Employment Services Programs

Background on Employment Services in Australia

In 1946, after World War II, the Commonwealth Employment Services (CES) was established as a national employment service to assist unemployed people find work and, for those people who had work the CES assisted them to find a new or better job. The CES served as the Australian Government’s employment agency for 52 years.

In 1998 the CES was replaced by a fully contracted employment services model – Job Network. This monumental reform saw a mix of for-profit, not-for-profit and government sector organisations, new and established organisations, and large to small local organisations tender for employment services contracts to deliver placement assistance to unemployed participants in receipt of Australian Government income support payments.

Since the introduction of Job Network in 1998 the employment services sector has evolved, experiencing several iterations of reform and change including the introduction of specialised services such as Disability Employment Services and the Community Development Program.

A consequence of the reform has been a contraction in the number of provider organisations awarded contracts to deliver employment services which the following data illustrates, noting however provider numbers for jobactive and Workforce Australia were relatively consistent.

• 300 providers delivered Job Network contracts from 1998 – 2009
• 141 providers delivered Job Services Australia contracts from 2009 – 2015
• 44 providers delivered jobactive contracts from 2015-2022 from 1700 site locations nationally
• 43 providers delivering Workforce Australia Services from 1 July 2022 from 1482 site locations nationally

Employment services currently includes three major programs – Workforce Australia, Disability Employment Services which supports people with disability and the Community Development Program which supports people in remote Australia. The employment services sector saw a shift away from an ‘all services awarded to contracted employment service providers’ model with the introduction of the government’s digital platform in Workforce Australia. The government’s digital platform services participants who can self-manage their job search activities while employment services providers service participants who require support in managing their job search activities.

The major employment services are supported by a range of complementary programs which provide more specialised and targeted support for cohort groups such as ParentsNext – working with parents returning to the workforce, Transition to Work – a youth focussed program, Career Transition Assistance – supporting mature aged participants, Self Employment Assistance – supporting people interested in starting their own business or refocusing an existing small business, and State based programs. These programs operate alongside the major programs.

In 2022 the Albanese Government announced:

  • a two year extension of the current Disability Employment Services contracts to 30 June 2025, to provide time for the government to implement a measured, phased approach to reforming disability employment.
  • an extension of the current Community Development Program contracts to October 2024 to provide time for the government to develop a new program which will replace the existing Community Development Program. There is a caveat for receiving an extension of contract which is a willingness by the provider to build on the government’s trials, capture learnings and further strengthen community led approaches. The government is committed to working collaboratively with First Nations people in the development of the new program.

Employment services in Australia have a long history of providing effective labour market assistance and improving outcomes for participants and employers.