Are you excited? I'm excited. I had no idea that the major issues being faced in the labour market could be solved in an hour or less. The jobs and skills summit being held this week, with tickets as sought after as a letter from Hogwarts, is set to zip through our challenges: 60 minutes will secure equal opportunities and pay for women, sustain wage growth and the future of bargaining, and create safe, fair and productive workplaces, while 30 minutes maintains full employment and grows productivity. And that's all before lunch on day one! Phew!
OK, so maybe not. But surely I'm not alone in being surprised by the speedy nature of the summit agenda? I cannot help but wonder if it wouldn't have been better to have either run the Summit for a week, or tackle only a couple of the themes over the two days.
But then, it's easy to criticise when you aren't a part of the process.
One thing I will say is that we are still only looking at the issues from a top-down perspective. Of course, I understand that government is a top-down structure, and it's expected that they would see muggles, er, I mean, citizens in terms of economic value. However, while "barriers to employment" are being seen as an "issue to be discussed and dealt with" to "boost participation," we are furthering the idea that individuals are only useful to society if they are paid to work.
Barriers to employment aren't just barriers to employment - they are indicative of broader systemic issues: barriers to community involvement, education, social engagement, healthcare, to income. We cannot just look at "barriers to employment" as a problem to be solved in a bubble and I was pleased to see many of these issues on the summit agenda.
But, barriers to employment need to be addressed holistically from a person-centred perspective: those experiencing them are not just "economic units" as David Crosbie pointed out. They are people; complex, valuable, people. Making our world more accessible to everyone is vital to changing community perceptions. We can't keep the social constructs of normative values that we currently operate within, and just demand that the community now sees opportunity where they used to see a problem. There isn't magic powerful enough to make that happen: it just doesn't work that way.
Ministries and large representative bodies, have released public statements and even reports ahead of the summit, lending megaphones to the important issues they are dealing with in recruiting/retaining qualified staff. However, this amplification is rarely provided for the voices of the many underemployed/unemployed workers who desperately need a seat at this table.
The roundtable discussions in the lead up to the summit are an excellent community engagement tactic, but accessibility to participate in them appears to be almost as elusive as a ticket to the summit itself. Discussions around employment for individuals remain around disincentives/incentives to work, placing the burden on "governments, unions, business and the broader community" to come up with the solution, without considering the opportunity to lend their megaphone and empower those actually facing the barriers to do something about it, themselves.
There is a lot of good in the issues paper: a lot of good questions being asked and a lot of necessary change that has been identified. However, it is difficult to remain hopeful of any real-world positive change when the summit appears to be just another example of people in high places deciding what's best for those living without privilege.
That said, the issues paper was right about one thing: dismantling the barriers people face will require action from all of us - employers, educators, recruiters, employment services, policymakers and the community. However, they forgot a group of people (again). We also need those of us who have been beaten down by the broken system to find faith that Australia has their back. And that won't happen if the "solution" doesn't involve those its to be applied to, in its design.
After all, as Dumbledore said, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Who do we want to be?
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.