Why focus on refugee and migrant jobseekers?

Australia is a country built on migration. Every year, Australia welcomes over 190,000 migrants. Australia also has a long history of successfully resettling refugees and is a world leader in refugee resettlement. Since Federation, Australia has welcomed more than 850,000 refugees and humanitarian entrants who have enriched the nation enormously.

In this report, we use the term ‘refugees and migrants’ to include those who have been recognised as refugees or have come here under Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, as well as those who have come on other visas (for example, as family members, skilled workers or students) who come from similar backgrounds and face similar disadvantages.

Newly arrived refugees and migrants can face extra challenges in seeking employment. A well-recognised and significant aspect of successful settlement is gaining stable, adequately remunerated and fulfilling employment.

There are significant social, economic and community benefits in supporting people to gain employment and high social and economic costs in unemployment and underemployment. New entrants to Australia are often keen to apply their previous skills and experience to workplaces in Australia, but are unable to gain employment due to structural barriers, including those created by federally funded employment programs, such as the Jobactive Program.

This report will provide an overview of the failure of Jobactive to meet the needs of refugees and migrants, with a primary focus on the Fairfield Local Government Area (LGA). The report also highlights the wider concerns of refugee communities, as expressed in the annual consultations held across Australia by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).

This report makes findings and recommendations to improve policy and practice, with the aim of getting more people into better employment.

Research objectives

This report recommends changes to the Jobactive model to ensure appropriate consideration is given to the distinct needs of culturally and linguistically diverse job seekers, especially refugee and humanitarian entrants and other migrants.

The report highlights the key barriers that refugee and migrant job seekers face under the current federal Jobactive arrangements and makes recommendations to improve the employment transition of refugees and migrants.

Scope of the research

The Fairfield LGA of the Sydney region is culturally diverse, with a rich history of migrant and refugee settlement that continues today. Almost 60% of Fairfield’s residents were born overseas and over 75% of residents spoke a language other than English at home, making Fairfield one of the most multicultural cities in Australia.5 Fairfield continues to be a primary area of settlement, receiving 36% of Australia’s humanitarian entrants from late 2016 to April 2017.6

Fairfield is the tenth largest LGA in Sydney and is largely residential. Over 50% residents rent their homes, the average household income is $900 per week, and the most common occupations are labourers and technicians.


The Fairfield Multicultural Interagency is the main forum for agencies working to support the multicultural communities in the Fairfield LGA. FMI meets regularly with a directive to address migrant, refugee and cultural matters in Fairfield.

The FMI has become increasingly concerned with the ineffectiveness of Jobactive providers in assisting with effective employment transitions for refugees and migrants. To explore these concerns further, members of the FMI conducted 102 qualitative surveys of refugees and migrants’ experiences of Jobactive, from June 2016 to December 2016.

The surveys were designed to elicit qualitative data about the issues, desires and employment barriers refugees and migrants face. Community workers interviewed clients and filled out the surveys, as in most cases clients themselves did not have the language and literacy skills to do so. The major contributors to this study were CORE Community Services, Assyrian Resource Centre Fairfield, Navitas English College, Mission Australia Adult English Migrant Program-Pathway Advisors and Settlement Services International.

These case studies are supplemented by the 66 comprehensive annual consultations RCOA conducted with refugee communities around Australia in 2016, RCOA’s brief on community and service provider concerns in relation to Jobactive, and RCOA’s What Works report.

This report also sought input from select job providers that demonstrate good practice and program responses. Consultations and interviews were held with programs and social enterprises that cater towards the specific needs of the refugee and migrant jobseekers. These findings are recorded in Appendix 1 to this report.

As an extensive evaluation of Jobactive is yet to be undertaken, this report builds on the experiences and feedback of the migrant and refugee users of Jobactive themselves, with the aim of recommending improvements to support these communities.


The FMI would like to thank RCOA for writing this report and drawing from its own feedback about the current barriers jobseekers are facing across Australia. It would also like to thank the participants who took part in the case studies and the Fairfield City Council for funding this research.

We would also like to thank Kelly Walsh, who volunteered her time to help design the report.

The Jobactive program

From 1 July 2015, Jobactive replaced the former Job Services Australia program (JSA). Jobactive is the Australian Government’s main program that aims to assist Australians into the workforce. Jobactive connects job seekers with employers through a network of Jobactive providers in over 1,700 locations across Australia.

Under the program, the Department of Human Services refers and assesses job seekers who receive Centrelink benefits and are obliged to apply for jobs and undertake training. Other features of the program include:

  • Penalties that are applied for failing to comply with its requirements, including the suspension of Centrelink payments if people fail to report or miss appointments
  • Job seekers are streamed into different levels of support, according to a classification instrument
  • Job seekers under ‘Mutual Obligation Requirements’ are required to participate in Work for the Dole programs to continue receiving support, and
  • The number of job applications required to continue receiving benefits has increased.

JSA, the previous government employment program, had a limited number of specialist providers targeting people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

There were even fewer JSA providers with special expertise or funding for an accountability framework that serviced refugees. A significant change under Jobactive has been the loss of those specialist employment providers.

All participants in FMI’s research indicated a strong desire to find employment, develop and enhance their economic participation and contribute to Australia. However, refugees and migrants face a range of structural, social and institutional barriers to gaining meaningful employment.

This section outlines the key areas of feedback identified by participants and in RCOA’s wider consultations regarding the Jobactive program. The first part focuses on issues caused or made worse by the introduction of Jobactive, namely:

  • Lack of specialised service
  • Choosing between learning English and looking for work
  • Streaming and the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI)
  • Compliance measures and implications
  • Limited support with resumes and interview skills
  • Job Plans and lack of understanding of rights and responsibilities
  • Under-use of interpreters and lack of translated materials
  • Inappropriate Work for the Dole placements
  • Over-reliance on, and lack of support for use of, technology to look for work, and
  • Being treated with disrespect.

The second part of this section examines longstanding issues that continue to be reflected in the Jobactive program, namely:

  • Lack of opportunities to attain relevant Australian work experience
  • Difficulties in gaining recognition for prior qualifications and experiences, and
  • An emphasis on de-skilling rather than upskilling.

Lack of specialised Jobactive providers

The introduction of the Jobactive program in 2015 resulted in the loss of specialist providers for people from CALD backgrounds under the previous JSA program. Many service providers have expressed significant concerns about the lack of specialised services under the new Employment Services 2015-2020 Purchasing Arrangements.

Previously, under the JSA, specialist providers offered much needed support to address the specific and individual needs of people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. The removal of these specialist providers has had a devastating effect, further entrenching communities’ dissatisfaction with the Jobactive model, and increasing the difficulties people face in accessing employment.

Both FMI and RCOA received strong feedback about the need for targeted approaches to support those seeking employment, so that Jobactive providers recognise the barriers that refugee entrants face in entering the Australian labour market. A one-size- fits-all approach is unlikely to be successful in meeting the needs of such a diverse group of jobseekers.

Many participants felt that Jobactive providers lacked an understanding of the complex needs and experiences of job seekers from refugee backgrounds.

[The] Jobactive system is complex and frustrating because there is often not enough understanding provided to help people explore individual employment pathways or find work that matches their skills and experience.

— A community service provider from NSW

This lack of understanding of where people come from and what their needs are is reflected in RCOA’s previous research, What Works. That report identified that a key part of achieving success in employment was to ensure a targeted approach that addresses the distinct needs and barriers faced by refugee and migrant jobseekers.

Choosing between learning English and looking for work

ABS data suggest that Humanitarian migrants are twice as likely to find a job if they can speak English well. Jobseekers with mutual obligation requirements must comply with the directions of Jobactive providers. Although attending AMEP classes to learn English is considered an approved activity for these purposes, the case studies revealed that a person’s English classes often conflicted with their Jobactive appointments, interviews and other requirements. Left with no choice, many reported they had adhered to Jobactive demands, even if doing so compromised their English learning.

Many local service providers in Fairfield LGA and nationally have reported that Jobactive providers do not understand the importance of AMEP in supporting newly arrived people. As one AMEP pathway advisor described:

A young 24-year-old client has been pressured to find work as a cleaner and asked to stop learning English when he is still in level 1/2.

Furthermore, many Jobactive providers are not referring people to the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program which can provide up to an additional 800 hours of English and employment training. The SEE program requires referral by a Jobactive provider, yet many are unaware of and misinformed about the program and its importance in the settlement process. As one case study participant described:

[The] Jobactive consultant said I cannot continue to do the English course at Navitas to improve my English.

I had an appointment for an English test to enrol into SEE program. She cancelled my appointment and said to stop the beauty TAFE course I was doing on Fridays for the past 10 weeks. She said she found a job for me as a kitchen hand and that I need to start the job in a few days’ time; if I don’t Centrelink will stop my money.

— A young Iraqi woman from Fairfield LGA

Jobactive providers are also often unaware of the strong correlation between the low level of English many people arrive with and the impact it has on employment outcomes. Many providers do not seem to value the importance of English classes or understand the significance of English proficiency for jobseekers. Many people who are new to Australia do not have adequate English to write a resume, participate in a job interview or understand the significant reporting and application requirements.

By focusing on the need to take up a job to the detriment of learning English, the Jobactive system results in people being stuck in lower-skilled jobs, unable to fulfil their potential.

Streaming and the Job Seeker Classification Instrument

Under Jobactive, the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI) is used to allocate job seekers to one of the first two levels of employment assistance, Stream A or B. Job seekers who have complex or multiple barriers to employment may be identified as requiring more support under Stream C, through a more comprehensive assessment known as an Employment Services Assessment.

However, feedback for this report indicates that newly arrived refugees and migrants are being incorrectly streamed into the lowest support category, despite needing significant support. The feedback from the Fairfield LGA was that, without improvement to assessment procedures, those from refugee and migrant backgrounds will continue to be misidentified.

As a result, many people are unlikely to receive adequate support and instead become subject to income support exclusion periods.

The feedback indicates that refugee and migrant jobseekers who are illiterate or have very basic English are left with minimal or no support. As one community service provider describes:

Most of our clients who cannot speak a word of English are streamed A to Jobactive which has the same level of reporting requirements as an Australian born person. So there is your first barrier. And how easy is it to get someone re-streamed? They will take what Department of Human Services have streamed and said that’s it. There is no initiative on their part to go back and re-stream. This is purely compliance.

Even though Jobactive provides a framework for reassessment of the jobseeker, many report that the Jobactive providers simply do not re-stream even if job seekers grossly differ in need for support than their initial designated stream through DHS.

Disability and Jobactive streaming

A particular issue is the assessment of clients with disabilities. Case studies from Fairfield LGA suggest that jobseekers with severe disabilities are not supported by the Disability Employment Services or do not receive a Disability Support Pension. Several clients have either been incorrectly assessed or not assessed at all by the Employment Services Assessment, a specialised assessment process carried out by DHS for their medical conditions or disability. Instead, they are expected to attend the compulsory Jobactive appointments.

I was referred to Jobactive service and was made to sign a job plan agreement. Prior to signing the agreement, I told the Jobactive provider that I have permanent medical issues such as renal impairment, gouty arthritis, pulmonary hypertension, post trauma experiences and stress disorder. I presented my medical report/ certificate as evidence to the provider. However, I was advised by the Jobactive provider that I still need to contact 20 employers per month, attend regular appointments, attend interviews, attend literacy and numeracy language courses for 40 hours per fortnight as compulsory. When I told the provider [that] I don’t know how to look for work due to my limited English language and perhaps more importantly due to my medical conditions, I was told by the provider that my Centrelink payment will cease if I don’t meet the above-mentioned requirements. I was told therefore to study and look for jobs regardless of my medical condition to avoid cessation of my payment. But I am constantly stressed and this is taking a significant toll on my health and wellbeing.

— A 63-year- old Karen humanitarian arrival from Fairfield LGA

Compliance measures and implications

Participants raised several concerns with the compliance-driven approach to employment services. Routine appointments with the Jobactive provider (usually every fortnight) are considered a key part of a job seeker’s Mutual Obligation Requirement, and the first step to getting the jobseekers the assistance they need to find work. These appointments are intended to serve as motivation to keep jobseekers engaged with the assistance offered to them by the Jobactive provider until employment is found.

Many raised concerns that these appointments do not provide even the most basic level of support:

Every week I attend Jobactive provider for two hours, sitting in front of the computer for two hours for nothing, cannot access the internet to search for a job because of poor English language and not one of the employees in the centre helps out. [The] Jobactive provider advised me to search in Arabic shops in Liverpool for a job because they don’t need English they said. The owner of the Arabic shops requires English language, drivers licence and a lot of them prefer young people.

— A humanitarian arrival from Fairfield LGA

However, if people do not attend these appointments for even valid reasons, this can directly result into the suspension of Centrelink payments. This is common even though the Jobactive provider can decide not to suspend the jobseeker’s Centrelink payments and arrange alternative methods of engagement with the client that is a more ‘appropriate re-engagement strategy’ to secure the job seeker’s ongoing participation.

We’ve now got a systemic payment suspension problem because as soon as a client misses even one of their reporting, their payment is stopped. We are up to eighty, ninety clients who have their payments suspended for reasons that they do not understand for which the Jobactive will not help them.

— A settlement service provider, Perth

The suspension and reduction of payments has a severe impact on jobseekers. Often people are not aware that their payments are being delayed or suspended, nor do they understand why this has occurred. Cutting off payments for those who have very few financial resources creates significant problems with people being unable to purchase essentials such as food and pay for rent. Consequently, many other settlement service providers are required to provide people with emergency funds until their income support is restored. Often other service providers must intervene directly with Jobactive providers to explain the situation and assist people to rebook appointments for their payments to be restored.

Case studies from the Fairfield LGA evidence that people routinely attend the appointments, even if they do not provide any support in gaining employment. One settlement service provider from Perth describes the punitive nature of the appointment arrangements:

Refugee and humanitarian entrants and people from CALD backgrounds will always come out poorly when it’s purely [a] compliance framework. So, this is a typical story, every second day at our place… remember they’ve got two lots of reporting. Even now after three months when they’ve just started AMEP. Still got to do Jobactive; still got to apply for jobs. They’ll roll up to the center very distraught. What’s happened: got no money in the bank, don’t know why. We think we know why, did you do your reporting? What reporting? We don’t understand the reporting. What are we supposed to do? We phone up Jobactive; oh we sent them a letter. Well what’s good is that? They can’t even read English.

Limited support with resumes and interview skills

Most jobseekers considered basic job readiness support — such as writing resumes, searching for jobs online and interview skills — as an essential step in entering the job market. This practical support is especially necessary for jobseekers with a low level of English literacy.

However, an overwhelming majority indicated they were not offered such support by Jobactive providers. Instead, participants suggested that the service provided by Jobactive required self-direction with little or no support from staff.

Jobactive could not speak to me as I have no English so they gave me an Arabic newspaper and told me to look for jobs. The newspaper didn’t have a job section. Confused, I would just read the news for 2 hours until they would let me go.

— A Syrian refugee from Fairfield LGA

Many surveyed jobseekers noted that they did not have a current resume and were not assisted in creating or updating one, despite the critical role of a good resume in getting a job interview.

Writing a successful job application requires a nuanced understanding of Australian recruitment practices that cannot be assumed. For example, resumes are expected to follow a specific structure that should appropriately highlight a person’s skills, qualifications and experience, as well as being tailored to the key selection criteria. However, the template provided through Jobactive is too basic to enable jobseekers to be competitive in the job market. Many jobseekers reported assistance with resumes as their priority.

More assistance is also required to develop interview skills. Going for a job interview can be daunting for any jobseeker, and those from different cultural backgrounds can fall down at the interview stage even where they are well suited to a position. This can be related to factors such as a different communication styles and cultural expectations. Appropriate language, body language and expected attire are important aspects of any interview. Fostering these skills and knowledge is essential in facilitating successful employment opportunities for refugee and migrant jobseekers.

Job Plans and understanding of rights and responsibilities

Jobseekers need to be actively involved in the negotiation process of their Job Plan. A Job Plan is a binding document that outlines activities, responsibilities and items that will satisfy the jobseeker’s employment needs under the Mutual Obligation Requirements agreement.

However, most of those who provided feedback for this report were not sufficiently aware of their rights and obligations before signing a Job Plan. Most were told to sign the Job Plan without the specific needs of the client taken into consideration. Such complex needs include lack of English literacy and unfamiliarity with job searching skills, lack of familiarity with technology, resume writing and understanding of Australian cultural expectations. The feedback from Fairfield LGA also suggests that Jobactive providers are overwhelmingly indifferent to complex needs that may arise because of forced displacement and past experiences with trauma.

I need someone to help me overcome my barriers to employment. I want my rights to be explained to me and what service I can expect from Jobactive.

— A Syrian humanitarian arrival from Fairfield LGA

Under-use of interpreters and lack of translated materials

Jobactive providers are required to provide access to an interpreter. However, often clients are not aware of their right to request free interpreter services. The feedback collected for this report indicates that most Jobactive providers are not using interpreters in their meetings with clients, including where clients are signing binding documents such as Job Plans.

Every time I attend my appointment, I request an interpreter service but my request is ignored by the Jobactive service and no interpreter is provided.

— A Burmese refugee from Fairfield LGA

RCOA and FMI also note the lack of translated factsheets on how to report to Jobactive and how to meet other requirements. The move to using technology such as smartphones also presents a barrier in providing information in other languages. Migrant and refugee clients have expressed frustration that Jobactive providers can suspend a person’s pay without properly informing them of the issue and their obligations in their first language.

It took us 6 months for them to get a translated document on the Department of Employment website. And it’s only because the Department of Social Services who we said [to] ‘look, we’re going to go to the Minister, we’re told that Department of Employment refused outright’. This is a national website; [it] had not had one translated document on their website. And [they] did it very begrudgingly to be honest. So, you have none of the Jobactive [having] any cultural competencies.

— A community service provider, Perth

There continues to be a lack of recognition of the need for and use of translating and interpreting services. Previously, under JSA funding there was an additional Employment Pathway Fund credit of $1,000 per participant provided specially for interpreting costs for non-English speaking clients. However, there is no provision for this under the new arrangements.

I would like an interpreter especially when I am signing the job plans. I want my rights to be explained to me and what service I can expect from Jobactive. I need someone to help me overcome my barriers to employment.

— A Syrian refugee from Fairfield LGA

Inappropriate Work for the Dole placements

The feedback gathered for this report acknowledged the importance of the Work for Dole program as a vital opportunity to gain work experience. However, many participants shared concerns that some of the placements were not suitable for refugee and migrant jobseekers.

Many reported that their placement conflicted with their English classes. Others pointed out that some of the placements did not cater for the various levels of English and skills. The benefit of the placements was diminished due to their inability to communicate with their placement provider. Work for the Dole programs that were successful were ones where the providers of the program could effectively communicate with the refugee and migrant jobseeker.

They send us to do volunteer jobs for working for the dole program in places that not related to our qualifications. Not helpful as they do not provide us with assistance to get for the job that we are qualified for.

— A Syrian refugee from Fairfield LGA

Overuse of, and lack of support for use of, technology

Jobactive has introduced requirements for people to report, view appointments and apply for jobs online. Providers seem unaware of the lack of experience many refugees and migrants may have with this technology. Many refugees, for instance, have been living in refugee camps for many years and have never had access to this kind of technology, let alone to search for jobs. Rather than supporting people in using this technology, Jobactive providers instead are leaving people to navigate this technology themselves with devastating consequences.

Many of the case studies from Fairfield LGA reported that the requirement to look for a job online has left them demoralised and confused.

The system assumes that clients have knowledge [of] technology and they can read English and can get information for themselves, rather than being there to help them to navigate the system.

– A Swahili-speaking refugee from Fairfield LGA

Being treated with disrespect

The Fairfield case studies included many hostile interactions with staff from Jobactive providers. Participants reported feeling disrespected and stigmatised and often threatened with having their welfare benefits suspended. Dealing with clients in this way, especially clients of a refugee and migrant background, only serves to make the jobseeker less confident in their ability to find a job and in the entire settlement process.

They don’t treat me well; the caseworker when he interviews me stated that I just arrived in Australia to get easy money from the first interview… upset me a lot. He did not help me with my job plan he just judged me.

– A newly arrived humanitarian arrival from Syria, Fairfield LGA

These interactions undermine the trust and rapport needed to negotiate and plan a meaningful employment outcome, especially for those who have previously experienced trauma. These negative interactions are especially unhelpful for someone who is new and unfamiliar with the Australian workplace.

Staff of my Jobactive provider routinely treat me with disrespect. For instance, they once told me that my clothes and shoes are very dirty and that I looked shabby. I felt ashamed and was unhappy and very angry with the provider but I could not do anything due to my dependence on Centrelink payment and my limited English proficiency.

— A 32-year-old Karen humanitarian arrival from Fairfield LGA

Opportunities to attain relevant Australian work experience

A commonly expressed frustration among those who participated in this research was that Jobactive failed to provide sufficient opportunities for clients to gain Australian work experience. This has been a longstanding issue. ABS data from 2011 suggests that of the migrants reported having trouble

in finding their first job in Australia, 64% attributed their difficulty to a lack of Australian work experience to expand their references and exposure to the Australian labour market.

Many expressed their keen desire for opportunities that would give them insight and understanding of Australian work cultures and systems and for job service providers to be able to facilitate targeted Australian local work experience:

We hope to get the benefit from our qualifications and previous experience to get a job. Our challenges are local experience as requested by employers without giving the opportunity for us to practice that.

— A former Syrian engineer from Fairfield LGA

An overwhelming number of those surveyed suggested that they needed more training and local work experience to upskill and equip themselves for skilled jobs that they have had previous qualifications for. Most considered the lack of Australian work experience and professional referees or links as a major barrier in securing their first job in Australia, regardless of how extensive their overseas work experience has been.

I was with Jobactive for 4 years … I wanted an IT job as I have overseas qualifications and experience in IT as well as Australian recognition, but they did not help. I wanted them to help me get local work experience and to do reverse marketing so I can go for job interviews with employers that do IT software development. I have all the job seeking needs; a good resume, overseas recognised qualifications and experience, but I only need 3 weeks of local Australian work experience in IT web design as I completed a diploma with TAFE, but they [Jobactive] refused to help me. So, I went back to study at TAFE and changed to Austudy so I didn’t need to go to Jobactive. NowI am looking for work experience in IT after 3 years [and] I am hoping to get a placement.

— A former Syrian engineer from Fairfield LGA

An ideal model in terms of employment outcomes is where work experience placements provide an opportunity for jobseekers to demonstrate their aptitude within a workplace with a clear pathway or possibility of transitioning into an ongoing position at the end of the placement.

Recognition of prior qualifications and experience

Some refugees and migrants, especially those who have experienced protracted displacement, may not have had the opportunity to attain qualifications. However, many others were well established in their careers and occupations before coming to Australia.

Despite their skills, most find that the process of having their overseas qualifications recognised within Australia is often lengthy and costly. Currently, there is no one agency or organisation responsible for assessing all overseas qualifications in Australia. Rather, recognition of previous skills differs by State and industry, with overseas qualifications assessed by different authorities across Australia.

Every state and territory, except for NSW, has an Overseas Qualification Unit that assesses overseas qualifications in general terms or provides advice on how to get overseas qualification recognised. However, community feedback reports that the process is complex, costly and time consuming, effectively excluding people from using their skills as illustrated in figure 1 below.

De-skilling or upskilling?

A recurring theme in the Fairfield case studies was the feeling that Jobactive providers often failed to recognise their previous qualifications or skills, instead placing them in very low skilled, insecure jobs. Participants emphasised that they wanted to develop themselves through further education and training, but were not presented with such opportunities through Jobactive.

I have a qualification and experience from overseas that can help me to work in Australia, but I don’t have any qualifications in Australia. I am not getting any assistance from my job provider in terms of guiding me to the right way to help me with my qualifications and experience.

— A Syrian refugee, previously a Hospital Laboratory Assistant from Fairfield LGA

As a result of pressures put on jobseekers by Jobactive providers to find work quickly, many refugees and migrants with overseas qualifications end up working in areas outside of their profession or at disproportionately lower skilled jobs. Evidence suggests that 95% of refugees with tertiary educational qualifications from countries outside Australia end up taking jobs in manual labour. There remains much “to be done to assist humanitarian settlers to enter the Australian labour market and to facilitate their upward mobility”.

The case studies echo a common theme — that pushing humanitarian entrants, refugees and migrants into low-skilled employment does not assist in providing more meaningful job prospects. The capacity for these jobseekers to leave low-paid and low-skilled jobs decreases the longer they remain in those industries, due to loss of original skills and missed opportunities for networking and career progression.

I just finished 510 [hours of] English and want to study hairdressing. Jobactive said that I am job ready and put me on work for the dole. I am only level 2 CSWE and struggle to understand instructions sometimes. JA is pushing me away from my long-term career goals.

— A young migrant from Fairfield LGA

Discussion and recommendations

Refugees and migrants overwhelmingly want to contribute to the Australian economy and society, and governments rightly want them to succeed in doing so. Yet the main national employment program, Jobactive, is failing both refugee and migrant jobseekers and the wider Australian community.

This report has identified a series of employment transition barriers, drawn from the 102 case studies of people who have used Jobactive services in the Fairfield LGA and from broader national consultations. It has identified several recommendations and established the need for a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the Jobactive program for refugees and migrants.

Yet, while reforms to Jobactive are much needed, there is also a vital need to rethink the national Jobactive program in the longer-term as the main model of employment support.There are many innovative initiatives that seek to fill the gaps left by Jobactive, which could provide the ingredients of a much more effective (and ultimately cost-effective) program for helping refugees and migrants into work.

The following provides a brief discussion and four key recommendations for ways forward.

Developing a national multicultural employment strategy

RCOA has previously called for the development of a national employment strategy that specifically addresses the employment transitions of refugee and migrant jobseekers.21 The need

for a national multicultural employment strategy that maps out pathways and supports that lead to more sustainable employment outcomes for people settling in Australia was likewise reinforced in this research. A whole-of-government approach to such a strategy could ensure there are effective links and collaboration between settlement, education and training and employment programs. The development of such a strategy would need to take into consideration the views of settlement and other community service providers as well as refugee and migrant communities themselves.

Recommendation 1: A national multicultural employment strategy

The Australian Government should develop a national multicultural employment strategy that incorporates a whole-of-government approach. This strategy should ensure the appropriate linking and collaboration between settlement, education and training and employment services. It should identify areas for targeted investment in employment transition programs for refugee and migrant jobseekers.

Reviewing and improving Jobactive services

There are several ways in which the Jobactive program could be improved in the interim to better meet the needs of refugee and migrant jobseekers. The need to improve the effectiveness of Jobactive is particularly important for those living in areas of Australia that are unlikely to see the critical mass of refugee and migrant jobseekers that would warrant the funding of a specialist employment service. For these jobseekers, it is vital that the significant limitations of the Jobactive model and services are addressed.

To inform areas for improvement in the Jobactive program, the Department of Employment should commission an independent review into the effectiveness of the Jobactive program for refugee and migrant jobseekers, informed by the views of refugee and migrant jobseekers themselves, as well as settlement and specialist migrant services. Key elements of this review should include an assessment of the:

  • Cross cultural competency of Jobactive providers
  • Use of translating and interpreting services
  • Appropriateness of streaming processes for refugee and migrant jobseekers, including the streaming of those with a disability
  • Suitability of Work for the Dole placements for refugee and migrant jobseekers
  • Accessibility of Jobactive services and support for jobseekers with limited proficiency in using online platforms and technologies
  • Effectiveness of collaboration and referral between Jobactive providers and other key services and supports, including AMEP and settlement services
  • Effectiveness of processes and support for Jobactiveclients who have prior qualifications and experience to have these recognised
  • Effectiveness of engagement between Jobactive providers and refugee and migrant jobseekers in the negotiation of Job Plans
  • Adequacy of compliance processes, including the suspension of Centrelink payments, processes for reinstating Centrelink payments, and the effectiveness of routine appointments
  • Effectiveness of Jobactive in ensuring refugee and migrant jobseekers have adequate support to develop resumes and interview skills, and
  • Effectiveness and accessibility of complaint mechanisms to ensure Jobactive providers are accountable for providing poor service.

Recommendation 2: Review and improve Jobactive program

The Australian Government should commission an independent review of the effectiveness of the Jobactive program in meeting the needs of refugee and migrant jobseekers, and develop a plan to address key areas for improvement identified in this review.

Investing in targeted employment programs

A strong theme identified in this research as well as in RCOA’s research on best practice in employment, What Works, is the need for targeted and collaborative approaches to address the barriers to employment that are faced by refugee and migrant jobseekers. While this report suggests several areas where Jobactive services could be improved, ultimately there is a limit to the ability of a generalist model such as Jobactive to address the distinct needs of refugees and migrants settling in Australia, especially in the absence of policy incentives or a significant investment in additional and targeted resources.

This report therefore also recommends that the Australian Government should consider alternative ways of achieving what should be the substantive outcome of Jobactive: helping refugee and migrant jobseekers into long-term, sustainable and meaningful employment. As Appendix 1 of this report notes, there are a range of existing employment models, programs and initiatives that appear to be more effective in helping refugee and migrant jobseekers succeed in the Australian labour market. Investing in these targeted employment programs is likely to represent a more effective use of government funding.

In other words, if Jobactive services could refer refugee and migrant jobseekers to a specialist employment service—and a portion of the funding to support these clients was diverted from Jobactive to specialist employment program providers— the outcomes may be better for all.

For the jobseeker, there is a greater likelihood that they will get the support they need to find work. For generalist Jobactive providers, they can focus on developing their services for those that they are better able to service and achieving outcomes. For specialist employment services, there is the potential to attract increased resourcing and further develop or sustain their programs.

Investment in targeted employment programs reflects a trend towards a person-centred approach in government-funded services. For example, disability services moved some time ago towards giving the individuals at the centre of services — people with a disability — a choice in who and how they access services. The same shift is evident in the vocational education and training sector, where funding is provided to individuals to access the training they require from a provider of their choice.

Recommendation 3: Invest in targeted employment programs

The Australian Government should review their funding of employment transition programs with a view to increasing investment in targeted employment programs.

Sharing knowledge about what works

To better inform the development of effective and employment transition programs targeting refugee and migrant jobseekers, it is apparent that more work needs to be done to document what works and ensure that knowledge about effective models and approaches are widely shared.

There is an existing body of research on a variety of employment programs, including RCOA’s What Works, evaluation reports of different programs, and academic and other literature identifying barriers to employment. However, there is a need to integrate and update this research, and to develop a platform for ensuring such knowledge is both shared and used to inform government policy.

Recommendation 4: Learn and share knowledge

The Australian Government should invest in research and platforms for sharing knowledge about effective employment programs that result in better outcomes for refugee and migrant jobseekers.