As the school year ends, thousands of young, bright eyed Western Australians are packing up and looking forward, excited at the prospect of a career, their first job, and a fulfilling life ahead.
But for people with disability, the path can be extra steep and many may not make it unless we all start to look differently at how we carve out jobs for people who are perceived as being “different”.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Australian workplaces are at a crossroads and tomorrow – the International Day of People with Disability – it’s time for all of us to make a choice.
We can choose to make history – to innovate, explore and do things differently toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable world – or we can choose to batten down the hatches and deal with the uncertainty of a post-COVID normal in the same narrow way we have done things in the past.
And we know that doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result rarely ends well.
Disability employment rates
Australia’s Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability conducted its 19th public hearing last week (Nov 22-26), taking a deep dive into the systemic barriers people with disability encounter when looking for a job. It highlighted the consistently low level of labour force participation – at only 53.4 per cent for people with disability, compared with 84.1 per cent for the rest of the workforce.
Concerningly, that number hasn’t changed in some time and evidence to the Royal Commission suggested there is very little our biggest employers are doing about it – while some were tinkering with their systems, others were leaving it “up to luck”.
On the International Day of People with Disability in 2019, WA’s biggest employer, the State Government, set out to lead by example announcing an “aspirational” disability employment target for the public sector of 5 per cent by 2025.
While the goal of 5 per cent is ambitious and shows a very real willingness by the State Government to give people with disability a go, the dial hasn’t shifted. In 2020 the target was hovering at around 1.5 percent.
Unfortunately the target is likely to remain aspirational unless we follow the lead of organisations, like St John of God Mt Lawley Hospital, Woodside and the Department of Defence, who stand out as exemplars providing opportunities for people with disability in workplace training and careers.
There is nothing more demotivating for the hundreds of WA job seekers with disability than struggling to get work while watching news reports of a labour shortage, knowing you are ready, willing and able to do the job.
We need the whole community to champion the jobs-for-all cause – not just by advertising vacancies, but by being creative in how we carve out the right roles, screen candidates, interview, onboard, induct and train – let’s put it out there and say we actually want to positively discriminate.
We all need to ask how can we make the job hunting process easier – sometimes the barriers to winning a job are bigger than the challenge of doing the job. Do we always need written selection criteria, can interviews be automatic for people who meet minimum requirements, are traineeships available at reduced cost because it takes a little longer to get up to speed, can candidates present on video, are selectors disability-aware when running the recruitment process?
Employers see a risk but overwhelming evidence shows otherwise. For employers who look past the misperceptions, to give workers with disability a chance, the decision offers big rewards. Sure there are financial incentives but the real gold is in the benefits people with disability stimulate in the organisations they join in the form of care, respect, open-mindedness, innovation, teamwork and a big boost in morale ... not to mention how more positive experience in the market helps change the system and level the playing field for everyone.
Right now, we are reshaping our world which means we have an amazing opportunity to do things differently – an opportunity to challenge convention, to change the way we have done things previously and to look at how our systems, processes and attitudes are standing in the way of people who genuinely want to work at a time when we need them most.
And that’s not to mention the cost of denying our community a valuable economic and social resource that is virtually untapped.
We can all be part of that change.
Let’s start by being accountable to one another, by going out of our way to take the initiative and celebrate success.
And let’s aim high. Whether we are government, employers, job seekers, service providers, just starting out or preparing to retire – when we have high expectations of each other we are all more likely to reach for the stars.
To find out how you can support employment for people with disability, reach out to us on 1800 610 665 or visit Workpower.