Now Is the Time to Invite Those Facing Employment Barriers in from the Cold

The Business Council of Australia today announced it would lead a major new initiative on workforce participation with the aim of increasing participation including among Australians who are marginalised.

The roundtable of eminent Australians from business, government and the community agreed there was a clear case for business to help lead efforts in providing much greater opportunities for those who face significant educational, cultural, geographical or physical barriers to employment.

The meeting, which was held in Sydney, highlighted that while the vast majority of Australians were enjoying the benefits from a prolonged period of prosperity and low unemployment rates, there were still many left behind in terms of employment opportunities, including around 1.5 million Australians on social security payments.

The roundtable agreed to convene a working group to develop detailed recommendations for business, government and the community to significantly improve employment opportunities for those on the margins.

The working group will be tasked with producing a major participation paper, which will include recommendations, by August this year.

“The strength of Australia’s economy has resulted in high levels of opportunity and prosperity but this strength provides the platform to do even better, particularly in focusing on tackling systemic barriers to workplace participation for those on the margins,” BCA President, Mr Michael Chaney, said at the conclusion of the roundtable.

The roundtable discussed ways to lift participation among those most marginalised in our communities, including the Indigenous community, those with caring responsibilities (predominantly women), the disabled, unskilled young people and older individuals.

The discussion was co-chaired by Mr Chaney, and Rio Tinto Australia Managing Director Charlie Lenegan, the chairman of the BCA’s Employment and Participation Task Force.

“Although most Australians are benefiting from the longest period of continuous growth on record, there is still a high number of people who have missed out because they face barriers to employment,” Mr Chaney said.

“The roundtable agreed many of these could become more involved in the economy through a coordinated effort from business, government and the community to provide better opportunities for employment participation.

“Jobs are people’s passport to being part of their community.

“During times of such prosperity, it is important to ensure that as many people as possible are able to engage in and benefit from economic growth. Failure to do that will bring significant costs for individuals, business and the wider economy. 

“The costs of sustained non-participation will become harder to absorb or address as Australia deals with population ageing and declining labour supply,” he said.

In particular key issues raised in today’s roundtable included:

  • whether we have the incentives right to support high levels of participation, particularly women/second income earners and mature-aged workers;
  • recognition that there is a significant pool of workers whose skills are at risk of becoming redundant and therefore who face an uncertain employment future; and
  • the challenges of sustained or entrenched disadvantage among particular groups or individuals.

A number of strong themes emerged including:

  • general community underestimation of the employment aspirations and goals of those not currently participating;
  •  the need for leadership to drive improved outcomes, including among business; 
  • the need for a multifaceted approach;
  • the need for more focus on grass roots, community-based solutions rather than top-down policies;
  • the need to showcase projects that delivered positive outcomes; and
  • the need for greater accountability and measurement in terms of outcomes and program success. 

“Today’s roundtable will hopefully provide renewed energy into a difficult but vital issue for Australia,” Mr Chaney said.

“From my perspective, it is clear that business needs to be an important partner in addressing these ongoing challenges and supporting improved employment opportunities. 

“The BCA has done some important work in these areas in the past, including in developing guidelines to support the participation of mature-aged workers and in its focus on promoting good work–family balance practices. 

“Based on today’s discussions we need to build on this work and broaden our engagement,” he said.

BCA Workforce Participation Roundtable (meeting attendees)

Employing Our Potential: Ensuring Prosperity through Participation (discussion paper)