SPEECH: Sonder Employment Solutions

Today Mark gave a Matters of Interest speech about Sonder Employment Solutions - a vital service that helps some of the most disadvantaged South Australians.


Today, I want to talk about a vital service that helps some of the most disadvantaged South Australians. Last week, I was pleased to attend a breakfast held by Sonder Employment Solutions, or SES. This is an organisation that was fairly new to me. I was aware of some of their other services, such as the Headspace mental health service, but the employment service is a relatively new one.

Since the SES program began delivering services 20 months ago, they have adopted an evidence-based individual placement support (IPS) model to support migrants and refugees into employment. They have had great success and shown that with the right approach they can achieve real outcomes for clients who are otherwise having to rely on social security income support. In just 20 months the program has put together an incredible multicultural team, with staff from more than 10 different cultural backgrounds represented. These caseworkers understand firsthand that partnerships with communities are fundamental to success.

We often forget that 24 per cent of South Australians were born overseas, that unemployment among migrants and refugees is 2 per cent higher than the national average and that 22 per cent of migrants are still unable to find employment 10 years after their arrival in Australia. It is that hard-to-reach cohort that the Sonder Employment Solutions program targets.

I will share some statistics from their first 22 months of their operation. The Sonder Employment Solutions program received 678 referrals, of which 399 were taken on as clients. These clients come from 59 nations, and 190 of them came to Australia on a humanitarian visa. So far the program has successfully assisted in 299 job placements, 10 work experience placements, 10 volunteer placements and more than 96 clients commencing further training.

Achieving these results takes a lot of hard work. For example, the SES program has initiated and maintained just over 5,000 contacts with employers and local businesses to help overcome the initial barrier to employment and create networks. As a result, SES clients have been placed with more than 190 different employers.

What impressed me most about the SES program was their understanding of the obvious fact that while there are commonalities amongst the migrant and refugee community, every person comes with different experiences and challenges; therefore, there is a need for a program that provides flexible, personalised employment and wellbeing support. This is the individualised placement support (IPS) model. People receiving support based on this model are nearly 2½ times more likely than other similar groups to be employed. This is not just local experience; that is shown by international research as well.

Sonder also provides a doorway to mental health services. Each client who enters the program is introduced to a wellbeing coach with optional ongoing sessions offered. An integrated wellbeing pathway allows immediate access to culturally appropriate mental health support for those who are not currently reached by the mainstream system. Sonder's career coaches can also help migrants and refugees build professional networks by meeting employers to facilitate opportunities. Career coaches can help bridge initial workforce bias in order to create a crucial first chance for migrants and refugees to showcase their skills.

I might just add as an aside that next weekend my wife and I are having lunch with a refugee family who have been in Adelaide for less than two years, and the occasion is that the first member of the family has just received her first pay cheque. She secured an administrative job with one of South Australia's biggest employers and wanted to host a lunch for Penny and me in celebration. That is one more person in employment, one less person needing income support.

However, getting a job is just the first step. What Sonder also does is provide follow-up support after a client has secured a job, especially in helping migrants and refugees during the crucial first weeks and months of adjusting to a new working role. The importance of not only getting people into work but helping them stay in employment is highlighted by the fact that on average migrants and refugees who currently receive income support are likely to be on income support for around 30 years over their lifetime. If nothing changes, 56 per cent of this group will still be receiving income support payments in 10 years' time and 52 per cent will be receiving income support payments in 20 years.

Apart from Sonder, there is no other specialised and integrated employment and wellbeing support program for migrants and refugees in South Australia, which brings me to my main point, a plea to both the federal and state governments to ensure that there is funding to keep this valuable service going. If SES is defunded, this cohort of vulnerable people will have no recourse to appropriate alternative providers.

Sonder Employment Solutions have been grateful for the support they have received from the commonwealth Department of Social Services. They have received money from the Try, Test and Learn Fund, but this funding is about to be wound up. My call is for the feds to fund this important service and, if they cannot or will not, then the state government should step into the breach.