For a young person involved in the justice system, finding and retaining a job can be a huge challenge. For employers, it can also be challenging to understand and effectively respond to the needs of young people with this experience.
But for those who do move from the justice system into secure employment, the experience is life changing: less than 5 per cent go on to re-offend.
In late 2019, JobsBank and the Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety came together with community organisations and industry-leading employers to create Out for Good (OfG), a pilot program supporting young Victorians aged 17 to 26 within the justice system.
The target was 50 placements with OfG’s construction industry employer partners, an ambitious goal given the complexity and significant barriers to work these young jobseekers face. Often-overlapping personal challenges such as a lack of secure accommodation, substance abuse, intergenerational poverty and mental health issues can make it near impossible to secure work without intensive support at all stages of the employment journey.
As a pilot program undertaken during a uniquely challenging time, Out for Good has provided valuable insights which are currently being built in to JobsBank programs.
These insights have also highlighted the importance of working alongside and supporting the Victorian service providers already dedicated to working closely with people from the justice system to help them find meaningful employment.
The following summary provides an overview of key findings from our OfG evaluation, with learnings for those wishing to work in this important space in the future. If you’re interested in discussing further insights on this program or inclusive employment and social procurement more broadly, please get in touch.
Congratulations to all those employers involved with the OfG pilot. Without the support and commitment from these purpose driven organisations, programs like these would not be possible.
Twenty-two Out for Good (OfG) participants were successfully placed into employment as of November 2020, with a further 10 participants progressing to being job ready, and actively exploring employment options.
This section summarises the OfG project evaluation findings into three key areas:
1. Program implementation and operations – what is needed to set the project up for success?
2. Employer partnership – what can we do to better support our employer partners?
3. Participant support – what can we do to ensure each participant is well supported?
1. Program implementation and operations
It is critical to establish a shared understanding and clear framework for future projects. Our
findings and learnings to program implementation and operations are outlined below.
1.1 Project outcomes and measurements
We found measures beyond an employment outcome could have been better defined. Whilst the employment placement is the goal, participants who move from ‘not job ready’ to ‘job ready’ or gain interview experience should be included as a measure of success, as any progress towards a job should be seen as a win for the particpants. We recognise the need to measure participant progress and overall program success beyond an employment placement.
1.2 Roles and responsibilities
The roles and responsibilities for the program could have been more clearly defined. It is important to work with each stakeholder up front to allocate roles and responsibilities. The program’s tasks and processes can then be outlined based on the agreed roles and include communication channels, frequency, milestones etc. to ensure a shared understanding. A coordination role would also help to oversee the program operations and ensure data requirements are met.
1.3 Framework for the matching of jobseekers with employers / roles
When developing programs for the participants, we need to consider factors such as: employer expectations and their understanding of the participant needs, types of roles available, their preferences, support requirements and their suitability. An improved assessment process is needed for matching participants to suitable roles to create a better experience for both participants and employers.
The program should also differentiate between employers who are committed-in-principle and those who have actual jobs so that pre and post-employment support to employers and participants is improved.
1.4 Reducing the number of (employers) stakeholders
Due to the number of employers involved, we found the program could not provide the level of support needed to each one.
By reducing the number of employers, the program can be tailored to meet individual employer needs. This is especially important with early program delivery and can likely be scaled as lessons are learnt.
2. Employer partnership
Employers recognised a range of benefits from the program, which:
• Contributed to their social procurement and corporate social responsibility objectives
• Increased workplace diversity
• Increased their brand awareness with the Victorian Government
• Gave them a better understanding of the needs and circumstances of young people in touch with the justice system.
Employers recognised the importance of engaging with employment programs to recruit youth justice participants, however they found the process challenging. Our findings and learnings to the employer partnerships are outlined below.
2.1 A diverse range of industries, not just construction
The OfG program focussed on the construction and infrastructure sector using the Social Procurement Framework (SPF) as a lever, which impacted the range of jobs available. The OfG cohort are like any other group of people. They are diverse in their thinking, their preferences, and their skills. To provide opportunities they are suitable for and interested in, the program requires a range of roles available across a range of industries. We’d expect to see an increase in participant engagement and sustainable employment outcomes by broadening opportunities beyond construction.
The use of SPF targets as a lever for employers will remain key in many industry partnerships; however sustainable outcomes are rarely achieved with a target-focused approach.
2.2 Increase engagement with key stakeholders early to understand needs and roles available
Commitments were made at the most senior level with limited engagement with stakeholders in decision-making roles (such as HR or hiring managers). Unfortunately, these well-intended pledges didn’t always translate to actual roles in program delivery.
We need to work directly with the people on the ground as well as senior leaders to gain a deeper understanding of their needs, the roles available, specific supports etc. Establishing trusted relationships at this level will build employer confidence in the program.
2.3 Build employer awareness of systemic barriers and supports available
There were varying levels of understanding amongst employers of the barriers young justice clients can face, and the supports required. Employers may have also been surprised at the difficulty of placing candidates in roles.
Employers must understand the unique and complex challenges faced by this group and be prepared to commit time and effort in supporting participants. Awareness training of the barriers and supports available should be provided, so employers fully understand what is needed to properly support a participant with this background.
Support to employers can also include role scoping, screening, training of employees, recruitment, information sessions and connections with case managers. In addition, providing meet and greet sessions, where employers get to understand the person behind the story, are a great way to facilitate active engagement with a participant’s journey.
2.4 Employer involvement in the development and delivery of participant training
We found if we want participants to be as prepared as they possibly could be, we need to be engaging employers, and understanding their specific training needs. Inviting employers to contribute to the development and delivery of training can also increase engagement in the program and ensures we are meeting their needs.
3. Participant support
The OfG program provided support that increased participants exposure to job opportunities. These jobseekers are vulnerable and require significant support pre and post-employment – the six months after employment are particularly challenging. Our findings and learnings to further enhance participant support and future program outcomes are outlined below:
3.1 Individual participant needs assessment and progress plan
Not all participants (especially those requiring more intensive support) were able to be sufficiently supported by the program.
A participant needs-assessment and progress plan would help support all participants towards sustainable employment, and include consideration of:
a. Employment preferences. Young people exiting the justice system deserve a job they can be proud of. They have a wide range of interests, skills, motivations and capabilities, and employment outcomes are improved when job opportunities are aligned.
b. Specific support requirements. Individual needs must be met and supports tailored to ensure participants progress towards being job-ready at a pace that works for them. Pathways may not be linear for all participants and will likely require regular review. Additional services such as health, alcohol and other drugs, housing, education etc. should be linked to the program, and where necessary, participants referred to the supports that help them towards job readiness.
c. Social enterprise transitional program. Some participants may require more intensive support which could be provided through social enterprises that have experience working with young people from the justice system. Social enterprises play a pivotal role in providing temporary employment in a supported environment for participants to develop skills and confidence before transitioning to a commercial employer.
d. Training and upskilling to increase suitability for roles. Employment readiness training was provided to participants incorporating hard and soft skills such as communication, teamwork, workplace skills, self-direction, and task planning. These courses are valuable, however tend to run over just one or two days and can limit the opportunity for participants to demonstrate sustained attendance and engagement. If we engage employers in training design and delivery, we ensure that training is specific to each workplace and participant.
3.2 Assignment of a workplace buddy to support participants when starting work
The initial program design did not specifically outline the requirement of a dedicated workplace support person.
It is crucial for job seekers who have involvement with the justice system to be well supported for at least six to twelve months once employed.
The role of a mentor or workplace buddy would help participants to build relationships and gain confidence in their new role, as well as identify and address any challenges on a day-to-day basis – all essential requirements towards sustainable employment.
The support person needs to be actively engaged through the participant’s journey. They must understand the individual’s needs, have a good understanding of their barriers to work and, how they can provide and access support for them.
For commercial entities to take on high need participants, they need confidence in job readiness, alongside a full understanding of the range of support that may be required, and how that support can be accessed.