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Helen MacPherson Smith Trust - Case Study

A novel education and employment pilot specifically targets financially vulnerable women via a peer supported model.

Women from diverse backgrounds are often excluded from the workforce due to caring responsibilities, time out of the workforce and being unable to find suitable work for their existing skills. A pilot program supported by a new social enterprise is working with women to help them gain vocational qualifications leading to meaningful employment, links them to financial literacy training, and creates a community network of peers.

WomenCAN Australia is a new social enterprise dedicated to assisting women and girls gain financial independence and autonomy through education, employment and the encouragement that comes from a shared lived experience. It does this through the work of its charitable arm, The Placement Circle which is supported from the income generated by WomenCAN.

Increasing women’s participation in the workforce leads to better living standards for individuals and families, improves the bottom line of businesses and is a significant driver of national economic growth. At an individual level, enhancing women’s participation in the workforce not only results in greater financial security for women and their families, it provides additional social, health and wellbeing benefits. Research shows that economic independence can empower and assist women in deciding to leave violent relationships. It can bring financial security, confidence and ultimately, safety.

The ladies in the program and the peer support have helped me to become an empowered woman, to become independent... to find Elizabeth again." Elizabeth, a participant in the Dandenong pilot.

IMAGE Women from the Dandenong pilot of The Placement Circle in training.


  • HMSTrust is funding the roll-out of the Placement Circle pilot in Dandenong, one of four place-based trials of the new employment program specifically targeting financially vulnerable women via a peer supported model of education and employment. The other three sites are Western Melbourne, Shepparton and Bendigo.

  • Each pilot will recruit 15 women who will undertake a Certificate III in Individual Support (Aged Care) at Chisholm TAFE, which will also provide a dedicated space for the cohort to regularly meet for peer support.

  • Regis Aged Care will provide clinical placements at three of its sites. The women will be encouraged to actively participate in the Regis Connect talent program, with the anticipation that 50-70% of the cohort will be subsequently offered employment.

  • The program and results are being tracked by Victoria University to establish a model that can be rolled out in other areas, and to grow and include other areas of high skill demand.

  • WomenCAN Australia operates a facilities maintenance business that offers an all women qualified trades team to undertake work on facilities where vulnerable women are accommodated. It already holds contracts with two of the biggest women’s crisis accommodation providers, McAuley Community Services for Women, and Haven Home Safe, which have 2,500 premises between them.

  • Profit from the social enterprise goes to support The Placement Circle, which is anticipated to be sustainable within three to five years, following initial funding support from grants and donations.


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