This International Day of People with Disability, we’re calling on employers to see the enormous amount of diversity and potential that employees with disabilities bring to the workplace. 

Around 4.4 million, or one in five, Australians live with a disability. Yet, workforce participation rates haven’t changed in decades with only 53.8 per cent of people with disabilities in employment, compared with 84.1 per cent of people without. 

The Disability Royal Commission is shining the light on the barriers to employment for people with disabilities. Former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, who is blind, told the Royal Commission that there’d been no improvement in employment for people with disabilities during the past 30 years. 

“We’ve been employed at a rate of approximately 30 per cent less than the general population,” said Dr Innes. 

He called on governments and business to set targets for the employment of people with a disability. 

“If we don’t develop [targets] and then develop strategies to deliver on those targets, the situation over the last 30 years will continue where there will be a lot of talk but not much real action,” he said. 

Difficulty finding work 

Despite advancements in workplace diversity and inclusion strategies, people with disabilities still face significant barriers to engaging with employment.  

Research shows that working-age people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as those without disabilities (10.3 per cent versus 4.6 per cent). These issues are exacerbated for young people with disabilities, with 25 per cent of youth with disabilities aged 15-24 unemployed compared to 7.9 per cent for people with disabilities aged 25-64. 

Around 93 per cent of unemployed people aged 15-64 with disabilities have trouble finding employment, compared to 83 per cent of people without disabilities. Why? While health or disability is the most common barrier to employment, additional issues include: 

  • lacked necessary skills or education (34 per cent or 35,200) 
  • considered too old by employers (27 per cent or 28,700) 
  • too many applicants for available jobs (27 per cent or 28,300) 
  • insufficient work experience (25 per cent or 25,900). 

Person with disability using computerDisability Employment Services 

The Australian Government has recently released a consultation paper to inform the development of the new disability employment support program. The paper acknowledges the need to ensure that the right structures and supports are in place to enable people with disabilities to maximise their potential for a ‘career, not just a job’. 

The Government’s Disability Employment Services (DES) program supports people with disabilities into employment. There are more than 100 DES providers across Australia supporting 310,000 people to prepare for, find and maintain a job. While there have been some improvements to DES over the years, a review found that many people with disability felt they were placed into jobs that didn’t match their skills and had limited career potential. 

Recently released performance ratings for DES providers highlight challenges facing people with disabilities, particularly in states such as Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia. Paradoxically, these states have not been affected by widespread COVID lockdowns.  Providers in these states are really struggling to meet demand for jobs. 

With public consultation underway, the new disability employment model will commence in 2023. At Prospert, we’re keen to see new and innovative ways to engage people with disabilities, especially young people, in employment and education. Employment services providers have a great opportunity to inform this process and to showcase what works so that the entire sector can contribute to a more inclusive, accessible and diverse employment market for people with disabilities. 

 Our top seven recommendations 

As a specialist provider of training, mentoring, consulting, tendering and strategy to employment services providers, Prospert strongly believes that employing people with disabilities is good for business. Working collaboratively, we can shift the dial on unemployment figures for people with disabilities by focusing on these seven aspects: 

  1. Take a look at your own employee base and ask yourself how many of your staff identify as a Person with Disability.  If the number is less than 15%, set a target to close this gap and start with reviewing your hiring policies and practices, as well as how your hiring managers onboard and develop their staff who identify.   One of our clients has in excess of 30%.
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that new ways of working can provide increased flexibility to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Barriers such as accessible buildings and transport can be overcome with remote working and technology. Employment services providers can play an important role in educating business about flexible ways of working. 
  3. Work experience, work trials and volunteering can help address a lack of skills and experience required to find employment. We know that many jobseekers are successful in obtaining a job when they can present a work history and/or have already engaged in a work capacity with the employer.  
  4. Participants must have choice. While the New Employment Services Model (which replaces Jobactive from July 2022) will implement a digital platform, job seekers with disabilities require more flexibility in service delivery including a mix of individual face-to-face, digital, group and place-based services offered at a time and location that best meets their needs. 
  5. A strengths-based approach will offer participants a more positive and engaging experience. This would see the assessment focus on what the jobseeker can do and where they wish to work, rather than the restrictions of their disability. A collaborative partnership will ensure participants feel valued and respected and have control of decision-making. 
  6. A more holistic approach will better support people with disabilities. Similar to the Transition to Work program, the full spectrum of individual and structural barriers needs to be identified and addressed. These barriers may include housing, discrimination, mental health, racism, gender inequality, family violence, poverty and trauma. 
  7. Early intervention and focus on the transition from school to work will achieve better outcomes for young people with disabilities. Partnerships with schools, training providers and social services can provide wrap around supports, putting young people with disabilities, on a path to success and preventing further problems as they approach and enter adulthood.  

In our experience, there is a tremendous amount of diversity that is overlooked in the employment market including people with disabilities who can bring different life experiences, talents and innovation to the workplace. With current skills shortages impacting Australia, there is an opportunity to access the untapped potential of people with disabilities to create pathways to real and meaningful careers. 

We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the Government’s consultation process and our team of talented consultants are ready to support DES tender submissions in 2022. 

References 

  • ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. Labour statistics: concepts, sources and methods. 
  • AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Australia’s welfare 2017.  
  • DSS (Department of Social Services) 2021. Inclusive. Accessible. Diverse. Shaping your new disability employment support program. 
  • DSS (Department of Social Services) 2021. Disability Employment Services – September 2021 Star Ratings.