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Policy implementation – get it right!

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 19 June 2014

For the past 10 years I have helped implement policies in corporations, universities, NGOs and the public service. I have worked primarily in employer engagement and media.

It has been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows with the devil sitting next to me, grinning. Many organisations spend considerable time and money on policy planning and writing – the fun part – then ignore how the policy will be communicated and implemented.

My first spectacular introduction to an implementation disaster was the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's failed IT system of the early 2000s. RMIT installed a $47 million academic administration system that, overnight, scrambled the university's entire student and financial records.


International enrolments plunged by 15 per cent. It led to the resignation of the Vice Chancellor and the termination of 500 staff over the next four years.

RMIT failed to answer the two fundamental implementation questions: what were they trying to achieve and who were the stakeholders? There was little consultation between the technicians, management and those who were going to use the system.

In 2011, DEEWR hired me to deliver the national employer engagement initiatives aimed at helping employers hire, train and retain older workers and combat age prejudice. It was a $70 million cluster of programs. I packed up my family and moved to Canberra.

I was told to write a communications plan – so beloved of bureaucrats – and to scope out a possible 'national tour' with media targets. What was actually needed was an implementation plan to identify stakeholders and then write a communication plan to reach them. There had been previously no promotion of the mature age job seeker initiatives.

Older workers who leave the workforce and then try to return, face on average more than 70 weeks on the dole before they find a job. Many never do. That's age prejudice at work – either that or the applicant doesn't have the right attitude or training.

Age prejudice hits young people too. You need experience to get a job. But how will you get experience if no one will give you a job?


Around 111,000 mature age workers say they want, and are available for, more hours than they have. This equates to an underemployment rate of 5.8 per cent (compared to 12.1 per cent for 15-24 year olds and 6.2 per cent for 25-54 year olds).

In March 2014, the average number of weeks a 15-19 year old was unemployed for was 31 weeks, compared with 66 weeks for someone aged 55 years and over. In SA it is about 80 weeks. About 41% of those aged 55 and over are deemed to be long term unemployed.

I wrote 22 news stories promoting employers who had demonstrated good mature age recruitment and retention strategies across the Priority Employment Areas. These were 'spiked' – discarded. No explanation was given. I was told not to approach employer groups or to make direct contact with employers. No reason was given. This was particularly difficult as I worked in the area of 'employment engagement'.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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