Leading WA charities say the inclusion of people living with disability into open employment is an area that requires more attention.
A joint report released by the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Network on Disability (AND), showed that people living with disability (PLWD) represented one of Australia’s most underrepresented talent pools.
Improving employment outcomes for people with disability, published in August this year, showed that Australia has one of the lowest employment rates for people with disability in the OECD, sitting at 21 out of 29 countries.
“The inclusion of people living with disability into open employment is still an area that requires more attention and companies to be open to the endless opportunities employing a person living with disability can provide.”
Deloitte Access Economic modelling for AND showed that if the gap between participation and unemployment rates for people living with disability was reduced by one-third, the cumulative impact on GDP would be $43 billion.
“People living with disability want to work and they deserve equal access to employment opportunities,” Mr Heath said.
“They have a range of skills, they want to contribute, they take pride in what they do and produce quality work, bring fresh outlooks, and really love being engaged in their community.”
Activ employs more than 200 people living with disabilities and offers training and internships to help people find employment in the workforce suited to their interests and capabilities.
“Our supported employees are some of the most creative, honest, productive, and loyal people in our organisation,” Mr Heath said.
The program is one of the avenues Activ Foundation helps people living with disability access employment opportunities.
“We work hard to pair our customers living with disability with an employer that has a role and culture that suits both parties’ interests and capabilities,” Mr Heath said.
“We have had great success in this space and are working closely with the government and businesses to change what we believe have been perceived barriers to open employment.”
The barriers to open employment for PLWD often come from employers who may feel they are unable to support someone with a disability in their workplace, or there simply being a lack of wider understanding about the benefits of employing a person living with disability.
“These perceived barriers are often broken down when businesses work with organisations like Activ to access education and lived experience. They quickly realise that they have everything they need in place to welcome people living with disability into their workforce,” he said.
“It may just be a matter of offering their current staff access to D&I training so everyone feels educated, engaged, and empowered to do things differently.”
More disability inclusion needed
The organisation is an iconic social enterprise in Western Australia that employs almost 400 people with disability, representing more than half of its diverse workforce.
“While the unemployment rate is 3.4 per cent in Western Australia, that rate is 10 per cent for a person with disability, and 20 per cent for a person with intellectual disability,” Mr Blackman said.
“As a father of a child with intellectual disability and as CEO of one of the state’s largest disability workforces, it is critical that we all strive to improve the economic participation of this critical cohort of people in our community”.
Over the past 12 months, Good Sammy has increased employment and training of the number of people with disability by 32 per cent. "As an all abilities employer, we are seeing strong demand from people who want to work not only with Good Sammy, but with the many employment partners we have,” Mr Blackman explained.
Good Sammy creates employment pathways within and outside of the organisation. "In the past 12 months, we have facilitated dozens of open employment opportunities for talented people with disability into other workplaces. This creates an opportunity both for the individual and the employer in a tight labour market," he said.
“I call on WA businesses to ensure they know the proportion of people with disability in their workplace, and if it does not represent 1 in 5 as the proportion exists in the community, to ask themselves why and how do we improve diversity and inclusion, and to set out to ensure people with disability are well represented in leadership roles within board rooms and management teams."
Research shows companies that champion disability inclusion often have increased innovation, productivity, and, where applicable, shareholder value.
“When companies embrace disability inclusion, they open up a whole new talent pool,” Mr Heath said.
“Given the scarce worker market we are faced with, this represents a significant opportunity to not only strengthen business and the economy but provide meaningful employment and connection for someone who may not have had that door open for them in the past.”
Whether it be widening the onboarding process, recruiting, training, and accessibility in a workplace, partnerships between organisations like Activ and the commercial sector enable inclusive work environments and access to an under-utilised workforce.
“We all need to join forces with government, other not-for-profits, advocates, and people living with disability to educate, engage and empower both business and the community to ensure we have even more success stories to share,” he said.
“To provide people living with disability with the best opportunity to thrive in employment, we, as a society, businesses, big or small, need to understand and be ready and educated to embrace the benefits of employing a person living with disability.”
Mr Heath said the Western Australian State Government has been supportive of the creation of pathways for people living with disability to engage in meaningful employment.
“They have been big internal advocates of avenues such as work placements and traineeships and continue to work with the charitable sector to better understand and advocate for the needs of people living with disability,” Mr Health said.
“If we make companies aware of the potential gains, share success stories, and demonstrate how to build these programs, we can quickly get more people living with disability into the workforce.”