For 30 years, Australia has been at the vanguard of governance reforms in the delivery of welfare-to-work. Until now, this reform agenda has been driven by an aggressive marketisation and privatisation of public employment services commencing with Working Nation
(1994); rapidly accelerating under Job Network
(1998-2009) and deepening under the Job Services Australia
(2009-15) and Jobactive
(2015-22) employment services system. In July 2022, Australia is transitioning to yet another employment services model—Workforce Australia. But this time, marketisation is being curtailed by digitalisation and the automation of employment services.
Approximately half of all Australian jobseekers will be migrated over to an automated employment service delivered by apps and algorithms rather than street-level organisatons and frontline staff. The hope is that this will liberate case managers in contracted employment services to provide more personalised and intensive one-on-one support to those furthest from employment. Yet the record of Australian employment services to date in supporting such cohorts to find and sustain employment is extremely poor. It is also highly uncertain whether contracted out services will remain viable if providers no longer have access to the ‘job ready’ clients that they have previously relied on to generate revenue.
With Workforce Australia, employment services delivery in Australia is being automated to an unprecedented extent internationally. This move, from the street-level to the machine-level delivery of welfare-to-work, raises a series of concerns that will be discussed by this panel:
- What are the risks and opportunities presented by digitalisation for unemployed people and service providers?
- What are the trade-offs involved in automating discretion for the balance between efficiency/inclusion and consistency/personalisation in service delivery?
- How is digitalisation intersecting with mutual obligations and the automation of conditionality?
- What new forms of exclusion are arising, and how does these intersect with existing inequalities in service access and delivery?
These and other questions will be discussed by prominent advocates, experts by lived experience, and researchers who have been tracking the evolution of employment services for many years.
Dr Lyndal Sleep, Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and Society, University of Queensland.
• Dr Simone Casey, Senior Policy Advisor (employment), Australian Council of Social Services and Associate, Centre for People, Organisations and Work, RMIT
• Raquel Araya, Advocacy Coordinator, Australian Unemployed Workers Union
•Assoc Prof Jo Ingold (Deakin Business School): Investigator with the Digital Futures at Work Research Group and ESRC-funded Welfare at a (Social) Distance project
• Assoc Prof Siobhan O’Sullivan (University of New South Wales) and Dr Michael McGann (University of Melbourne): Authors of Buying and Selling the Poor: Inside Australia’s Privatised Welfare-to-Work Market
and chief investigators on the ARC Linkage The New Digital Governance of Welfare-to-Work.