Australia’s strong economy has helped drive a healthy job market. But to avoid a future shortage of labour as the population ages, further efforts are needed to help older women, indigenous Australians and mothers with young children into work, according to a new OECD report. Connecting People with Jobs:
Key Issues for Raising Labour Market Participation in Australia says that people with a disability or a mental health condition and disadvantaged youth are also underrepresented in the labour market.
The employment rate of women aged 25-54 years stands at 72.5%, in the lower third of OECD countries. Many also work part-time, with only Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria and Germany having higher shares of women working part-time. The employment rate of single mothers was 50.8% in 2014, the third-lowest in the OECD, after Ireland and Turkey.
Employment gaps can be substantial. For women with a child under age 5 and lone parents with a child under age 15 and for Indigenous Australians the employment gap is around 25 percentage points; for people with a mental health condition the gap is between 14 and 34 percentage points, depending on the severity of their mental illness; and for people with a disability the gap is close to 40 percentage points.
These groups face considerable and often multiple barriers to employment. Lacking work experience, low education and poor health are the single most important employment barriers, and many people face several barriers. Employment intervention alone will not be sufficient to bring underrepresented groups into the labour market, according to the report. Many will need better integrated support that also addresses their health problems and/or their care responsibilities, and many will need support in several steps in order to develop their skills and their work experience.
Lessons from other OECD countries that Australia could consider adopting include: Support for disadvantaged youth to complete education and transition into work; Mutual obligations for mature-age jobseekers, in line with other age groups; Return-to-work support for workers at risk of long-term sickness absence; Mental health focus in workplace legislation and employment service provision; Strict work testing for lone parents coupled with provision of affordable childcare; Facilitation of a better work-life balance to close the gender employment gap.
Certain groups like Indigenous Australians would be best helped by a combination of various policies because they are overrepresented in several of these subgroups, including lone parents, disadvantaged youth and people with a disability.