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It seems like only yesterday: Sally Sinclair

9 minute read

Despite being the CEO of the National Employment Services Association (NESA), Sally Sinclair, and her unique story of career development within the jobs industry, have flown under the radar – until now.

She talks to PeoplePlus Australia about her career spanning three decades, how her profession flourished despite personal anguish, and what we can expect to see in the future of  Employment Services beyond 2020.

In the beginning, Sally Sinclair thought her career lay in science. As an American Field Service scholarship student she'd studied Maths and Psychology, going on to complete her Honours Degree in Science, majoring in Neuropsychology.

"I returned to Australia and there were just no jobs in neuropsychology as it was an emerging field. Long story short, I got into HR and went into Executive Search and Selection and went on to run one of the biggest search and selection companies – Sacs Consulting Group – at the age of 28.”

During the absolute genesis of contracting out Employment Services in the early 1990s, Sally secured a licence to operate as a provider assisting people who had been out of work for five or more years. From there, the National Employment Services Association was created, with the help of a number of other industry leaders at the time.

"I was the inaugural Chair. Circumstances were such that I found myself as CEO, and here I am still! It's been a really interesting journey,” she said.After Australia's recession in the early 1990s, the government invested in major labour market programs with the aim of substantially reducing the unemployment rate. As a result, the landscape of the Employment Services sector has changed dramatically over the last 20 years with various employment models rolled out, refined and reimagined.

"I was the inaugural Chair. Circumstances were such that I found myself as CEO, and here I am still! It's been a really interesting journey."

“I’ve seen the number of providers reduce dramatically. I’ve seen the positive impact as a result of the work our members do. I’ve seen various changes to the industry – some have worked well, some have needed improvement. I’ve seen a lot of red tape.

“At the end of the day, what I’ve also seen is that there’s a core group of people who’ve gone on the journey and have committed no matter what new program or policy or framework has been thrown at them. They’re very passionate about what they do, which I think is fantastic.


Q&A with Sally

What do you love most about your job?
I love how everything that members do changes people’s lives for the better. Providing opportunities for people to get into work and back into society is just the best feeling. Our members working in Employment Services do fantastic work and deserve great credit.

What is your passion outside of the office?
They’ve changed over the years. Now it’s much more about enjoying fine dining and wine, but more importantly my family. They’re number one. I’ve got three adult children and they’re all different and a source of great joy and delight. I’m an adventurous traveller – there’s something in me that’s always been interested in finding out about different cultures and trying to make a difference wherever I can – whether I’m doing that for work or not. I also really love music – most music in general – but I’ve got a particular interest in classical music.

If you could work anywhere for the day, where would it be and what would be the view out of your window?
I think it would be at the United Nations. I’d be the Secretary General and I’d be looking out over the lake in Geneva.

How do you continue to develop your own professional skills and knowledge?
I get a lot of development in an international context – I’m travelling a lot and presenting and participating in a lot of forums on global trends, the future of work, economic development, employment support, skills formation and so on. It’s a strong area of vocational interest and that’s what I get a lot from. In terms of personal development, well that’s a daily journey! I think it’s important to give yourself a bit of your own time and space wherever possible on a daily basis, and for me that’s a walk on the beach.

What was the best advice someone gave you and did you follow it?
I’ll share two pieces of advice: I had a personal tragedy over 10 years ago when my husband died. I had a girlfriend at the time who was a QC and I asked her what I was going to do. She said “Are you serious, Sally? You’re an expert in Employment Services.” And I thought, so I am! It was at that point where I actually thought of myself as having expertise even though I’d been doing it for 30 years. So it wasn’t so much advice as it was an “aha!” moment.

Additionally, I was just reflecting with my daughter on how I once received what I regard as very salient advice of “strategy should drive process, but sometimes it’s not a bad thing to let the process drive the strategy”. Things don’t always go in the sequence that you’d like them to, but if you keep mapping your way through and take a measured approach then you can ultimately get to the destination – maybe your journey is just different.


About NESA

NESA has been the peak body for Australia’s world-renowned contracted Employment Services sector since the sector’s creation in 1998. NESA represents the whole sector – profit and non - profit organisations – and works across all employment services programs. With the addition of personal development and consultancy services to members, NESA and its business model continue to expand and develop.

“We’ve been able to support our members throughout the last 20 years and stay true to our objective of opportunity for all through employment and inclusion, and have done so in a professional way.

Hopefully this makes people feel good about working with us as their representative organisation.

“We have our big events and forums that acknowledge and recognise the great work being done by our members, but we look at how we can expand what we offer rather than continuing what we might have done five years ago. “We’ve also got our work that we’ve been doing with building capacity. We’ve been doing some work with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank on developing employment services and support models in other countries.

“We also do extensive work in building capacity in remote communities in Australia that we’re very proud of.

“We’ve been able to support our members throughout the last 20 years and stay true to our objective of opportunity for all through employment and inclusion, and have done so in a professional way.”[

"We’ve looked to diversify the areas we’ve been involved with – but having said that – our core reason for being remains the same, which is representing our members and putting our investment into good quality policy and advocacy work.”


Future insights and industry tips

“We recently had a discussion paper out there which NESA responded to on behalf of our members, noting that digitisation is clearly the way forward as far as service delivery platforms go – not just for government but for industry as well.

“I think we can expect that there will be increased digital services. How the employment services market is then managed is something we’ll have to wait and see.

“It also depends on what the Government indicates from the report they’ve received, and what the current Opposition thinks is the right direction to move the country forward.

“The prospects that are coming are all very transformational. Employment Services is a great and exciting sector to be a part of.”


NESA (National Employment Services Association) are the peak body for Australia’s employment services sector and have operating since 1997.

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