Demand-led disability employment program proves it’s on the right track

As SVA and the Australian Network on Disability prepare to release their ‘Early learnings’ report on the High Growth Jobs Talented Candidates initiative, we look at how the demand-led approach is reshaping the disability employment landscape for businesses and employees alike.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2015, the labour force participation rate of people with disability has remained at around 53 per cent for more than 20 years.

In a bid to increase the focus on employment of job seekers with disability, the High Growth Jobs Talented Candidates (HGJTC) project – deployed as part of the NSW Government Employment Enablement Strategy – aims to build the capacity of businesses to recruit them.

Unlike other disability employment programs, the demand-led model starts with the employer and works backwards by identifying roles in high growth areas, then selecting and training potential employees for those actual jobs. To ensure an effective match, the program equally considers both the needs of employers and employees.

Since its inception in July 2015, HGJTC has been working with eight high-profile businesses that currently employ around 57,000 staff nationally. A key element of the program is the time invested upfront to build the organisation’s disability confidence and understand the roles that exist within that organisation, while also developing the skills and knowledge of candidates prior to interview.

Progress to date indicates the approach is paying off.

Feedback from employers, employees and disability service providers has been resoundingly positive, and this was reflected at a recent roundtable event with the Hon John Ajaka MLC, Minister for Disability Services, where first-hand accounts clearly demonstrated the project’s impact.

It’s been really exciting for me because I never thought I’d get a position like this. The people are so welcoming and helpful. It’s the best job I’ve ever had,’ said one newly appointed Compass Group employee.

The general consensus at this gathering was that candidates are highly motivated by the promise of a real job. ‘You can feel the change,’ said a spokesperson from a disability employment service provider. ‘Candidates are a lot more enthusiastic about applying for other jobs if they don’t succeed the first time.’

Benefits highlighted by employers, meanwhile, included the opportunity to increase their awareness of the diversity and skill level of people with disability and improve their systems and processes to better meet their needs. ‘We’ve started to think about what we’ve learnt in relation to people with disability in our customer facing roles,’ a company representative commented.

Businesses also acknowledged that it takes time and expertise to initiate change and ensure scale and sustainability. As one employer said, ‘Without the support from external organisations this wouldn’t be effective in our company.

At the time of writing, more than 100 HR and site managers across five businesses have received disability confidence training and 56 job seekers with disability have undertaken pre-employment training. With 12 candidates already successfully working, the program expects to have supported a further eight into employment by the end of 2016. What’s particularly noteworthy is that, in some cases, employers have reported hiring people with disability at a higher application to hire rate than their general application process.

An initiative of NSW Department of Family and Community Services, SVA is partnering with the Australian Network on Disability (AND) to deliver the HGJTC initiative. AND is working with employers within the high growth industries, and with disability employment and training providers to prepare and deliver candidates. SVA is supporting AND, and provided the growth industry research and is also undertaking the evaluation.

An ‘Early learnings’ paper is due to be published shortly and a full evaluation of the program will be conducted by SVA between June and September 2017.