Federal government and NSW government disability programs
The Federal Government has recently completed its evaluation of the Disability Employment Services (DES) program and has made a number of observations and recommendations. In particular, it has recommended that several providers should lose their contracts due to poor performance. The review also commented that a number of providers “park” their most difficult jobseekers and deem them to be too difficult to place into open employment. It was also observed that a number of jobseekers only remained in employment until the employer government subsidy expired and then the jobseekers were let go.
The ‘parking’ and employers only taking on a jobseeker with disability until the subsidy runs out are not new phenomena as they have been occurring for many years in the DES program.
The Federal Government has recently completed its evaluation of the Disability Employment Services (DES) program and has made a number of observations and recommendations.
In particular, it has recommended that several providers should lose their contracts due to poor performance. The review also commented that a number of providers “park” their most difficult jobseekers and deem them to be too difficult to place into open employment. It was also observed that a number of jobseekers only remained in employment until the employer government subsidy expired and then the jobseekers were let go.
The statistics on employing a jobseeker with disability are well known and have been researched by various tertiary bodies in Australia and the positive outcomes of inclusive employment are used by DES providers to encourage employers to see the benefits of employing a jobseeker with disability.
In December 2018, Toozly staff attended a conference of senior NSW Public Service departmental heads, hosted by Emma Hogan, who was then the Public Service Commissioner. Ms Hogan announced that the government’s goal was to employ an additional 10,000 jobseekers with disability over the following 5 years to bring NSW Government up to 5% of its employees with a disability.
It was laudable that the government saw its role to be a leader, as the state’s largest employer, in employing people with disability into its workforce. The NSW Public Service should be a leader and a role model in inclusive employment, specifically for people with disability. This disability action through the NSW Public Service Commission should be viewed as a positive employment program as it can offer a wide range of positions suitable for people with disability.
We at Toozly have given considerable thought to how the NSW Public Service and the DES program can work together to achieve the goal of significantly increasing work opportunities for people with disability.
Trained Job Coaches instead of Employer subsidies
Offering a subsidy to an employer may sound like an attractive idea to entice them to take on a jobseeker with a disability. However, the original concept was that the employer would use the funds to release a mentor within the organisation to assist the jobseeker to accommodate the worksite. In my experience this doesn’t always occur or if it does it happens by serendipity. I suggest that more often than not, the subsidy adds to the employer’s bottom line.
We need trained job coaches who can go into a workplace and support both the employer and jobseeker to identify any risks, assist with any additional technology if that is required or to simply be a sounding board for both employer and employee. The Job Coach may need to work directly with the jobseeker to increase their on-the-job skills. In my experience, DES providers do the best that they can with the resources they have but often more is required.
In Toozly’s opinion, the Federal Government needs to develop accredited training programs for Job Coaches as this is a specialised position. The course could be developed through TAFE. The funds that have been used to subsidise employers should instead be redirected to train and employ Job Coaches. As in many educational programs where teacher aide support is given to assist a child with a disability to integrate into mainstream education, the role of the Job Coach would be to work themselves out of a job, having successfully integrated the jobseekers into the workforce. There would also need to be discussions around how Job Coaches would be allocated and employed. Evaluation of the efficacy of the program would need to be an ongoing consideration. In this way we have a genuine Supported Employment Program.
Develop a Lighthouse Project within one or two departments within the Public Service. Ensure that the project succeeds by carefully choosing job vacancies and appropriate support mechanisms in place and use the results to expand the project to other departments.
Toozly is proposing that the Public Service Commission should seriously consider establishing a Lighthouse Project to employ significantly more people with disability into its workforce. The project would start with just one or two departments who express a willingness to be part of the project and assistance would be required from an outside agency with expertise in employing people with disability (not necessarily a DES service) to help establish the project.
The project would require the support from the top down. Careful consideration should be given to the types of job vacancies and the level of support required. A trained Job Coach would be part of the support network.
There needs to be a structured program put into place where job vacancies, interview procedures, placement procedures and support needs to be carefully articulated. For example, if a jobseeker with disability applies for the job and fulfills the necessary criteria, that person should be given the job. Each department should be given a quota (a percentage of their workforce) of employing a certain number of people with disability.
During the course of the Lighthouse Project, procedures need to be developed and formalised for those departments who will derive the benefit of using a blueprint that was successful in advertising, interviewing and supporting jobseekers with disability.
Dr Jeffrey Baron Levi