As the sector considers its response to the recently released discussion paper from DSS, Ensuring a strong future for supported employment, one thing is clear - it cannot be business as usual for ADEs.
In this review of their policies on supported employment, DSS is trying to create a future marketplace where employment opportunities are available through a range of pathways and from a diversity of suppliers. This is captured in the paper's "Foundational Principles", and is consistent with the changes the NDIS is ushering in.
As Ann Drieberg illustrated in her recent blog, as ADE funding transitions to the NDIS, it becomes individualised, rebadged under the line item 'Finding and Keeping a Job (Supported Employment).' It also sits alongside two other forms of employment support available through the NDIS – the School Leavers Employment Scheme (SLES) and 'Finding and Keeping a Job (Individual Support)'.
As with all other supports funded through an NDIS plan, participants will now choose who provides their employment supports and will be free to shift their funding to another provider if they aren’t happy. Within ADEs, this means supported employees are both a consumer of employment-related supports and an employee of the business.
A "culture of low expectations" has been identified as the reason early take-up of employment supports in NDIS plans has been low. However, this will inevitably change as both DSS and the NDIA are committed to an “employment first” approach for all NDIS participants of working age. This approach will be led by Local Area Coordinators building relationships with mainstream providers and the local community. The aim will be to challenge the culture of low expectations and improve the understanding of employment needs of people with disabilities.
Signs of higher expectations are already evident among young people, with anecdotal evidence from SLES participants confirming that more young people will seek pathways from SLES to open employment opportunities rather than to traditional ADE-type supported employment.
Whilst supported employment will remain the best employment option for a significant number of people with disability, increasing numbers of people will want to pursue more challenging opportunities and better pay.
For those people for whom the additional support and job stability of supported employment is the best option, new entrants will inevitably arrive, offering more attractive alternatives to the traditional employment offerings in landscaping, gardening, packaging etc.
How to respond?
All this represents some significant challenges to ADEs. But where there is a challenge, there is also an opportunity. First of all, the market will grow considerably. At full scheme, the number of people receiving ‘employment support’ is expected to be significantly beyond the approximately 20,000 people currently working in supported employment.
ADEs with a viable commercial business have a powerful base from which to build. But the challenge is to recognise that supported employment has to be just one of a suite of services provided, responding to a range of changing individual needs and capacities.
After all, this has always been the remit of ADEs, whose purpose DSS describes as being:
“part of a continuum of employment opportunities for people with disability and act as a link, helping them gain training and experience to confidently step into open employment or to continue in supported employment if they choose.”
The arrival of the NDIS just brings a bit more urgency to this mission!
Offering a suite of responsive services means embracing a strategy of diversification and establishing pathways for people – from a SLES service for school leavers to supported employment to individualised support leading into open employment through a DES service. An ADE can put these pathways in place for customers by establishing new services themselves or partnering with another provider.
The first challenge for ADEs will be to embrace the opportunity and act. There is no time to wait for certainty before exploring options for diversification and partnerships. As the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
We know the supported employment marketplace of 2021 needs to be and will be different from the one today. So now is the time for ADEs who haven’t got to work yet to bring the team together, engage the stakeholders and start the conversation.