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Part 3: Summary Assessment

A rapidly changing landscape

Work, the workplace and the labour market are changing.

The nature of jobs performed, the places in which they are located, and the ways by which employers and staff connect to exchange labour are increasingly fluid. These changes in the labour market reflect the dynamic and sometimes unpredictable economic forces at play in domestic and global markets.
Disruptive technologies and automation are also transforming traditional models of employment and the existence of some jobs.

Jobs growth and productivity remain key to the economic prosperity of Australia. Work provides financial security while enhancing self-confidence, self-esteem and social and economic participation.

The Australian labour market at present is subdued, with unemployment at relatively high levels. [1] The country is facing significant regional variations and major shifts in job types, with employment levels declining in sectors such as mining and manufacturing and demand in professional services, education
and health sectors either growing or not being met. [2] The trend over recent decades toward casual and part-time work continues.

Outcomes for young people, the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups particularly vulnerable during periods of economic downturn have deteriorated since the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in September 2008. Between April 2014 and April 2015, the number of Newstart Allowance and
Youth Allowance recipients increased by 3.1 per cent. [3] Lack of opportunity to engage through an active and fulfilling working life continues to risk alienating some young Australians.

Participation rates also fell below 65 per cent. [4] The G20 Taskforce on Employment led by Australia saw a commitment in 2014 to lifting female workforce participation by 25 per cent over the next 15 years. This is important because female labour force participation
remains a key labour market objective in Australia. Moreover, the impact of Australia's ageing population –with as few as 2.7 people of working age for every person over 65 years predicted by 2055, as compared to an estimated 4.5 today–is having an impact on the structure of the labour market. [5]

The challenge of ensuring that the work environment is safe and healthy remains, particularly as workplaces continue to transform and the profile of occupational risks continues to shift with increased concern around psychological injury as much as with physical injury.

These challenges require policy responses that cut across relevant portfolios. Addressing these challenges is critical to Australia's success and the future wellbeing of its citizens. This is important context for the department's work.

Key strengths of the department

The Department of Employment states, in its Portfolio Budget Statements, that its purpose is: to foster a productive and competitive labour market through programmes and policies that assist job seekers needing additional support into work, increase workforce participation, and facilitate jobs growth
through policies that encourage fair, productive and safe workplaces.

Employment, established in September 2013, has achieved significant progress in its first 20 months. It has built strong foundations for the future and has the potential to assert significant policy influencing credentials as it continues to deliver valued programmes and services to Government and
the community.

Senior leadership understand there is more change to come and are articulating this at the strategic level, most obviously through the Strategic Plan 2014-17 and the establishment of a high-level Strategy Committee.

Notable key strengths include, but are not limited to:

  • strong visible and authentic leadership
  • committed staff with deep technical and subject knowledge
  • a comparatively stable workforce
  • a determined focus on delivery and the capability to get the job done
  • a reputation as a strong procurement and contract manager
  • strong information and communications technology (ICT), including a sound capital investment process and highly developed project management capabilities
  • a solid approach to governance and risk management when compared to many other public sector agencies
  • a commitment to evidence-based policy and comparatively strong analytical and policy capabilities in its traditional areas of operation.

Key opportunities and challenges for the department

As strong as the department is in many areas, it needs to establish or embed certain capabilities.

Broadly, these include the ability to:

  • engage stakeholders in strategic discussions
  • demonstrate agility in leading thinking in highly sensitive and at times contested policy arenas
  • develop greater understanding and appreciation of customer needs whether they be job seeker or employer
  • innovate and develop creative solutions in an increasingly complex and challenging labour market
  • create a workforce that combines its well-recognised delivery capability with a strategic, integrated and long-term outcomes focus.

More specifically, the department needs to consider these areas for action as matters of priority:

Formulating and pursuing long-term strategies. Communication from the Secretary and Deputies reinforces the need to think longer term, provide sound evidence-based policy advice and transform ways of working. Capable as they may be at their roles, it is challenging for some staff to
move beyond a silo delivery approach. The department's deep technical knowledge and expertise is a strength but, as articulated in its Strategic Plan 2014-17, new approaches to work are needed, including greater collaboration, forward thinking and an increased focus on innovation and creativity.

It is clear that the Secretary and senior leadership group are committed to providing quality advice to Government. Feedback from Ministers' offices commends the department's responsiveness and ongoing innovative thinking on employment, noting that sometimes responsiveness needed to be tempered by
quality assurance before documents are forwarded. Stakeholders are keen to engage with Employment on policy with some believing the department can play a more active role at times in cross-cutting policy thinking.

Stakeholders assess Employment as having policy capability needed to advise on the reform of the structure and operation of Australia's labour market which will foster economic growth and productivity. Some stakeholders believe Employment could be more proactive in contributing to whole-of-government
policy work on such matters.

Employment has been instrumental in the design of the Government's youth employment initiative announced in the 2015-16 Budget. More recently, the department has sought to boost its economic and analytical capability through the establishment of a dedicated Economic Strategy stream. This can support
it to capitalise on opportunities to improve workplace safety laws and be a key advisor to government on the release of the Productivity Commission's draft report into its Review of the Australian Workplace System.

Becoming a thought leader. Employment has been agile and responsive in developing and progressively refining its employment services. With workplace relations it has proven to have deep technical expertise that is valued by Ministers and stakeholders.

The department has an opportunity to build on this solid base to better influence policy development earlier and outside of its traditional and sometimes limiting view of its policy and programme boundaries.

Stakeholders are almost universally consistent that Employment needs to take a broader role in policy development. However, they felt the department needs to be more proactive in how it engages and influences critical policy.

For its part, senior leadership understands that Employment needs to more strategically influence stakeholders and be confident in its intelligence and ability to influence thinking through its engagement.

Making greater use of data and intelligence. The 2013 MoG change has allowed Employment to operate with a clear, focused mandate and to better engage across government and with stakeholders on cross-cutting social and economic policy matters.

Employment generates considerable data and intelligence that is of potential value in a range of policy debates and discussions. The department already releases a substantial volume of data that is self-generated or garnered from other parties. Nevertheless, some stakeholders believe that Employment
could use this data more strategically. An appropriate release of data and analysis would help the department engage more broadly with its stakeholders on important social and economic policy matters.

Employment also has the opportunity to build a 'community of influence' by sharing data more proactively.

Creating a workforce for the future. Staff are cooperative, collegiate and professional. It is important that staff be motivated and engaged through challenging work and opportunities to develop professionally through formal learning and development.

The department's vision, as communicated by the Secretary and senior leadership group, calls for all leaders to have a sharp focus on people development.

The long-tenured workforce of Employment provides strength and stability. The workforce takes pride in its reputation for delivering and 'getting the job done'. This depends on staff having deep subject knowledge and skills.

Employment needs to quickly finalise and put in place a comprehensive enterprise workforce plan. This plan needs to outline explicit opportunities for increased mobility, including transfers within the department and secondments to and from outside the department. Employment should be explicit in managing
its high potential performers and identify the soft and hard skills it needs to recruit. It should also build staff understanding and experience across its clusters and work streams and provide for vertical and horizontal succession, future-focused performance and talent management. This includes upskilling
through learning-on-the-job and providing opportunities to deal with complex policy and delivery challenges.

Exemplars of new approaches and ways of working are also needed such as the example set by the establishment of the 2015 Employment Services Taskforce.

Considerable effort has been made by corporate areas to build a sophisticated suite of frameworks, programmes and processes to create a workforce fit for the future. However, responsibility for implementation should be owned not only by the leaders, but by every manager. This includes communicating
a change imperative and ensuring staff performance is managed effectively.

As one example, the department has recognised that it needs to implement cultural change within the State Network to support the delivery of jobactive. Staff need to transition from a prescriptive compliance-driven approach to a risk and intelligence-driven approach that builds broader and stronger
relationships with employers, providers and job seekers to improve customer outcomes.

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Australia, April 2015, 2202.0.

[2] Jobs Australia 2015, Department of Employment, 2015.

[3] Department of Social Services, Labour Market and Related Payments, April 2015.

[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Australia, April 2015, 2202.0.

[5] Department of Treasury, Intergenerational Report Overview, p. 9. 2015

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018