Ventia didn’t just want to meet disability representation targets in their recruitment process. They wanted to exceed them. Here’s how their approach won them an AHRI Award.
Ventia, an essential infrastructure services provider based in Australia and New Zealand, was in a unique position to change the game when it came to disability representation.
In 2020, Ventia acquired Broadspectrum, formerly Transfield Services, and with the acquisition came a fresh take on diversity and inclusion.
“We went from a company of a few thousand to over 35,000 [including sub-contractors], and a lot of our community engagement and social and sustainability efforts were driven by that acquisition and the strong culture that existed within Broadspectrum,” says Daniel Osgood, Social Inclusion Manager, Whole of Government Facilities Management at Ventia.
The company always had targets around employing people from underrepresented groups, such as Indigenous staff, women and those living with disability, but they wanted to do more than reach targets – they wanted to exceed them.
As part of the many services Ventia provides, including social infrastructure, water, electricity and gas services, it also has large cleaning contracts where it employs thousands of cleaners each year. Ventia saw this as an opportunity to pilot a program to increase its recruitment targets for people living with disability – be they physical, mental, intellectual, visible or invisible.
Everyone is welcome
Ventia’s NSW Schools contract, which it has held for 17 years, requires the maintenance of around 1000 different schools and government buildings in the state.
“In 2019, the government brought in key performance indicators around social inclusion, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people living with a disability,” says Osgood.
Organisations were tasked with choosing their own targets, but because both of the program directors at the time had lived experience with disability, they set themselves high targets.
“It was almost double of what our competitors decided to choose,” he says. “Before I started in mid-2020, there were around 27 people who shared that they had a disability and now there are around 178 people. So within the first 12 months, we had a 500 per cent increase in disability representation.”
Osgood says the broad aim was to be representative of the entire Australian community whenever they were resourcing a government contract.
“If 17 per cent of the population has a disability, then that’s the percentage of people with a disability on each contract,” he says. “There are some tasks that people with disabilities are actually better at.”
“Also, 90 per cent of those [disabilities] are hidden, so that could be anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges. So by offering decent employment, we’re directly impacting our communities,” says Osgood. “I have ADHD myself, so I think really differently to everyone else.”
“Organisations that support social issues, such as workplace diversity as ‘doing the right thing’ are statistically more likely to be successful in promoting desired behaviours and attitudes within the workplace,” says Osgood.
Not only does this make sense in terms of providing employment opportunities for those who may have previously been screened out of the recruitment process, it also made business sense for Ventia.
“As these are cleaning contracts that we’re filling, there’s a lot of part-time work and shift work, so you’re always looking for new employees. So we needed to take as wide a lens as possible and not discount anyone.”
And it wasn’t a set-and-forget process, he adds. It was about building careers and offering progression opportunities for those who wanted them.
“The idea was that, like anyone, if they wanted to move into different roles at any point in time, we’d support them to do that,” he says. “It wasn’t ever about just sticking someone in a cleaning role. It was about getting them into the workforce and then supporting them to move around from there.”
“We also pay market competitive wages,” says Osgood. “We think if you have the skill set to do the job, we’ll teach you and give you someone to support that.”
Since winning this award, the rest of Ventia has seen the success of the pilot program.
“There are multiple contracts across our organisation and it’s considered part of our regular recruitment strategy. And not just recruitment, but procurement. We’ve engaged ASA, which is Australia Spatial Analytics, to do data analysis. And they have a lot of neurodiverse employees.
“And largely due to the start we’ve given them, they’ve been able to grow their employee base and we’ve even given them some space [to work from] in our office in Melbourne.”
Register to attend the 2024 AHRI Awards celebration in Sydney to celebrate HR professionals and leaders who are doing their part to make a different. AHRI members have access to a discounted ticket.
Set up for success
Ventia partnered with JobAcess, a government-funded organisation that supports businesses to make work environments disability friendly, to set their business up for success.
“To take [the pilot] across the entire business across Australia and New Zealand, we need to get all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted,” says Osgood. “I think you’re setting people up to fail if you’re not supporting them.
“If someone hadn’t had a job for ten years because of a disability, that might have counted against them in a normal recruitment process, but it didn’t when it came to this.” – Daniel Osgood, Social Inclusion Manager, Whole of Government Facilities Management, Ventia
“We had a woman named Claudia come in [from JobAccess] who was vision impaired, so we got to hear about things through her unique lens. She made recommendations about things like our company website, which was too hard for her to read. So we made it easier for an e-reader to scan the website and add alternative text to images, so they can read what they say.”
Read HRM’s article on 5 ways to make your recruitment processes more accessible.
JobAccess also helped Ventia think differently about how they approached recruitment.
“There were processes or steps in the recruitment process that were adapted as required, while still maintaining the qualities of the candidate and that they met the need that we had,” says Osgood.
“If someone hadn’t had a job for ten years because of a disability, that might have counted against them in a normal recruitment process, but it didn’t when it came to this.”
JobAccess also helped Ventia think about where they were sourcing talent from.
“When we used to advertise jobs, it would go on the company website and Seek,” says Osgood. “They made a suggestion that we might not be in the right places for people with disability to find us, so we signed up with Dylan Alcott’s ‘The Field’, which is Seek for people with disability.
“You upload things like the accessibility of your building, so people can see if it aligns with their needs and choose if they want to apply.”
Even if your workspace is currently set up in an accessible way, JobAccess will help you.
“If you told an employer they needed to pay an extra $30,000 to put in a wheelchair ramp, they might say, “I’ll just go and employ someone else [who’s not in a wheelchair]”, which is why the [JobAccess] pays for it.”
JobAccess gives you the tools you need, says Osgood, but they don’t “spoon feed you”.
“Because you have to learn these things otherwise it becomes a tick-box exercise. You’ve got to educate your own people. So [JobAccess] might say, ‘Here’s the framework, now go and implement your own training.'”
Going above and beyond for disability representation
Often the accommodations people need in order to do their jobs more effectively can be fairly simple, says Osgood.
“We had one candidate who was colour blind. Originally, we had red cloths for cleaning the bathrooms and green cloths for cleaning the kitchen. The two colours people who are colour-blind have a problem with. So we just put tags on all the cloths – problem solved.”
Osgood refers to an employee who is on the autism spectrum. When he was working at a school and the bell would ring and kids would run around, that was often too overstimulating for him.
“We designed a schedule for him to know that two minutes before the bell went, he’d go into the storeroom and close the door and he’d just sit there for five minutes while the kids scattered back into their classrooms,” says Osgood.
“Everyone’s needs are different. It’s just about putting care and consideration into people’s needs.
“At Ventia, we talk about ‘redefining service excellence’. And to me, having unique skills, unique views and unique lenses, helps us solve problems and deliver a unique service. It’s how we go above and beyond.”