How we can better support young people with disability to build careers

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

Australia’s unemployment rate is bouncing back from the initial wave of COVID-19. However, it's not a level playing field for all job seekers. The unemployment rate for people with disability remains at around 10 per cent, approximately double that of the general rate. 

And it’s not unexpected. In times of economic uncertainty, it’s often job seekers who face additional employment barriers that get left behind. In addition, the recovery often isn’t as swift for these groups, so we may see the impacts for years to come. 

We’ve seen it first-hand at VERTO. In 2020, the number of people with disability placed into employment by our Disability Employment Services (DES) team dropped by more than 40 per cent year-on-year. These figures should be a cause for concern, and they make it clear that a conversation about better supporting young Australians with disability is long overdue.

Raising awareness is critical

While there is no denying COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges, access to employment for people with disability has been an issue for decades. It shouldn’t be the case today, as we know hiring person with disability can bring a host of business benefits, from reduced absenteeism to increased satisfaction across the workplace.

While it’s clear that social perceptions are beginning to change, discrimination remains a challenge, even amongst younger cohorts. Almost 1 in 5 people with disability aged 15-24 report discrimination, and in nearly half of these cases, the source is an employer. There are many reasons behind this – not least of all misconceptions.

VERTO works with job seekers and employers every day, and our team hears many commonly-held but entirely incorrect beliefs. One ubiquitous misconception is that hiring someone with a disability will involve costly modifications to offices, sites or equipment. The truth of the matter is that disability comes in many forms. For many job seekers with disability, modifications aren't required or are minimal, such as a specialised keyboard or more flexible hours.

In fact, when it comes to costs, it can be quite the opposite. Employers who hire a person with disability may be entitled to access financial incentives or subsidy programs to support them and their new hire. Driving awareness of the opportunities and benefits could help both job seekers and employers.   

Supporting successful transitions

Employer misconception is just one piece of the puzzle; people with disability can face a host of barriers. Among them is difficulty accessing skills training and education, and even when studies are completed, it takes an average of 61.5 per cent longer for graduates with disability to find employment.

Work experience is an important way to develop skills and improve the job readiness of people seeking employment. However, people with disability and young people, in particular, have difficulty accessing these opportunities. In addition, young people with disability often find it harder to secure part-time or casual employment throughout their studies, limiting opportunities to build general workplace skills.

All of this combines to have a negative impact on the transition from learning to work.

Career support must start early

However unjust it may be, the reality is that people with disability must overcome additional obstacles when it comes to employment. I believe targeted career advice should start as early as possible in high school. This way, we can help young people explore their options, set career goals, and build pathways towards achieving them, giving them the support they need at every step.

It’s also about tailoring job search and job site training for young people with disability. This will take a coordinated approach between schools, employment and training providers, and the government to fund and support work experience programs specifically for students with disability.

At the end of the day, finding long-term employment in a job that matches a person's interests and abilities will build their confidence, strengthen sense of self-worth, and contribute to financial independence. It's vital that we create more of these opportunities for the 18 per cent of Australians who have a disability.

Breaking down barriers

In the last financial year, VERTO’s Disability Employment Services engaged 1,721 young people with disability in training and supported 187 young people with disability to secure an apprenticeship.

We are focused on breaking down barriers through access to experienced, local consultants who are passionate about helping people with disability find the right role and employer.

Our consultants work with job seekers to provide personalised career support and advice, access to a range of training options to prepare for employment, post-placement support for employees and employers, and immediate and ongoing mentoring. VERTO also supports employers with education and access to workplace assessments, government incentives, and funding for workplace modifications or specialised equipment, if required.

Whether you are a job seeker with disability, or an employer looking to find new candidates and increase diversity in your workplace, get in touch with VERTO on 1300 4 VERTO (1300 483 786) to get started.