“It feels like I’m more stable now … It has given me a bit of meaning, and it’s kept me busy.” This is how a young man who had contact with the justice system and lives with a mental illness described the impact on his life of a Jesuit Social Services employment program.

That program was the Jobs Victoria Employment Services (JVES) program – a Victorian Government-funded service providing personalised employment support to long-term unemployed jobseekers and to jobseekers who are at risk of becoming long-term unemployed. Unfortunately, the Victorian Government has decided to scale back this program, which has propelled Jesuit Social Services to actively explore new ways to find pathways to employment for people who face significant barriers to social and economic inclusion.

Jesuit Social Services has a decades-long history of accompanying people who experience barriers to participation – in employment, in education and in various other settings. We work to develop relationships and trust, and to offer appropriate support for each person’s circumstances.

The JVES program has been particularly successful, and indeed unique, in what it offers. Through this voluntary program for jobseekers, we employ jobs mentors who work with jobseekers to become work-ready and connect with jobs, and employer brokers who work with employers. We focus on being responsive to each person. Some jobseekers are best accompanied by a mentor with lived experience and an understanding of the justice system and its complexities – such as pursuing work while on a corrections order. For others, it is someone with industry knowledge in construction procurement, or someone well-versed in ensuring a culturally safe work environment.

They took the time to connect on a personal level to better understand my personal situation.

Employment Programs Participant

One participant compared the service to current federal programs, describing it as “more personal and more real.”

At times, what a jobseeker needs most is new clothes for an interview or a job, or transport to get to work. The service must be flexible enough, and tailored enough, to be responsive to these needs. One participant said of their mentor, “He gave me vouchers and sent me to get uniforms, work boots and work tops. It helped heaps.”

Our staff continue to support participants after they gain a placement in a job. Mentors check in with participants, troubleshoot any further assistance that may be required, and refer participants to additional supports as challenges arise.

We also work with employers, developing partnerships through employment engagement specialists who help navigate the employer’s needs and ensure a right fit with the jobseeker. While existing Commonwealth employment services tend to require jobseekers to seek and accept jobs for fear of implications on Centrelink and other payments, our participants are not pressured to accept jobs, and this creates an incentive to ensure the right role at the right pay is found for each person. This reflects a different set of dynamics between the participant, mentor and employer.

Up until June 2023, our service comprised four different programs: a general program, a construction industry program, a program for professionals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and a program for people who have had involvement with the justice system.

Between June 2021 and June 2023, 1,925 people gained placements in jobs out of 4,500 registrations. Of these placements, 47 per cent turned into ongoing jobs of six months or more. In the various cohorts, 42 per cent of job placements from the generalist program turned into ongoing employment, 54 per cent of placements in construction, 62 per cent of placements for professionals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and 44 per cent of job placements for people with past involvement with the justice system turned into ongoing work of six months or more.

These outcomes compare well to the latest available comparable figures from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (Financial Year 2021–2022) on the proportion of jobseekers who experience disadvantage who gained a sustainable job placement. This proportion was 42 per cent.

Following the Victorian Government’s decision to slash employment programs, reflected in the May budget, only our general JVES service continues to operate at this stage – and that only until October 2023. Beyond that date, there will be reduced services for a period of time, and our involvement in delivering these will be subject to the outcome of the current tender process.

Jesuit Social Services’ commitment to providing a pathway to employment for people facing multiple barriers remains strong, and extends beyond the current JVES program. Key examples are the African-Australian Inclusion Program, and the current Corporate Diversity Partnerships program, where we pursue employment opportunities to support people on a path towards a quality job that is sustainable.

We work with each participant to choose an appropriate placement, provide coaching, mentorship, regular check-ins, access to relevant training, ongoing support post-placement and other forms of support as required. We also work with employers to address workplace culture issues, which often needs to be addressed in order for jobseekers to sustain their employment.

The Men’s Project, for example, which Jesuit Social Services established in 2017, offers workshops addressing harmful attitudes about gender and masculinity to prevent violence and promote wellbeing. Jobseekers and employers can be connected with these programs as appropriate.

Our new social enterprise, JustWorks Supported Recruitment and Employment Service, is our most recent initiative aimed at supporting disadvantaged jobseekers and supporting employers meet their workforce needs. We bring to this enterprise the same spirit of tenacity and fidelity that characterises the way we work, captured in this quote from one of our jobs mentors:

“I’ve just got an outcome for a participant mid-year who was with me for three years, so after three years of hard work with him he finally got a job. That’s so satisfying. He still calls me. I will keep in touch with him for a long time. He called me yesterday, just to say hello and how everything was. People are referred to us because we help them.”