Will job quotas assist with employment for people with a disability?

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

In an age when we’re seeing rapid changes to the way we work, it’s not uncommon to see different plans put forward to transition people into the working future. We’ve seen it recently in relation to the proposed Universal Basic Income that has been commented upon and discussed at length in the media, as we transition into a future dominated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Other changes to the workforce are designed more to reflect the need to promote diversity and equal opportunity in employment. I read with interest recently, a proposal put forward to add further diversity targets, specifically in the Australian Public Service (APS), around employing people with a disability. It’s an area close to my heart, as helping people with a disability enter into employment is a core part of what we do at VERTO.

The article I read suggested putting a quota system in place to set targets on the APS hiring people with disability, similar to those put in place around gender and ethnicity.

Could a quota help drive employment?

Being able to work is something that we believe everyone in the community has a right to undertake; it makes a huge difference in the lives of many, being an active and contributing member of society. That’s no different for those with a disability and it’s something we should support and actively encourage.

When you look at it face value, there’s plenty of merit in something like this. There’s often an incorrect perception around disability in the workforce, particularly regarding productivity. That stigma has long been a barrier to entering the workforce for those with a disability.

What’s clear is that this perception is way off the mark. Employees with a disability are as productive as those without and can be incredibly valuable to an employer. Employers can easily remove many of the barriers to the workplace, especially those that are willing to invest in the right candidate that can bring real value to their businesses. We’ve seen some outstanding examples of this happening and it’s particularly pleasing to see the opportunities that now exist.

Applying quotas, especially in a market like the APS where a quota system is already in place, will certainly help increase opportunities for those with a disability. I personally think that it would be a good thing for the APS to lead the way in this area. No doubt many private organisations already have strong diversity programs in place, however, if something like this were to work effectively in the APS then it can help shine a positive light on what can be achieved.

Provide an equal chance

One thing I would point out here is that ‘disability’ is a very diverse term. A person’s disability may not necessarily be physical in nature or readily apparent when you first meet an individual. Any proposed program should be built in such a way that people with both physical and non-physical disabilities can all benefit from the opportunity to work.

We can always do more to provide the right opportunities

While quotas may be part of the solution, they certainly aren’t, on their own, a perfect solution. There are many programs that can help improve employment opportunities.

Providing the right training and skills to enter the workforce is crucial. This doesn’t just start with training, it needs to begin earlier than that. There’s certainly a case for looking at how we can add further support into the school system, so that those with a disability are given the right support early on in the education process.

While a quota system could work in the APS, there’s no doubt that it would be much more difficult to enforce in the private sector. In line with my earlier comments, there’s also an education piece to ensure that employers are encouraged to employ those with a disability, by highlighting the barriers that exist to employment. Most of these are easily removed and programs exist to help employers through that. But by making the conversation visible and encouraging employers to look at ways to provide more opportunities, the long-term outcomes for those with a disability would be much higher.

There are many outstanding organisations that are committed to helping those with a disability find employment. If we keep raising the issue and discussing it in the open, hopefully one day the need for a quota will no longer be necessary.