Imagine you spent three or four years completing a degree and all your university friends were easily able to get a job. But you have been to many, many interviews and can’t get anywhere.
Why? Because you have a disability.
Graduates with disability take 61.5 per cent longer to gain full-time employment than other graduates. With or without a degree, that word, disability, makes you less employable in the eyes of employers. It should sadden us that our community believes that having a disability makes someone less than their counterparts in the workplace. Studies confirm that employers recruit on the basis that someone with the exact same skill set and education will do the job better because they don’t have a disability.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Employers that hire people with disability report lower absenteeism and higher productivity. They also say that people with disability generally make better employees.
What needs to change is our attitudes, especially as employers. While we have made great advances towards more diverse and inclusive workplaces, we still have a long way to go. People with disability still experience unemployment at double the national rate.
So what can we do about it? In my role as a board member for disability services provider Life Without Barriers, I chaired a meeting of senior leaders from community service organisations that came together this week to figure out a plan to attract and retain more people with disability in our workforce.
You may not know that one in four new jobs created in Australia today is in the community services sector. Ours is one of the fastest growing sectors with thousands of new jobs created every year. So if we can lead the way in attracting and retaining more people with disability, it would be a tremendous contribution towards change.
And we’re not doing this just because it’s the right thing to do. Although our sector should be leading the way in disability employment, for us, and indeed all employers, it also makes good business sense.
Many of our organisations are grappling with changes in how we operate as we shift away from simply receiving government grants. We now have to compete for business as people choose how and where to spend their individual funding packages. For the first time many organisations have to think about attracting "customers". One solution that will work for the community sector, and frankly for Australian businesses generally, is to employ more people with disability.
One in five of us have a disability – that’s a huge proportion of Australian society.
If your business can demonstrate that it has people with disability on your staff, then people with disability and their friends and family will want to use your services or buy your products. Countless studies have also shown that a more diverse workforce leads to innovation and better outcomes.
At our meeting we discussed practical ways to make this happen. For example, standard employment processes and mandatory selection criteria, such as holding a drivers licence, rule out many candidates immediately. If you have 10 IT support workers in a business, why do you need all of them to have exactly the same characteristics? All employees have strengths and weaknesses – if you consider each job in context and tailor a role to suit the strengths of each candidate, you will end up with a more rounded team.
And of course we as an industry have to face our own workplace culture and shift our view that people with disability need care. In fact, people with disability need opportunities for empowerment. People with disability need to be seen as colleagues and managers, not as care recipients.
Many employers assume that it will be expensive to make adjustments to their offices or work spaces so that they can employ people with disability. The facts are that if someone does need a workplace adjustment, it is likely to cost less than $500.
We all need to see people with disability as equal members of our community. So why not say the most powerful four words you can to someone with disability: “You start on Monday.”
This article was written by Graeme Innes and first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
At Life Without Barriers, our doors are always open to people with disability. We are proud to be an accredited Disability Confident Recruiter through the Australian Network on Disability (AND). This means we are unequivocally committed to ensuring our recruitment and selection processes are accessible to people with disability. If you’re interested in joining our team, sign up here to receive our job alerts.
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