Capacity building of employers is needed to grow disability employment
A model that uses expert support to build employers’ capacity is proving a necessary first step to increase workplace participation for people with disability.
Australia’s disability employment landscape is transforming. The National Disability Insurance Scheme continues to be rolled out across Australia, with the expectation of direct employment growth. Changes to government programs for people with disability are also underway.
In this context, SVA in partnership with the Australian Network on Disability (AND) are trialling a model to:
- change employer perceptions of the cost and risk of employing people with disability
- create sustainable changes across employers’ policies, processes and culture, and
- improve employment pathways for people with disability.
This article looks at the model and the early findings from the trial, and is based on the report: High Growth Jobs, Talented Candidates, Early learnings by AND and SVA.
The insights are useful for:
- employers wanting to access the talents of people with disability, and
- employment programs that seek to improve outcomes for job seekers with disability.
Known as the High Growth Jobs Talented Candidates (HGJTC) initiative, the trial is designed to increase employers’ capacity to employ people with disability and ensure a better job match. The model is unique as it focuses on both employer and job seeker needs.
The trial focuses on three high growth industries – healthcare and social assistance; knowledge; and food and accommodation services – to better prepare job seekers for jobs of the future. Participating employers are Accor Hotels, Australian Unity, Compass Group, Fujitsu, IAG, Infosys, Life Without Barriers and Uniting. Collectively, they employ 57,000 staff nationally.
The HGJTC initiative is part of the NSW Government’s Employment Enablement Strategy and is funded by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services. It builds on SVA’s experience with demand-led employment models.
Employment participation of people with disability
The labour force participation rate of people with disability has remained at around 53 percent for more than 20 years and it is estimated that there are 200,000 people with disability who want to enter the workforce.
Many of the federal and state government funded employment programs focus on the needs of job seekers. However, unless there is sufficient demand from employers for workers with disability, improvements in services and the job readiness of people with disability will yield only marginal improvements in employment outcomes.
On the business side, Australia’s GDP could be increased by $43 billion over the next decade if more Australians with disability were included in the national workforce. Australian businesses also need to diversify their workforce if they are to avoid labour shortages resulting from demands for a more highly skilled workforce and the ageing population. These labour shortages will be more of an obstacle in industries undergoing the most growth.
The HGJTC initiative addresses these combined needs.
The demand-led brokerage model
The HGJTC initiative uses a demand-led brokerage model that starts with the employer and works backwards to prepare and match job seekers to specific jobs. The model uses an expert third party, that is a broker (in this case AND), to work with employers through four stages.
- Engage potential employers by helping them understand the value of hiring people with disability.
- Equip employers with knowledge about potential barriers people with disability might face in gaining employment in the organisation and support employers to better accommodate their needs.
- Deliver work ready candidates for the roles identified by the employer and assist in implementing employee support plans for suitable candidates.
- Review the strategy on an on-going basis with employers to ensure they are able to successfully implement new recruitment and retainment strategies for people with disability.
Outcomes to date
As at December 2016, six of the eight employers had moved through to the ‘Deliver’ phase. They had greater awareness of the diversity, skill level and talent of people with disability, and improved systems and processes to recruit and retain people with disability. Forty-four roles had been identified across the eight employers, 56 job seekers had participated in pre-employment training, and 15 people with disability had commenced and remained in jobs.
This time last year, I cried every day, now I am just so happy!
In some cases employers employed people with disability at a higher application to offer ratio than the employer’s general application process of 29% vs 19%.
For the successful job seekers, the program’s impact speaks for itself through the feedback. One employee said: “I can’t thank you enough, everyone that has helped me get this job… This time last year, I cried every day, now I am just so happy! Everyone is so proud of me which feels great.”
1. Knowing what needs to change, and how
Changes to culture and practice within employers is a vital first step in achieving employment outcomes for people with disability. However, employers are often unaware of the degree of change needed and how to achieve it. Employers’ perceptions about employing people with disability need to be addressed, as well as their recruitment processes and policies.
As Susan Ryan, former Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, has said: “…the worst obstacle that people with disability face in getting employment is employer ignorance; not employer unwillingness, but employers seem simply not to [know how] to hire a person with disability, how to work out whether they’re a good match for the job. Once they’re hired, how to support them in the role, how to prepare the workplace, how to make sure the employees who will be working with a person with disability understand the situation.”[
Employers found that disability confidence training provided by AND is an effective way to educate staff. In particular, it allows staff to:
- Understand the breadth and diversity of disability in Australia
- Value the skills of the person, rather than focusing on the disability. One employer’s human resources officer described how the disability confidence training “closed gaps in areas I was not confident, such as ‘person first wording’.”
“The most memorable part of the training was where [the trainer] spoke about disabilities as ‘not being disabling at all until there is a… barrier in the way’ – such as stairs for a wheelchair user, etc. I knew we needed to make changes – but that really drove it home for me!”
- Understand the benefits that employing people with disability can bring, including access to a wider workforce, higher engagement of employees, and a workforce that reflects the diversity of the business’s client base.
“One of the benefits that comes from a more flexible workplace is our internal turnover or attrition actually slows down,” said one employer. “We also see higher engagement from our employees, which translates to better customer experience. The motivation for doing this is we see huge employee benefits and customer benefits. And we also see community benefits.”
However, even with a better appreciation of disability, employers are often unaware of the ways in which their systems and processes act as a barrier to the recruitment of people with disability. Key processes that AND is working with employers to address are:
- Screening of candidates: some recruitment practices automatically screen out candidates who have employment gaps in their resumes. For people with disability, such gaps are common but can generally be explained.
“Our normal recruitment processes would have screened out most of the candidates – mainly due to work history gaps. But this process has meant we’ve got some great talent for our business, people we would have ruled out,” said one food and accommodation services employer.
- Interview structure: interviews typically followed a formal structure that did not always focus on identifying whether the person had the requisite skills for the job. Allowing a candidate to have a support person with them in the interview, and ensuring that the interview was focused on identifying whether the candidate was the right person for the role, helped candidates overcome the difficulties they might otherwise face with traditional interview formats.
- Position descriptions: position descriptions were often found not to explicitly identify inherent requirements for the role, which may be contributing to unsuitable candidates being referred for roles.
- Workplace adjustment processes: there was a poor understanding amongst employers of obligations around workplace adjustment, a lack of policies in all but one employer, and minimal or no knowledge of the existence of government funding to support adjustments.
Despite our expertise in working with people with a disability as clients, we still had to go through the steps to ensure that we could employ them as staff…
Interestingly employers whose business focuses on delivering services to people with disability also needed to make changes to their culture, processes and policies.
One health and social assistance employer said that “Despite our expertise in working with people with a disability as clients, we still had to go through the steps to ensure that we could employ them as staff – we didn’t have the expertise and processes from the perspective of an employer of people with a disability. We still had to do the training and change the mindset of our organisation’s current employees.”
2. Employer changes require external expertise and considerable investment of time
The HGJTC initiative targets employers in high growth industries, but these employers are already undergoing rapid change to meet the growth in their business.
Despite a willingness to employ people with disability, employers acknowledged that because of the change already underway in their business, it was difficult to adjust their culture and business processes without assistance from an external expert – the broker.
“Without support from external organisations, this wouldn’t be effective in our company,” said one employer. “It takes effort for a company to pull together a program themselves. While we have employed people with disability in the past, there needs to be a program to ensure scale and sustainability. It’s hard for businesses to find resources to develop and deliver this themselves.”
… each step is being done with longevity and sustainability in mind. The time investment up front is worth it for that.
The trial highlights the importance of a broker with expertise in disability employment, as well as the capacity to deeply engage with the employer to understand their organisation, and create the necessary cultural and practical system changes.
For these changes to be fully integrated and thus sustainable, AND’s engagement across multiple business units is required which is (often) a lengthy process. But investing in this way is worth it to ensure changes last.
“An important part of it for us is seeing that each step is being done with longevity and sustainability in mind. The time investment up front is worth it for that,” according to one employer.
AND’s key activities include:
- Delivering training to build employers’ disability confidence.
- Identifying specific roles and sites with the employer, and engaging a Disability Employment Service (DES) provider or disability specialist organisation to source candidates.
- Investing time to gain a deep understanding of the job requirements and the employer’s culture.
- Co-designing a pre-employment training program to provide candidates with knowledge of the employer and role.
- Working with the employer through the interview and selection process to ensure the right person, with the right skills and attitude is found for each position.
3. Job seeker benefits go beyond winning and sustaining employment
While the benefits to job seekers of securing and remaining in jobs is clear, anecdotal evidence shows that the HGJTC model brings them other benefits. These include:
- Better match with the employer: the pre-interview training on-site (co-designed with the employer) gave potential candidates a chance to hear from the employer about the organisation and role. This helps them to assess whether the job is a good fit.
- Increased motivation due to line of sight to a tangible job opportunity: Through the training, candidates were motivated by hearing about the specific job, and that employers want to employ people with disability.
“The job seekers could see that there was an employer behind this… They could see that there were jobs available…,” said one employment service provider.
- Increased confidence and motivation from a positive recruitment experience: feedback indicates that even where candidates were not successful, they generally found the recruitment process to be a positive experience. As a result, they are more motivated and confident to apply for other jobs.
“I’ve got … letters from candidates saying ‘Thank you for believing in me,’” said one employment service provider. “The most gratifying part is seeing the smile on their face. Even if they did not get the job, they are happy for us to market them to other employers and are able to apply to other organisations. They are engaged, motivated…”
- Being comfortable with their disability in the workplace: The changes made to the employers’ culture means that people with disability feel at ease in the workplace.
“This role is great. I work in four hour shifts and I can manage my condition much better… When I’m at work, I don’t have to hide my disability. I can be myself,” said one successful candidate.
To date, the demand-led brokerage model and associated investment to deeply understand an employer’s business is paying off.
SVA will conduct a final evaluation of the HGJTC initiative between June and September 2017 with the aim of extending the model more broadly.
Organisations are encouraged to access some of the tools (that AND developed in the HGJTC initiative) in the Access and Inclusion Index. These tools assist organisations to understand, assess, benchmark and improve their capability in making their business accessible and inclusive to employees and customers with disability.
For more information, contact Este Darin-Cooper firstname.lastname@example.org
 Through Jobs for NSW, the NSW Government is focused on increasing the employment of people with disability; and the Australian Government-funded Disability Employment Services program is being reviewed to improve its performance in placing people with disability into employment.
 Includes professional, scientific and technical services
 SVA research
 ABS 4430.0.10.001 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2015, first results released April 2016
 Department of Social Services’ (DSS) New Disability Employment Services from 2018 Discussion Paper, pg 11
 Employers have perceived that employing people with a disability comes with additional cost and risk: DEEWR, Employer perspectives on recruiting people with disability and the role of Disability Employment Services, August 2011.
 Susan Ryan speaking on the preliminary findings of the Willing to Work Inquiry, ABC Radio, 25 August 2015
 When describing people with disability, using the word ‘person’ first (as in the phrase person with disability), rather than placing the disability before the person (as in the phrase ‘disabled person’).
 See also, The Business Case for Employing People with Disability, The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 2014