mature-age workers, to successfully transition into new employment opportunities. It also provided some important lessons for Victoria and Australia, drawing on evidence from Nordic Countries.

For vulnerable workers a holistic package of support is required including meaningful training and career advice, practical support to gain new employment and assistance to employees’ wellbeing and resilience. This needs to occur alongside job creation, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas experiencing large job losses. These strategies need to be available to all vulnerable displaced workers, not just those in large organisations. While employees in small organisations overall comprise a small number of the displaced workers, they are at greater risk of job displacement [10]  and generally don’t receive the same level of assistance.

Training

Providing workers with access to flexible, quality training is vital to helping many workers gain the skills they need to successfully transition to another occupation or industry. However, to train people effectively requires a number of elements:

  • Access to recognition of prior learning (RPL). Many workers have gained a large number of practical skills on the job, but have limited or no formal qualifications; this is particularly common among mature age workers. RPL is also required to adequately determine the skills gap and the level and type of training required to help them gain a new job.[11]
  • Access to independent career and training advice, to ensure that any training is aligned with real employment opportunities and the workers interests. [12]
  • Training needs to be culturally appropriate and incorporate age inclusive design, such as being modified to reflect their extensive work experiences, and providing practical learning opportunities. [13]
  • For some workers, training may need to incorporate literacy and numeracy skills needed for new employment opportunities, particularly computer literacy.[14]
  • A transferrable skills framework is also useful at helping both workers and employers to understand how a worker’s skills can be applied in a new occupation or industry. Older workers who are displaced can often feel trapped in their current occupation and feel they need to completely retrain to be able to gain new employment. A transferrable skills framework can help to demonstrate the value of the workers’ current skills and help to determine the skill gaps and the training needed for workers to move into a new job. Work is currently being undertaken to look at skills transferability between declining and growing occupations[15] and will be useful to assist workers in this process.

Employment and wrap-around support

Workers may also need practical and tailored assistance with getting a new job including career counselling, job search, resume writing and interviewing.  The VCOSS Response to the Employment Programs Review outlines some of the limitations with Commonwealth employment programs and the need for Victorian employment programs to avoid these pitfalls. Employment programs should have the capacity to provide individualised, flexible services that can respond to people with diverse backgrounds and needs.

Worker resilience

Supporting workers’ wellbeing and resilience to better prepare them for the transitions, to improve their mental and physical health and improve their chances of gaining new employment, was also highlighted as a key feature to success. A pilot project in South Australia began in October 2014 to assist workers who will be displaced as a result of the GM Holder closure.[16] Early indications are showing positive outcomes for these workers.

Job creation

All of these strategies need to occur in parallel with new job creation, particularly in areas where workers live. The VCOSS report Tackling Unemployment: Towards a workforce participation plan for all Victorians, proposes a Victorian Workforce Participation Plan and outlines a range of strategies to help create jobs for disadvantaged workers, including those who are displaced, including:

  • Supporting the development of social enterprises to help develop supportive employment opportunities for people experiencing barriers to the open employment market.
  • Expanding social procurement requirements on government contracts to create employment opportunities to employ people experiencing disadvantage.
  • Implement public sector targets for equity groups, such as people with disability and Aboriginal Victorians and encourage business and community organisations to adopt employment targets.
  • Grow industries that have the potential to employ large numbers of vulnerable people in the areas where they live.

The community sector should be recognised as a key employer to help address the job losses in other Victorian industries. The community sector contributes about $13 billion to the Victorian economy[17] and its workforce is expected to grow substantially over the next few years.[18]

Lessons from Nordic Countries

Nordic countries provide good lessons for Victoria and Australia, combining many of the elements outlined above along with greater income support for workers. For example, Denmark introduced active labour market programs which include investment in quality training programs and have a long-term focus on employment outcomes for workers rather than a focus on short-term quick fixes.[19] These programs have shown success in helping to address unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment for people facing multiple barriers.  This is combined with high levels of income support for people experiencing unemployment, whereas Australia has the lowest unemployment benefits of all OECD countries. [20] As a result, income loss for displaced workers in Nordic countries is much lower than other OECD countries[21] which assists people to re-skill and re-position themselves from a secure financial base.

A successful example is the Danish Government’s response to the closure of the Lindo shipyard. The government transformed this closing shipyard into a renewable energy centre and through re-skilling was able to re-employ many of the former workers.[22]

In addition to the strategies needed for displaced workers due to industry changes, business closures, downsizing or their particular jobs being made obsolete the VCOSS 2016 -17 State Budget Submission Putting people back in the picture outlines a number of priorities that help people facing disadvantage gain work and skills including:

  • Help young people find work through Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)
  • Help people facing disadvantage to gain vocational skills
  • Develop a Workforce Participation Plan to help people facing disadvantage find work
  • Create job pathways for people facing disadvantage through inclusive public employment targets
  • Help people facing disadvantage find work through social enterprises

[1] V J Callan and K Bowman, Industry restructuring and job loss: helping older workers get back into employment Support document 1: literature review, NCVER, 2015, p. 5.

[2] Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Australia’s future workforce? CEDA, 2015.

[3] OECD, Back to Work: Re-employment, Earnings and Skill Use after Job Displacement, OECD, 2013, p.9

[4] OECD, Back to Work: Re-employment, Earnings and Skill Use after Job Displacement, OECD, 2013, p.10

[5] OECD, Back to Work: Re-employment, Earnings and Skill Use after Job Displacement, OECD, 2013, p.9

[6] OECD, Back to Work: Re-employment, Earnings and Skill Use after Job Displacement, OECD, 2013, p.9

[7] D Bomwan and H Kimberley, Sidelined! Workforce participation and non-participation among baby boomers in Australia, Brotherhood of St Laurence, 2011, p.ix.

[8] Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace: The prevalence, nature and impact of workplace age discrimination amongst the Australian population aged 50 years and older, AHRC, 2015, p.18

[9] Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia, Dropping off the Edge, 2015 http://www.dote.org.au/map/

[10] OECD, Back to Work: Re-employment, Earnings and Skill Use after Job Displacement, OECD, 2013, p.10

[11] V J Callan and K Bowman, Industry restructuring and job loss: helping older workers get back into employment, NCVER, 2015.  

[12] V J Callan and K Bowman, Industry restructuring and job loss: helping older workers get back into employment, NCVER, 2015.  

[13] V J Callan and K Bowman, Industry restructuring and job loss: helping older workers get back into employment Support document 1: literature review, NCVER, 2015, p. 5.

[14] V J Callan and K Bowman, Industry restructuring and job loss: helping older workers get back into employment, NCVER, 2015.  

[15] NCVER, Cross-occupational skill transferability: challenges and opportunities in a changing economy, 2014.

[16] The wellbeing and resilience centre, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), Employment Transition, lead, measure, build, embed: Automotive project, http://www.wellbeingandresilience.com/employment-transition/

[17] VCOSS, Strengthening the State: A snapshot of Victoria’s Community Sector Charities, 2015, p.19.

[18] Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council, 2015 Environmental Scan – Building a Healthy Future: Skills, Planning and Enterprise, 2015, p.11.

[19] Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Australia’s future workforce? CEDA, 2015, pp.242 – 244.

[20] Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Australia’s future workforce? CEDA, 2015. pp.242.

[21] OECD, Back to Work: Re-employment, Earnings and Skill Use after Job Displacement, OECD, 2013, p.9

[22] Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Australia’s future workforce? CEDA, 2015, p. 246-247.