In an exclusive interview with Prospert, Peter Bacon, CEO of Disability Employment Australia (DEA), shared his insights into the transformative events that have shaped the disability employment sector over the past year. From overhauling star ratings to the unfolding policy frameworks, this blog delves into key takeaways from Peter Bacon’s interview, providing a glimpse into the past and directions for the future. 

 Star Ratings Dilemma 

The year 2023 marked a turning point with the revelation that the Disability Employment Services (DES) star ratings were flawed, leading to a year without this longstanding performance metric. According to Peter Bacon, providers continue to grapple with the aftermath, with some facing contract losses. However, the removal of star ratings presents an opportunity to redefine the DES program, placing a renewed focus on what matters most to people with disability. 

Interim Performance Measures 

Rather than immediately introducing a new performance framework, the Australian Government opted for an interim solution. The DES Interim Performance Measures assess providers’ effectiveness in achieving long-term sustainable employment outcomes for participants. The Key Performance Measures focus on sustained employment at 13, 26 and 52 weeks. 

Quality Framework 

Peter highlights the shift towards a DES Quality Framework, prioritising the rights of participants in service delivery. This framework aims to enhance the quality and effectiveness of DES by focusing on the experiences of people with disability. The emphasis on balancing performance and quality management is a positive step welcomed by DEA. 

“If you can be a high-performing organisation where the quality is high, and your participants are telling us and telling the Department they have great experiences, that’s where we want to be,” says Peter. 

Disability Royal Commission 

The Disability Royal Commission highlights the need for action on disability employment. Peter emphasises its importance as a pivotal moment in Australian disability policy, calling for a rights-based approach. The Commission’s identification of systematic exclusion as a barrier to better outcomes reinforces the urgency for change. 

“The overall takeaway is that systematic exclusion is the reason why all sorts of outcomes and life chances for people with disability are lower. This is identified in the report, and if you name something, you can start to deal with it,” says Peter. 

Workforce Competency 

Addressing growing concerns about the sector, Peter acknowledges the challenges of high turnover and workforce competency. He calls for cross-sector collaboration and advocates for engagement with initiatives like Prospert’s employer engagement programs to elevate workforce competence in disability employment. 

“If we don’t as a sector grab hold of what workforce competence looks like and start executing on that, then the Government will,” says Peter. 

Disability Employment Centre of Excellence 

Peter strongly believes that Australia is leading the world with schemes like the NDIS and DES, despite their flaws. He supports the Australian Government’s proposal for a Disability Employment Centre of Excellence because it’s crucial for sector collaboration. However,  Peter emphasises the importance of the Centre focusing on collaboration and research rather than compliance responsibilities. 

“Australia can be a highly functioning disability ecosystem and an inclusive society,” says Peter. 

NDIS Review 

The NDIS Review holds significance for disability employment, with key recommendations emphasising foundational support available to all Australians with disability. DEA advocates for DES to be accessible to all as a foundational support, without arbitrary eligibility requirements. The review also highlights the need for improved linkages between NDIS, DES, and initiatives targeting better employment outcomes. 

Future Directions 

Peter Bacon’s insights provide a roadmap for navigating the evolving disability employment landscape. The commitment to a rights-based approach, workforce competency, and collaborative initiatives positions the sector for positive transformation in the years ahead. Prospert looks forward to continuing to engage with DES providers to help shape a brighter future for disability employment. Contact our team to discuss your needs today.