Building the capacity of people with disability to engage in employment is a high priority area for policy makers. The financial viability of the NDIS is intrinsically linked to increasing economic participation and achieving better employment outcomes for people with disability and their carers.
The NDIA has recently identified the existing ‘culture of low expectations’ of people with disability, their families, planners and the community as a significant barrier for achieving desirable employment outcomes.
Early NDIS plans are showing little emphasis on employment, with only 9% of plans including supports in this domain. Current plans don’t reflect the employment aspirations of people with disability and there is minimal growth in demand for new employment support services, with the majority of NDIS participants simply receiving supports to continue employment with their current Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE).
We believe the current review of the costs of the NDIS by the Productivity Commission will result in a greater focus on employment supports in the near future.
So how do we ‘build the capacity’ of people with disability and their support networks to imagine ‘economic participation’ as an achievable goal? How do we assist people to move from being ‘dependent clients’ to ‘active citizens’ when it comes to economic participation?
Key Objectives of Disability Employment Reform:
- Increasing capacity of people to engage in economic participation over time to reduce lifetime support costs
- Increasing choice and control for people with disability
- Improved workforce participation of carers of people with disabilities
- Open employment and greater career pathways for people with disability
What the NDIS will fund in employment (and for whom)?
The NDIS funds reasonable and necessary supports that help a participant to reach their employment goals, objectives and aspirations. The Scheme will fund supports to assist participants with employment where these are beyond the existing requirements of employment services and employers.
NDIS is designed to dovetail with mainstream supports such as education, health and open employment services (Disability Employment Services) to create improved employment pathways for people with disability.
The NDIS' School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) is a program designed to address systemic low expectations of people with disability sustaining employment. Supports may include work experience, job site training, travel training and activities that contribute to achieving an employment outcome and linkages to ongoing employment support. The NDIA has highlighted the need to ‘start young to set up expectations for employment’ as the key strategy to address low expectations.
The NDIS may also provide supports to assist the person to develop skills and undertake training to prepare for work and assist the person to find and maintain work, which may include:
- Assisting participants who are not eligible for Disability Employment Services (DES) to build their skills and capacity to participate in employment, as well as assistance to find and maintain employment
- Personal care or assistance with transport where the participant requires these supports regardless of the activity they are undertaking
- Assistive technology devices such as wheelchairs, personal communication devices or a hearing aid
- Supported employment, such as services offered by Australian Disability Enterprises
- Workplace help to allow a participant to successfully acquire or maintain employment in the open or supported job market
- Therapeutic supports including behaviour support
- Transport to and from the workplace where the participant has a mobility impairment
- Personal care where a participant needs assistant while at work
- Capacity building which could include assistance with training on travelling to and from work, relationships with colleagues and communication skills
The difference between NDIS & DES
A participant can access NDIS and DES concurrently. NDIS provides increased levels of support to increase a person’s capacity for employment. NDIS creates an opportunity to invest in these capacity building supports prior to the participant accessing DES.
‘Of the 460,000 people expected to be NDIS participants, based on current participation, around five per cent — around 24,000 — are expected to be DES participants representing around 12 per cent of the total DES caseload.’ 
We believe that NDIS participants with physical and episodic disability (including mental health) will make up the majority of the 24,000 expected NDIS/DES participants in the short term.
The Federal Government released a discussion paper, New Disability Employment Services From 2018 which provides some indication of what the future of Disability Employment Services (DES) could entail.
Although we don’t know exactly what DES will look like under the new contract, we know it will be different than it is now, simply because what we are doing today isn’t working for people with disability.
In addition, the intention of future reforms in the disability employment market will be designed to ‘break down the barrier between supported and open employment and increase open employment opportunities for people with disability’.
The Productivity Commission provides longer-range projections and states, ‘It is harder to measure some of the other economic benefits of the NDIS, but it is possible to assess some of its economic effects. These will take some time to emerge. Were Australia to achieve employment ratios for people with disabilities equivalent to the average OECD benchmark — a highly achievable target given the proposed reforms — employment of people with mild to profound disabilities would rise by 100,000 by 2050’.
The package of measures, included through reforms to the Disability Support Pension (DSP), would be likely to raise employment by considerably more than 100,000. Under a reasonable scenario, the Commission estimates that there could be additional employment growth of 220,000 by 2050 (including for people with less severe disabilities).’
Anticipating the Future of Disability Employment
It is vital for disability service providers to shift their thinking to the ‘new world’ of NDIS. This involves learning new ways of working and developing a level of comfort when working in a changing environment. To do this effectively, organisations need to invest in shifting the culture of their organisations and support existing staff to develop the new competencies they require to succeed.
The challenge is to pre-empt and prepare for what is ‘likely’ to occur without having the certainty of ‘knowing’. NDIS and the disability employment market is expected to evolve over years, even decades. This requires service providers to work in an environment that is uncertain and likely to change rapidly as it evolves.
What can service providers do in this space?
The best way to anticipate the future in a competitive consumer market is to connect with what the market wants and needs, and to offer solutions that best meet those needs.
- Focus on building demand for NDIS employment supports by addressing the low expectations of key stakeholders/decision makers
- Produce evidence about best practice approaches for capacity building in the disability employment space
- Develop new services that create improved employment pathways for people with disability
Australia Government, Department of Social Services, New Disability Employment Services from 2018 – Discussion Paper, November 2016, page 18, paragraph 3.
 See https://engage.dss.gov.au/disability-employment-services-reform/ accessed 4/11/2016.
 Australia Government, Department of Social Services, New Disability Employment Services from 2018 – Discussion Paper, page 17, paragraph 1.
 Productivity Commission 2011, Disability Care and Support: Executive Summary, Report no. 54, Canberra, page 12, paragraph 3.
Upcoming Workshop: Employment Supports in the NDIS
This workshop will provide a comprehensive overview of the emerging disability employment funding landscape, mapping where NDIS meets DES and exploring the emerging opportunities for truly innovative service design.