An industry grunt’s overview of the structural tensions in the Federal employment services system – and the adverse outcomes this creates for vulnerable Job Seekers in our community

The most important thing to consider, when contemplating the ability of the Federal employment services system (Job Network / Job Services Australia / JobActive), is that frontline staff of Employment Service Providers (herein referred to as ESPs), with the administrative workload that is allocated to them, are – whilst they are mostly titled Employment Consultants, and variations therein – effectively contract administrators. They work providing contract compliance for their ESP, who delivers these administrative outcomes to the Australian Department of Employment

The Australian Department of Employment was formerly the Department of Employment, Education, and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), and prior to that, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR).

What this effectively creates, is a relationship between Job Seekers and Employment Consultants that is primarily geared towards meeting the administrative contract compliance requirements between the Employment Service Provider (ESP), and the Australian Department of Employment. Without hyperbole, this structural requirement sets the stage for the chronic, systemic inability of the employment services system to provide the services which it is federally mandated to perform.

a) ESPs are paid by government at 4 primary points

1 – when a Job Seeker files their Employment Pathway Plan (EPP)

2 – when a Job Seekers attends resume / interview training

3 – when a Job Seeker gets a job offer requiring specific training certification prior to commencement, and the ESP administrates the successful completion of this

4 – when a Job Seeker is placed with a job whilst on the books of the ESP

These specific nodes in the employment services contract, create the impetuses in the Employment Services Provider business model, to maximise activity based around these 4 specific points of their relationship with a Job Seeker. Whilst they are intended to encourage an overall pathway through employment services that enables a Job Seeker to re-enter the workforce better prepared, networked, and trained for the economy as its industry requirements change, the entirely understandable self-interest of Employment Service Providers maximising their profit ratio effectively creates the focus of getting the Job Seeker’s signature on any of these four specific areas in which they are engaged with their ESP.

This focus on continuous signatures – effectively negotiating the contract between Job Seeker and Employment Service Provider continually like difference phases of, for example, a building contract, creates the tensions which all contract negotiations in industry are subject to. The difference is this regard, is the eminently unequal relationship between Job Seekers and Employment Service Providers. They are not business partners engaged in contract negotiations in which one or the other has scope to disengage and refer to legal counsel should they conclude the negotiation disadvantageous to their firm. It is a relationship profoundly unequal, with one partner (Job Seekers) effectively dependent on the goodwill (and competence) of their Employment Services Provider.

This is a very large part of why the now ingrained behaviours of punitive action (breaching / refusing to provide important information / resources access) are conducted against Job Seekers by their Employment Services Providers.

Financial Incentives and Frontline Staff Caseloads

The 4 primary contract points which underpin the payment model government administers to Employment Service Providers require the principal involvement of frontline Employment Consultant personnel. Managers may also become involved should they consider it their prerogative, but time pressures and the general acceptance of risk management by Job Seekers (due to their unequal place in the business relationship) create the pronounced tendency towards frontline Employment Consultants being the chief contract administrator and arbitrator.

As a frontline Employment Consultant is expected to manage a group of Job Seekers, this group is referred to as a “caseload”. Employment Service Providers calculate their capacity to maximise profit – and prospective bonuses to frontline staff – based on how many new Job Seekers they file through Employment Pathway Plans into the overall branch – and then caseloads are adjusted according to which “Stream” the Job Seeker’s EPP has allocated them into.

Employment Pathway Plans (EPPs) and “Streams”

Under the recent change from Job Services Australia to JobActive, the most substantive change to Employment Pathway Streams has been a conversion from:

Streams 1 – 4


Streams A – C

Given that the 1 – 4 Stream structure shaped the availability of training and industry certification access for Job Seekers into specific numbered streams, the reduction of this part of a Job Seeker’s Employment Pathway Plan into less administrative silos may prove to have a positive impact in enabling resources access – merely due to one Stream being 33% of allocation instead of $25. The resources attached by the Australian Department of Employment will alter this obviously, if they have decided to substantively shift their resources allocated to the Employment Streams.

The Employment Pathway Plan (EPP) is the evaluation tool for establishing the most suitable Employment Stream for a Job Seeker. However, given the onerous nature of the contract compliance duties on frontline ESP staff described above, the tendency is to push a Job Seeker into an Employment Stream which will:

  • be less administrative work for the Employment Consultant
  • consolidate the number of Job Seekers in their caseload i.e. reduce their time pressures

Given this, I advise all Job Seekers, upon negotiating their Employment Pathway Plan, that if they wish to pursue industry certifications – i.e. OH&S ticket / Responsible Service of Alcohol ticket, to advise their Employment Consultant that they have a potential job lined up which requires certification, and that their Employment Stream will allow them to access this. Otherwise they just end up in limbo for months on end, with no assistance forthcoming from the Employment Service Provider – and all the problems that absence from the workforce creates for a Job Seeker attempting to re-enter it. I shall return to this point of advice in my conclusion.

Industry Consultants

Some Employment Service Providers employ a dedicated Industry Liaison Consultant, whose job is to seek out available jobs and link them to Job Seekers in their branch. The success of these Industry Liaisons depends on their industry connections – which many of them are suitably connected – however, their success depends on the capacity of frontline Employment Consultants to consult their available date in the timeframe available to get a Job Seeker into an interview with a prospective employer. The administrative and contract compliance pressures attendant on frontline Employment Consultants make this at the least, a difficult proposition, and generally end up with the job lead falling through, with a frustrated – and no longer co-operative prospective employer – and a frustrated, bewildered Job Seeker, both with zero confidence in the employment service system’s capacity to connect and to work with industry on meeting job availabilities.

Employment Service Providers – Consultant suitability

Further to the points raised regarding Industry Liaison Consultants above, and to reiterate the effective taskload of frontline Employment Consultants, the bulk of frontline staff are not – repeat, not – industry connected people. For example, they are not a former tradie who has significant amounts of local, and current, industry knowledge and contacts. They are administrators, whose job is to conduct contract compliance on behalf of their employer for the Australian Department of Employment. They have no skills, knowledge, or contacts, to assist their Job Seekers re-integrate into the workforce. The sell the employment services contrct administration, nothing else. Further to that, the Employment Services qualifications which Employment Consultants can undertake have no industry component, merely administrative, and therein achieve nothing but clearing the way to managerial promotion – thus increasing and institutionalising the lack of industry skills, communications, knowledge, and networking, within the management of Employment Service Providers/ The system, effectively, is set to fail.

Administrative Pressures and their Effect on Structural Poverty

My final point refers to the effective outcome of the contract compliance and attendant administrative pressures faced by frontline ESP staff on those that they are supposed to help. The structure of ESP contract compliance, and its onerous nature, creates:

  • a transfer of contract risk to Job Seekers
  • a transfer of contract risk to the communities in which Job Seekers live

said another way, onerous contract compliance pressures lead frontline ESP staff to reduce available resources to Job Seekers from particular suburbs – due to the poverty those suburbs, and the extra resources, Job Seekers from those suburbs are inclined to need to engage effectively in the workforce. The result is structural – and if the administrative aspects of the current system are maintained, intergenerational poverty in particular geographical regions of Australia.

This provides a an incomplete, yet significant, insight, into our inability as a nation to ameliorate long term unemployment in particular geographical regions during a sustained period of economic boom.

The tendency towards higher unemployment in suburbs and geographical regions already experiencing high unemployment levels – especially in low-skill, labour intensive work – is exacerbated by the increased administrative pressures related to jobs available in ESPs operating in these areas. That is to say, onerous employment service contract compliance exacerbates, and sustains long term poverty where this tendency was already incipient in the relevant community.

As a community and a nation, we’re creating structural, potentially interminable poverty – and we’re paying several billions dollars a year for the privilege of doing so – all because the administrative side of the system has no one in charge at the wheel, taking responsibility.

Tips for Job Seekers

These are the most important tips I stress to Job Seekers:

  • take responsibility for all your information – as ESPs will not be able to maintain it
  • take an up to date copy of your resume to all ESP appointments, preferably in memory stick format – so they can upload it directly onto their system. Remember, the customer interfaces for these organisations are geared around digital engagement as a means of efficiency
  • attempt to create relationships with the ESP personnel engaged in industry communications
  • be proactive – if you help an Employment Consultant make their jobs easier, they will be inclined to reciprocate
  • always be aware of what Employment Stream your Employment Pathway Plan has placed you in, and create a job offer narrative about having work set up requiring any industry certification you consider an asset in going for jobs. If necessary, ask friends, family and associates to vouch for this to ensure you have access to the training certifications that much of industry re-integration requires
  • as stated before, be organised – ask Employment Consultants what they need, and endeavour to help them, because they will reciprocate. The alternative is the informal punitive breaching system that ESPs use to transfer risk to Job Seekers. This is unfortunate, but it is a fact of the employment services system in its current form.


  • the transformation of employment services in this country from the Commonwealth Employment Service has established a system based on contract compliance as its driving force, with employment outcomes a vastly inferior second
  • the industry knowledge, skills, contacts, and corporate memory which accompanied this change has never recovered, and indeed been compounded, by successive Federal Government makeovers built around cosmetic changes
  • the effect on individuals, families, whole communities, and the economy that we are seeking to gear towards continued national prosperity have been significantly undermined
  • the most plausible off-the-shelf solution to ameliorating – and hopefully changing things for the better – resides with shifting the onerous nature of risk transfer in employment services contract compliance towards the Australian Department of Employment
  • the best way of undertaking this is shifting the client relationship between Job Seekers and Employment Service Providers from the present model, to the candidate / client relationship model practiced by the recruitment industry – less paperwork, more quality communications, more capacity for directing engagement between Job Seekers and industry
  • replacing administrative trained Employment Consultant personnel with industry people – regardless of their administrative skills, they are there to facilitate client / industry engagement and communications
  • if this is undertaken, then completely understandable concerns about “rorting” of the system – and the administrative measures used to crack down on “rorting” – by both the minority of Job Seekers, and the majority of Employment Service Providers – should significantly dissipate as both contract parties endeavour to achieve their goals – a job, industry contacts, training geared to industry shifts for one party; and a profitable bottom line for the other. The alternative is a continuation of the status quo, with the unnecessary hardships a significant part of the Australian community has sustained over the last decade