Employment services providers are grappling with uncertainty and ambiguity about the future of the Disability Employment Services (DES) program. With various options being discussed, it’s important to stay informed and keep an eye on any developments or policy changes that could potentially impact DES. Being proactive and preparing for different scenarios can help you navigate ambiguity and make informed decisions for the future.

What do we know so far?

The Australian Government is working on a potential new model for disability employment. The aim is to ensure that ‘people with disability are not left behind’ and employers can access an ‘untapped workforce’.

While the current DES program has been extended until 30 June 2025, the Government has already made immediate adjustments to boost its quality and outcomes for people with disabilities. With 52 DES providers no longer providing some services and eight providers having all their services discontinued due to poor performance, the stage is set for a fresh approach to disability employment services.

The new specialist disability employment services model will be informed by various concurrent bodies of work, including the Australian Disability Strategy, Employ My Ability – the Disability Employment Strategy, the Disability Royal Commission, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant employment strategy. A new Quality Framework will also be established to ensure that participants’ rights, quality of service, provider capability and governance, feedback and complaints, and formal assurance are prioritised.

How can providers navigate this environment?

In this uncertain environment, it’s important for employment services providers to actively engage with the disability community and advocates to ensure that their service delivery aligns with their needs and expectations. Listening to their feedback, incorporating their perspectives, and co-designing service delivery with people with lived experience can help build trust and ensure that the DES program remains relevant and effective.

It’s also crucial to understand the connection between the NDIS and DES, as employment outcomes are a major objective of the NDIS. DES is seen as having the potential to play a significant role in supporting NDIS participants to achieve their employment goals. Understanding this intersection can help employment services providers align their services with the goals of the NDIS and create better employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Providers must also focus on strengthening their reputations for delivering quality DES services. While news stories about harm to participants may dominate the media, there are countless success stories, outcomes, and case studies that demonstrate the positive impact of DES. Promoting these stories (even locally) can influence public opinion and policy decisions and help shape the future of DES.

In addition, scenario planning and feasibility studies can be valuable tools for employment services providers to prepare for potential changes in the DES program. By proactively considering different scenarios and assessing their feasibility, providers can be better equipped to adapt and respond to potential changes in the program.

Act today

Time starts now! By staying informed, being proactive, engaging with stakeholders, and showcasing the impact of your service, you can navigate the challenges and opportunities that may arise and ensure that your DES program remains relevant, effective, and aligned with the needs of the disability community.

Here are a few practical suggestions to consider:

1. Establish a disability employment advisory group, compromising disability advocates, university academics, jobseekers and employers and seek their input on your service delivery model design

2. Identify innovations to your current model which can be piloted, and if successful, scaled to work across your entire network

3. Using the experience of Workforce Australia contracting, scenario plan for various “what ifs” and then test your business model’s susceptibility to contract risk

4. Review your workforce’s diversity and inclusion practice and see if you are “walking the talk” regarding accessibility

5. Prepare your team for change – there’s nothing more constant!

Prospert worked with a provider who took these steps. They formed an advisory group who helped them identify service delivery “blind spots”, leading to a pilot across several sites. The pilot tested a new paradigm of servicing, whereby team members working with jobseekers and employers were brought closer together. This led to a significant uplift in jobseeker commencements and employment outcomes – not to mention expectations of all stakeholders being exceeded. The pilot is now being scaled up, with half an eye to the future.

Get in touch with our team at Prospert today to discuss how you can embrace ambiguity as an opportunity for growth and improvement and contribute to a more inclusive and supportive employment environment for people with disabilities in Australia.