Government funds useless training

Welfare recipients sent to scam courses as job agencies profit

Spare a thought for people on welfare who are forced to ride a merry-go-round of absurd courses, while the sham job services and training industry (sometimes the same company) rakes in revenue. This story is an edit from The Guardian.

Sarah, a single Mum with a chronic health condition, was directed to complete a series of courses by her job agency after she deferred a university degree.

She needed to complete five online modules every 13 weeks to meet her “mutual obligations” – the tasks required of welfare recipients to maintain their benefit payments that are meant to show they are looking for work or acquiring skills that will make them more employable.

Sarah relies on the payments to feed her three children, two of whom have a disability.

The $3bn-a-year job services systems now called Workforce Australia, is plagued by complaints from jobseekers who were made to fulfil confusing and unreasonable requirements.

After the new $1.5bn-a-year system was rolled out last month, job agencies successfully lobbied last year to stop a proposed rule banning them from referring clients to their own training courses.

Workforce Australia’s expanded Employability Skills Training program, will see about $500m flow to private providers for “soft skills” and industry-specific courses over the next five years.

The federal government spends tens of millions of dollars annually reimbursing job agencies after they sign up jobseekers for accredited and non-accredited courses.

Insiders say agencies often compel jobseekers into poor quality or irrelevant short courses, which are often online and sometimes run by the agency’s own training company. They want to keep the flow of taxpayers funds “in house”.

When Sarah, 27, was referred by Centrelink to the controversial $115m-a-year ParentsNext program aimed at single parents on benefits, her provider, Communicare, received a $600 “service fee”, paid every six months while an individual is on the program.

After she deferred her studies for a semester, Communicare gave her a list of its “Elmo Talent” short courses. She ended up doing 10 of them.

These included: Understanding Body Language, Making Decisions, How to Communicate Effectively and Managing the Discipline Process.

During the 20-minute course, a section on hand gestures informs the student that “rubbing hands together” “indicates excitement or anticipation” while a person with their legs crossed indicates “caution”.

“It insulting being told to do these … when I was midway through a bachelor’s degree,” Sarah says. “I already struggle to find time to do critical things in my life. It was a massive waste of time.”

Communicare said it had referred more than 2,000 of its clients – or about a third of its caseload – to its own short courses since 2018.

When it did so, it claimed a reimbursement, racking up $113,118 in extra payments from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations’ “participation fund” since 2018.

Cases like Sarah’s are the tip of the iceberg.

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