Employment Plus: Many hands make right work

October 13, 2017

The Salvation Army Employment Plus is providing a helping hand to thousands of Australians looking for work—and transforming lives, writes David Goodwin.



For the almost three-quarters of a million Australians who are out of work, employment is more than just a financial issue. If you have ever spent any time unemployed, you will know the toll it can take on every aspect of your life. It’s not simply about money, though struggling to pay the bills or not being able to get those little extras is a terrible feeling. In our society, our identity is inextricably linked to what we do for a living. 

It’s almost a given that, when you meet someone new at some social event, the first question we ask each other is, “So, what do you do for work?”, and having nothing to say can be a blow to our sense of self-worth. There can also be guilt if we can’t provide for our loved ones, or shame at being seen as a ‘dole-bludger’. And, above all, there is a feeling of power­lessness, of having no control, and being at the mercy of others—whether it is going to a job interview or dealing with the government.

It not only takes a toll on individuals, but also on those around them, and on society. Because we believe that we are called to help those in need, The Salvation Army has always been there to support those out of work, not only by providing assistance in getting through tough times, but also by supporting those looking for work.

We’ve been doing this for a long time now. During the depression of the late 1800s, unemploy­ment reached unpre­cedented levels in Australia. Countless families found themselves struggling to make ends meet but, unlike today, there were no government benefits or formal support. So, The Salvation Army stepped in to fill the gap.

In 1889, The Salvation Army established Australia’s first employment service, a ‘labour bureau’ in Melbourne. As well as acting as a job-finding agency, the bureau served thousands of meals to people out of work. Following this success in Melbourne, additional Salvation Army labour bureaus were created in both Sydney and Adelaide.

Eventually, state and federal governments took over running employment services. But, in 1998, the government decided to outsource employment services and The Salvation Army once more took up the challenge, and created Employment Plus.

Because every person looking for work has a different story, and faces different challenges, Employment Plus offers a wide variety of programs and services. These range from training and courses to allow people to obtain skills and qualifications, to health services to help break down some of the barriers people face to being able to return to work, to assistance with navigating the often confusing and impersonal processes involved in dealing with the government.

Employment Plus is also able to refer clients to services within the broader Salvation Army such as substance rehabilitation programs, food assistance, homelessness services and social activities. Giving job seekers access to this wider network of services can help them overcome barriers and become job-ready—transforming their lives through sustainable employment.

All these programs and services are built upon the same common beliefs, such as refusing to buy into the lie that having a job defines us and gives us value. It’s standing firm on the truth that there is no shame in needing help, and that being treated as a number and not a person shouldn’t be the price anyone should have to pay for assistance. Human dignity, and the inherent value of every person, are vital parts of Christ’s message, and therefore are at the heart of all the work of The Salvation Army—including Employment Plus.

That’s why Employment Plus will continue to work with those seeking employment, empowering them by offering the resources they need to develop their skills and set their own goals. Whether it is taking away barriers standing in the way of employment, or simply being there when needed, Employment Plus will continue to serve Australians regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs and capabilities—because everyone deserves a fair go at finding a job.

725,300 unemployed
people in Australia as of August 2017 (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics ’Labour Force Australia August 2017’).


243,736 job seekers
placed into employment in the past 10 years (since 2007) by Employment Plus.


12,292 job seekers
placed into employment in 2017*.


8,080 employers

assisted with finding new staff in 2017*.


54,713 job seekers
currently being assisted to get job-ready and gain employment.


*as of August 2017


Rowena's story

After battling with addiction for several years, Rowena decided she’d had enough. Intent on changing her circumstances, she underwent rehabilitation and decided that she needed to move away from her current work behind the bar as the environment was no longer suitable for her.

Despite her determination to turn things around, Rowena struggled for months to find stable employment in Fremantle. With low confidence and self-esteem an ongoing issue for Rowena, unemployment only served to reinforce these barriers.

Site manager Alastair Waters recognised that Rowena needed additional support before she would be ready for work. So he referred her to several training courses delivered by Training Plus trainer Jane Purvis.

“Rowena first attended the Work Skills for Today’s Employer program, and she appeared to be very shy and lacking in confidence and motivation, although she had a positive attitude,” Jane said.

“The course content, social interaction and support provided during the course helped Rowena to boost her self-confidence, self-belief and motivation.”

Following the four-day work skills course, Rowena went on to attend a resume writing session where she completed a skills development plan that identified some skill gaps that were holding her back from gaining employment in her preferred industry of retail. To remedy these gaps, Rowena agreed to take part in the Intro to Retail taster session.

“Once she’d completed the course and its two accredited units, Rowena was job-ready and confident as she began applying for jobs. Working with the team at Fremantle, Rowena soon secured a full-time job as a shop assistant at a local shop,” Jane said.


Happiness to heartbreak

In a training room at the Epping branch one July morning, a group of job seekers gathered for the first day of their Work Skills for Today’s Employer training course. One by one, trainer Brenda Williams invited each of them to introduce themselves and briefly explain their background. Nervously, Mekdad stood up and began to share his story. After just a few words, he broke down crying.

Mekdad explained that he had previously owned and managed two milk bars. He then decided to purchase a takeaway food business, which he put all of his money into. Unfortunately, this business wasn’t successful and he lost his home and his marriage. He was now living in a rooming house in the city that was filthy, and he felt uncomfortable living with the other occupants. He had spiralled into depression/anxiety and he was at the lowest point of his life.

The story left Brenda speechless. “I was heartbroken to see this man cry as he spoke,” she explained.

During the morning tea break, chaplain Bev McMurray arrived at the office. Once she learnt about Mekdad’s situation, Bev spoke with him for some time.

“Mekdad attended all four days of the course and during this time he became more comfortable communicating with the group,” Brenda said. “We worked on some strategies with him to help with his depression and anxiety, and to help build his confidence.”

Once he completed the course, Mekdad met with Prashant, the recruiter at Epping. Prashant found Mekdad full-time employment as a paint mixer. Mekdad has now achieved six months of employment and the employer is extremely happy with him. Mekdad moved into better accommodation before finding a private rental property.

“Mekdad’s story really moved me; he was so genuine,” Brenda said. “He had hit the bottom, and with help from the team at Epping, Training Plus, Allied Health and our chaplain, we were able to help him change his life and find purpose to keep on going. For me, this story points out why we work for The Salvation Army—to change lives.”

For more information on Employment Plus call 136 123 or visit employmentplus.com.au.


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