Ageing and activation: demographic shift at the frontline of welfare-to-work

Stream: Panel 59 - Public Policy & Social Justice: Policymaking and Welfare Services 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


In recent decades, OECD countries have seen major policy shifts in their employment assistance programs, with Australia at the cutting edge of reform. At the centre of these policy changes are arguments that a successful welfare-to-work model rests on not only the activation of jobseekers but also on the activation of frontline employment services staff by the government purchaser—so called double activation. Much of the discussion so far has focused on the design of incentives systems at both jobseeker and frontline level, with less attention on factors that might affect the way frontline workers interact with jobseekers. Tracking Australian welfare reforms at the frontline of employment services delivery for nearly two decades, we observed a shift in the identities of frontline workers. Close to half are now under 35 and fewer than 20% have a degree qualification. This is at a time when jobseekers are getting older. Mature-age (45+ years) jobseekers now represent around 40% of services’ caseload, and spend longer unemployed and on income support than younger jobseekers. Moreover, the number of older jobseekers is likely to further increase from population ageing. Drawing on research on ageism, we argue that the widening age-gap between frontline workers’ and their clients may hinder the capacity of employment services to effectively support older and long-term jobseekers from welfare-to-work. This is supported by the findings of a recent study of mature-age jobseekers, in which the young age of frontline workers’ was repeatedly identified as contributing to a more routinized experience of activation.


Dr. Phuc Nguyen is a Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Phuc specialises in the welfare state, especially the delivery of employment services. She also has an interest in logistics and supply chain management. She has published three book chapters and several journal articles.

Michael Mcgann (Presenter), UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE
Dr Michael McGann is a Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne. He specialises in the sociology of work and social policy on employment, with a particular focus on issues related to insecure work, ageing and employment, and employment services. Michael also has an interest in political philosophy (egalitarianism, multiculturalism). He has published several journal articles in Social Theory and Practice, Health Sociology Review, and the Journal of Australian Political Economy in addition to reports for UNESCO and the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Prof. Mark Considine is Dean of Arts at the University of Melbourne, Australia and a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (Victoria) and the Australian Academy of Social Sciences. His research areas include governance, comparative social policy, employment services, public sector reform, local development, and organisational sociology. He has produced numerous journal articles along with six books and numerous book chapters.

Professor Jenny Lewis is Professor of Public Policy and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow for 2013-16. Jenny is currently the Vice President (Australia and New Zealand) of the International Research Society for Public Management, and Vice President and President Elect of the Australian Political Studies Association. She has published widely on policy influence, governance and the policy process

Dr. Siobhan O'Sullivan is a senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Australia. She undertakes research into the delivery of contracted employment services in Australia, the UK, and around the world. She has a broad interest in the welfare state and 'mission drift'. She also has an ongoing interest in animal welfare policy and environmental ethics. She has published two books, four book chapters and over 20 journal articles, refereed conference papers and industry reports.