As part of Jesuit Social Services’ Centre for Just Places research into ‘What works for place-based approaches in Victoria?’, we will be publishing a series of blogs showcasing different approaches and identifying their strengths at addressing place-based inequity and disadvantage. The following blog is focused on employment in an inner-Melbourne location with high levels of public housing and a variety of social and economic challenges.

In communities where mainstream employment programs aren’t able to meet the needs of marginalised job seekers, place-based approaches have great potential to unlock new opportunities for people excluded from the workforce.

Flemington Works is one of these – a place-based initiative which has supported the employment of 127 people and the development of 32 micro-businesses employing culturally and linguistically diverse young people and women living in the Flemington Housing Estate in Melbourne, funded as part of Victoria’s Community Revitalisation Program.*

Women and young people living in the estate face a range of barriers to employment, among them; access to transport, caring responsibilities which make shift work difficult, limited entry level positions, racism and discrimination.

Place-based approaches, such as Flemington Works, are a different way for communities, local organisations and government (and other funders) to work together to address the complex web of factors needed for communities to thrive. They are long-term, community-led approaches to tackling issues, identifying strengths and building resilient communities in a specific place.

The location of Flemington Works on a map

Flemington Works is located on Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung country

Part of the reason Flemington Works is able to deliver successful employment outcomes is that it is co-designed by community members who are paid for their time and knowledge.

Through the community engagement and co-design process, Flemington Works identified a lack of appropriate jobs in the locality as a key barrier excluding people from work, rather than lack of work readiness skills or qualifications – the focus of previous employment programs.

As a result, the initiative’s energy is well-spent creating entrepreneurship opportunities and supporting reform in social procurement and workforce diversity policies to deliver jobs. Flemington Works was able to work with the local Moonee Valley City Council (MVCC) to address more systemic issues like changing institutional policy and practices to create equitable employment opportunities and foster social inclusion.  

Under new guidelines, MVCC suppliers must now provide employment opportunities for residents living in local social housing in order to secure council contracts. MVCC have also reformed their labour hire practices and made a range of changes to make employment opportunities more accessible, including replacing formal panel interviews with walking interviews around a local park.

Because each place-based initiative is unique in the way it approaches complex social, economic and structural issues, capturing their impact is not straightforward. For participants in Flemington Works’ co-design groups, the impact of the Flemington Works initiative goes well beyond job creation and includes changes in confidence, motivation, social connection, understanding employment barriers, communication and teamwork skills. One team member told us, “now when you hear from these [participants], the way they talk about employment is no more about resume writing. They talk about how that program actually helped them feel confident that now they can go look for work.”

The ripple effects also include expanded community mobilisation and participation in community advocacy. Flemington Works has supported the creation of three youth-led organisations, including Young Australian People, which has designed and delivered youth-led employment forums bringing together 336 young people to learn about employment and academic opportunities and connect with mentors.

Recently, Jesuit Social Services’ centre for place-based action, research and advocacy – the Centre for Just Places – was commissioned by the Victorian Government Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions to investigate what’s working for place-based approaches in the state. The research, ‘What works for place-based approaches in Victoria?’, examined existing literature and practice, identifying a handful of features common across effective place-based initiatives in communities experiencing complex challenges. Many features are consistent with the Flemington Works example; among them, genuine power sharing and meaningful engagement with community, and a commitment from government to supporting community as experts in their own lives.

With Australia facing higher cost of living and stagnant wages, Government should couple system-wide reforms with place-based approaches as a key strategy for expanding workforce participation for marginalised communities. Following the national Jobs and Skills Summit in September, the Federal Government identified “working with other levels of government to explore further options on place-based approaches that drive coordination at the local level and address barriers to employment among disadvantaged groups and the long-term unemployed” as an area for further work.

Putting place-based employment approaches on the federal employment agenda means success like that achieved through Flemington Works could be expanded nationally.

*June 2021 numbers