By Ron Maxwell - CEO
As someone who has worked in the employment sector for a long time, I've seen many positive changes when it comes to employment for Australians with disability, but there is still a long road ahead. One of the biggest positive changes I've witnessed is an increased awareness when it comes to disability and what it actually means.
Around 1 in 5 Australians have a disability and, as a nation, we are really starting to acknowledge that it shouldn’t be a barrier to participation in and contribution to all aspects of society. I don’t have to think back that far to remember a time when many employers thought disability employment was about hiring someone with a physical disability. And this, of course, ruled out many jobs that involved manual work. Today, we are seeing more and more employers recognise the diversity of disability and realising that there is a diverse pool of potential employees amongst this sector of our society.
It may sound utopian, but I believe we can reach a place where employment rates for people with disability are the same as for those without.
Targets aren’t a stand-alone solution
Often, when we talk about a solution, targets are a big part of the conversation. While they can play a role, I also have concerns that a strong emphasis on employment targets can act as a roadblock when it comes to the change we need to see.
When recruiting, every employer has the same goal: To find the best person for the job. So, for me, the solution lies in helping employers see that the best person for the job just may be a person with disability.
Education is critical
Although we are seeing positive improvements, there are still many barriers when it comes to finding employment for people with disability. Misconceptions still abound in some industries and it's critical that we find a way to break this down.
Education is a big piece of the puzzle, and we need to get the positive statistics out front and centre. I've talked before about the many benefits hiring someone with a disability can bring to a business, from connecting well with your customers, to increasing productivity and boosting overall team morale.
Often, when we talk about disability employment, employers jump to conclusions about what will be required. The most common, and often incorrect, assumption I've experienced, is that the employer will need to make expensive modifications.
In many cases, there are little or no accessibility modifications required. It might be about a new piece of software or a small piece of hardware, or often none at all. Employers can access additional support and subsidies too for any modifications that are required.
It's an attitude shift
The biggest change required is often an attitudinal shift to the view that someone with disability can perform just as well as anyone else in the team – and can add a lot to the diversity and culture of the organisation.
Disability Employment Services providers, like VERTO, are making inroads. Our team invest a lot of time in talking to employers about the many benefits and opportunities of hiring someone with disability. We also run programs in schools that are about addressing some of the issues early on, so that future generations will be more informed when it comes to disability and employment.
The best person for the job
I mentioned earlier about how the best person for the job may be someone with disability – and that's critical. For disability employment initiatives to be successful, they need to be about matching the right person with the right job.
Placing someone in employment to meet a quota or tick a box isn’t a sustainable solution, it needs to be about the right long-term match, or we would be doing both the employer and the individual a disservice.
At VERTO, we are seeing more and more people with disability finding ongoing employment, and reaching the all-important 12-month mark, which indicates the match has been successful – and that's what we all need to keep aiming for.
We need to keep the conversation going
Although the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has had its fair share of critics, one thing it has achieved is to bring the conversation out in the open. In my opinion, we are seeing more media coverage of the issues around disability and this is a conversation we need to progress. Thanks to the NDIS, there is now recognition more broadly that disability can impact any of us at any time of our lives and a better understanding that disability also incorporates injury and illness.
When we talk about the future of employment, the conversation must be more inclusive, to talk about all Australians. Leaving 18 per cent of the population out of the discussion just doesn’t make sense on any level.