Disability recruitment challenging for employers


Over the past few months I’ve been active in the disability employment area, thanks to the publication of our August research paper, Recruiting People with a Disability: An Employer Perspective.

While I applaud the work being done by the Government in its attempts to boost the employment of people with disabilities in Australia, I’ve also been somewhat outspoken in saying we aren’t doing anywhere near enough, especially in the area of informing and engaging employers.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one saying that. A PwC partner, Chris Bennett, makes the same point in an excellent study published last month, Disability Expectations: Investing in a Better Life, a Stronger Australia. As a co-author of that report, Chris has no compunction in asserting that Australia is “at the bottom of the heap” in providing quality of life for people with a disability, ranked as we are 27th out of 27 OECD countries on that score. And he’s also keen to remind us that “Australia ranks 21 out of 29 OECD countries in the provision of employment opportunities for those with a disability”.

So whatever we’re doing in this country, there’s good reason to believe it’s not working. We began taking an interest in disability employment around the time of the Costello Welfare-to-Work budget in 2004 when the numbers of Australians on disability support pensions were around 750,000.  Despite the expressed enthusiasm of a great many of that cohort of Australians to join the workforce, and large amounts of money being spent to match the political rhetoric, the numbers now stand at around 800,000.

I met with Chris Bennett before Christmas and offered to assist in his initiatives at PwC to influence the mindsets of business leaders. As Chris put it, there’s plenty of talk and the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme will be a great breakthrough, but there’s little real action where it matters.

In September I gave a presentation to the Employment Participation Minister’s Reference Group on Disability Employment Services. As a member of that reference group, I’m one of only two employer representatives, and often find myself reminding the group that there’s little point in a first-rate supply line of job-ready job seekers if the demand-side, employers, is not disposed to employ them. And our research indicates clearly that, by and large, employers are not so disposed and therefore being qualified and job-ready is not good enough for a person with a disability to actually cut through prejudice to get a job.

In commenting on our study, Laura Tingle from the Australian Financial Review noted the finding that 85% of our research respondents whose organisations have not employed a person with a disability believe that “disabled employees were likely to be high risk and expensive”. Like most sweeping prejudices, that view is at best a half-truth but it’s persistent.

Our study also came to the notice of the Victorian Parliamentary Committee on Workforce Participation of People with Mental Illness, who invited us to make a submission and to speak to the Committee.  I used part of our data in the general disability employment study to make a formal presentation on mental illness to six members of that two-party Committee during November.

Like me, the members of the Committee are perplexed at the persistence of negative workplace attitudes to people with a disability and were interested to hear what our research says about the continual failure to engage employers. In short, our data reveals that employers repeatedly say they’re ill-informed on the issue and those that attempt to take some action are often exasperated and disappointed when they try to make use of the placement services available only to find their desire to appropriately match a job-seeker to a job vacancy is not taken seriously. The wrong person in the wrong job at the wrong place is as negative an outcome for an employer as it is for the person employed, whether the person has  a disability or not.  As one of our research respondents said, people with a disability are not looking for special favours; they just want to be treated with equity and fairness.

I would be very interested to hear about the experiences of others in this troubled area to see what can be done about making a real impact.

Serge Sardo, CEO, Australian Human Resources Institute

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Georgina Liew
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Georgina Liew

Great post Serge. Working for a disability employment services provider in marketing for seven years, I would agree wholeheartedly that many employers are either ill-informed or unwilling to hire people with a disability. Two things I think could help. Firstly, Government needs to support joint communications strategies to reach employers – for most providers it is simply beyond their financial means to launch campaigns with enough reach – and then be open with providers about when these campaigns will occur. Providers could then piggy-back these campaigns to maximise their own employer marketing efforts appropriately. Secondly, employment providers need to seriously… Read more »

Lynette May, CEO, Disability Employment Australia
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Lynette May, CEO, Disability Employment Australia

This is such an important issue – and it begins to get to the heart of why Australia rates so lowly in OECD rankings on disability. One of the major reasons why we aren’t seeing more people with disability in enduring employment in Australia is employer attitude towards employing people with disability. Some employers, while they are open to the idea, lack the confidence to take the next step. The AHRI and PwC reports have been flanked by similar reports from DEEWR and NCVER. Another timely report from Australia’s Major Church Providers, questions the impact of DSP changes if employers… Read more »

Peter Maguire
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Peter Maguire

A great post and a really important issue. Having worked in the disability services area 25 years ago, it amazes me how little we have progressed since then. The point made about the perception of people with disabilities being higher risks and therefore not considered a good investment is unfortunately a valid one. We have had a policy of social inclusion for children with disabilities in our education system for years – when will that translate to the workplace? From a commercial perspective in a shrinking labour market, surely the penny must drop at some point and there will be… Read more »

Meri
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Meri

And Employers wonder why potential employees never disclose about their disability at interview because of the feared prejudice during the recruitment selection. Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. At times, when I have been upfront about my mild disability to my potential employers I am viewed as ‘too hard basket’ politely get shown out the door and never hear from them again, even though I have the necessary experience and skills in the job that I had applied for. I no longer tell my potential employer about my disability during the recruitment process. Often I feel there is no… Read more »

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Disability recruitment challenging for employers


Over the past few months I’ve been active in the disability employment area, thanks to the publication of our August research paper, Recruiting People with a Disability: An Employer Perspective.

While I applaud the work being done by the Government in its attempts to boost the employment of people with disabilities in Australia, I’ve also been somewhat outspoken in saying we aren’t doing anywhere near enough, especially in the area of informing and engaging employers.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one saying that. A PwC partner, Chris Bennett, makes the same point in an excellent study published last month, Disability Expectations: Investing in a Better Life, a Stronger Australia. As a co-author of that report, Chris has no compunction in asserting that Australia is “at the bottom of the heap” in providing quality of life for people with a disability, ranked as we are 27th out of 27 OECD countries on that score. And he’s also keen to remind us that “Australia ranks 21 out of 29 OECD countries in the provision of employment opportunities for those with a disability”.

So whatever we’re doing in this country, there’s good reason to believe it’s not working. We began taking an interest in disability employment around the time of the Costello Welfare-to-Work budget in 2004 when the numbers of Australians on disability support pensions were around 750,000.  Despite the expressed enthusiasm of a great many of that cohort of Australians to join the workforce, and large amounts of money being spent to match the political rhetoric, the numbers now stand at around 800,000.

I met with Chris Bennett before Christmas and offered to assist in his initiatives at PwC to influence the mindsets of business leaders. As Chris put it, there’s plenty of talk and the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme will be a great breakthrough, but there’s little real action where it matters.

In September I gave a presentation to the Employment Participation Minister’s Reference Group on Disability Employment Services. As a member of that reference group, I’m one of only two employer representatives, and often find myself reminding the group that there’s little point in a first-rate supply line of job-ready job seekers if the demand-side, employers, is not disposed to employ them. And our research indicates clearly that, by and large, employers are not so disposed and therefore being qualified and job-ready is not good enough for a person with a disability to actually cut through prejudice to get a job.

In commenting on our study, Laura Tingle from the Australian Financial Review noted the finding that 85% of our research respondents whose organisations have not employed a person with a disability believe that “disabled employees were likely to be high risk and expensive”. Like most sweeping prejudices, that view is at best a half-truth but it’s persistent.

Our study also came to the notice of the Victorian Parliamentary Committee on Workforce Participation of People with Mental Illness, who invited us to make a submission and to speak to the Committee.  I used part of our data in the general disability employment study to make a formal presentation on mental illness to six members of that two-party Committee during November.

Like me, the members of the Committee are perplexed at the persistence of negative workplace attitudes to people with a disability and were interested to hear what our research says about the continual failure to engage employers. In short, our data reveals that employers repeatedly say they’re ill-informed on the issue and those that attempt to take some action are often exasperated and disappointed when they try to make use of the placement services available only to find their desire to appropriately match a job-seeker to a job vacancy is not taken seriously. The wrong person in the wrong job at the wrong place is as negative an outcome for an employer as it is for the person employed, whether the person has  a disability or not.  As one of our research respondents said, people with a disability are not looking for special favours; they just want to be treated with equity and fairness.

I would be very interested to hear about the experiences of others in this troubled area to see what can be done about making a real impact.

Serge Sardo, CEO, Australian Human Resources Institute

4
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Georgina Liew
Guest
Georgina Liew

Great post Serge. Working for a disability employment services provider in marketing for seven years, I would agree wholeheartedly that many employers are either ill-informed or unwilling to hire people with a disability. Two things I think could help. Firstly, Government needs to support joint communications strategies to reach employers – for most providers it is simply beyond their financial means to launch campaigns with enough reach – and then be open with providers about when these campaigns will occur. Providers could then piggy-back these campaigns to maximise their own employer marketing efforts appropriately. Secondly, employment providers need to seriously… Read more »

Lynette May, CEO, Disability Employment Australia
Guest
Lynette May, CEO, Disability Employment Australia

This is such an important issue – and it begins to get to the heart of why Australia rates so lowly in OECD rankings on disability. One of the major reasons why we aren’t seeing more people with disability in enduring employment in Australia is employer attitude towards employing people with disability. Some employers, while they are open to the idea, lack the confidence to take the next step. The AHRI and PwC reports have been flanked by similar reports from DEEWR and NCVER. Another timely report from Australia’s Major Church Providers, questions the impact of DSP changes if employers… Read more »

Peter Maguire
Guest
Peter Maguire

A great post and a really important issue. Having worked in the disability services area 25 years ago, it amazes me how little we have progressed since then. The point made about the perception of people with disabilities being higher risks and therefore not considered a good investment is unfortunately a valid one. We have had a policy of social inclusion for children with disabilities in our education system for years – when will that translate to the workplace? From a commercial perspective in a shrinking labour market, surely the penny must drop at some point and there will be… Read more »

Meri
Guest
Meri

And Employers wonder why potential employees never disclose about their disability at interview because of the feared prejudice during the recruitment selection. Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. At times, when I have been upfront about my mild disability to my potential employers I am viewed as ‘too hard basket’ politely get shown out the door and never hear from them again, even though I have the necessary experience and skills in the job that I had applied for. I no longer tell my potential employer about my disability during the recruitment process. Often I feel there is no… Read more »

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