Are you willing to employ disabled  workers?

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Are you willing to employ disabled workers?

Interestingly, he said it was small businesses that were leading the way in the employment of people with disabilities.

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1/2004

 

The reality of employing people with disabilities is under the spotlight this week, as the Federal Government’s new Job Network plan swings into action.

Ensuring sufficient support for employers and employees alike is the key when employing people with disabilities.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations funded Job Network strategy is a pilot program. It is voluntary and aimed at disability support pension recipients who don’t require significant ongoing support needs, and are not already participating in Commonwealth assistance. The support is targeted at the jobseeker, not the employer.

Already in existence are the Federal Department of Community Services (FACS) funded Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service and specialist private agencies that have been placing disabled people with significant ongoing needs into mainstream employment for many years. Support is aimed at the jobseeker and the employer.

Centrelink is responsible for assessing disabled jobseekers to determine whether they should be referred to a FACS funded program or to the Job Network.

So what are the realities of employing people with disabilities?

Employers Making a Difference CEO, Suzanne Colbert, said the new Job Network Scheme for disabled workers was ‘teetering around the edges of the real issue’.  Prospective employers, not just jobseekers, should be provided with support; otherwise they will be reluctant to employ people with disabilities.

Employers Making a Difference founder/boardmember and Benbro Electronics director of engineering, John Bennett, who employed people through the FACS system, said employing people with disabilities was good for business, and not necessarily an altruistic decision.

But while he believes in the business aspect of disability employment, he also has some altruistic motivations too. ‘The greatest barrier to equal participation in our society for people with disabilities is poverty; a poverty that is too often caused by the lack of opportunity to work on equal terms.

‘One solution is, we believe the most effective weapon against poverty for people with disabilities, is to create more open employment opportunities. That is, employment offering real jobs, with real wages.’

Pilot Job Network

A spokesperson for the Federal Minister for Employment Services, Mal Brough, said specialist disability Job Network providers were selected to take part in the pilot Job Network program.

Jobseeker accounts that assist the prospective employee with their job hunting, such as transportation to interviews and training had been provided, the spokesperson said. These accounts were administered by the specialist agency.

In situations where the Job Network provider finds a disabled jobseeker requiring additional assistance, the jobseeker can be referred back to Centrelink for a supplementary assessment and possible referral to FACS funded agencies.

However, according to EMAD’s Colbert, if there were a number of people going for a job and one was disabled, even mildly, the likelihood of the disabled person getting the job would be slim. Employers need information and support so they perceived the recruitment of disabled people as a real alternative.

She said it didn’t matter that in reality the disabled person was able to do the job just as well as an able-bodied person; it’s the perception that must change.

There were times when EMAD was inundated with calls from disabled people who wanted to return to work, but in a supported environment in a risk-free way that made them more viable to the employer, she said.  

She acknowledged the target of the new Job Network scheme was people requiring no significant ongoing support. But it didn’t mean the disabled jobseeker came without a complexity of issues that affected their ability to find and maintain a job, she said.

Benbro and FACS

Benbro’s Bennett used the FACS funded agencies, as he employed disabled people who required ongoing support.

To ensure the best employment outcome it was advisable to go to a job placement agency that specialised in placing people with disabilities, he added.

Benbro is a small electronics design and manufacturing company on the Northern Beaches of Sydney with a staff of 16. It has been operating for 20 years. It’s owned by John Bennett and his brother Steven.

Four of its employees are disabled. The company has a policy of ensuring that 25% of its workforce are employees with disabilities.

Employing disabled workers is not new to Benbro. Last year it won the small business category of the Prime Minister’s Employer of the Year Award for its commitment to employing people with a disability.

Bennett said FACS agencies come to the workplace and assess the job and the workplace, help choose appropriate candidates, assist with training, and support the employer through the training and employment process.

FACS funded Shore Personnel spokesperson, Kay Morrison, added that FACS agencies also canvassed for appropriate jobs, negotiated tasks, went to the worksite and trained onsite and provided back-up support.

The service was individualised to meet the needs of the worker and the employer and was provided by professionals who specialised in employment services for the disabled, she said.

Initial and ongoing wage subsidies were available; depending on the prospective employees’ capacity to work. 

All FACS services were free, as the agencies are funded by the Federal Government.

Job matching at Benbro

Bennett said, like any other recruiting, the skills of the disabled person were matched with the skills of the job. But that didn’t mean job parameters were inflexible.

While Benbro’s jobs were designed to require certain skills, they were open to assessment to determine if alterations were possible to meet the skills of the disabled employee and remain within quality control and productivity parameters, he said.

One of Benbro’s employees assembles electronic devices for the Navy but has an intellectual disability and can’t read. The job originally required reading skills. However, on assessment it was found this could be changed so the necessary communication could be done through colour coding and still remain safe and productive. An assessment of the employee showed they had the intellectual capacity to do the job.

Retention and morale benefits

In addition to hiring skilled workers, Bennett found that employing disabled people had a number of other positive business outcomes, such as staff retention.

One employee has worked for Benbro for nine years and has only had two days off sick, Bennett said. Disabled employees tend to be ‘reliable’ and ‘dedicated’.

Morale was also high because disabled people were used to overcoming difficulty, he added.

Working with disabled people also helped able-bodied employees become more confident around disabled people - especially when they were serving disabled customers - employees felt more able to interact with them.

In the eyes of the public it also made the company more appealing because the company was helping less fortunate people reach their potential, he added.

Open employment

Promoting open employment was Benbro’s mission, according to Bennett.

The employees - disable or not - were paid award wages and above. There was no wage subsides from the Government. Benbro’s employees were working at 100% capacity, he added.

Interestingly, he said it was small businesses that were leading the way in the employment of people with disabilities.

 

 

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