Many of us are no doubt aware of Australia’s woeful ranking as 21 out of 29 OECD countries in employment rates for people with a disability.
The hope was that the NDIS, alongside other existing systems such as Disability Employment Services (DES) would significantly improve employment outcomes for people with a disability.
While increasing employment opportunities for people with a disability is a systemic issue, to date the uptake of employment supports in NDIS Plans has been disappointingly (and some may say surprisingly) low.
Across relevant age groups (15-64) only about one in five Participants are receiving employment supports in their Plans, making up a mere 2.5% of annualised committed support.
This is a concern because (a) access to employment is a human right and (b) the projections by the Productivity Commission pre-NDIS (2011) estimated that the NDIS would generate significant financial benefits to the economy through increased economic participation of people with a disability and their informal carers.
It’s fair to assume that the uptake of employment supports will likely increase as the Scheme matures, First Plans are reviewed and Participant aspirations rise. But there is still the question as to why rates are currently so low. Does it reflect true choice and control, in that Participant desire for economic participation is just not high? Or is it something else going on?
Why aren’t participants asking for employment supports?
As it happens, the Productivity Commission were concerned too and set about identifying the reason for the low uptake.
What they found was:
There is some confusion about what employment supports are provided specifically by NDIS, due to a lack of awareness of the employment supports available in the community. In all honesty, it can be pretty confusing as to who does what (see Ann’s recent article, ‘What is the Role of the NDIS in supporting employment?’ for clarity).
Planners/LACs may not have a full understanding of employment supports suitable for Participants, hence they are not offered to Participants, nor are Participants encouraged to think about employment. This finding also assumes that Participants are either unsure of or simply don’t know about the employment supports available to them when they attend planning meetings.
Participants and their support people should ideally be attending their planning meetings already well versed in the employment supports that are available to them and requesting them in their Plans. Consider the role you might play in ensuring this happens, for example:
Make sure employment is a part of your pre-planning conversations. Ask Participants if they would like to explore employment options in their next Plan and if they do, work with them to develop an employment specific goal.
Ensure Participants are aware of the employment options available to them through the NDIS and mainstream services:
Skills development and job counselling
School Leavers Employment Supports (SLES)
Have employment resources close at hand to help you answer questions Participants might have. You may want to look at DSC's employment articles, the NDIS factsheet that differentiates the responsibilities of DES and SLES, the NDIS factsheet on employment and the SLES factsheet.
Prepare your own employment specific information for Participants, including factsheets and newsletter articles.
Inform planners and LACs - either through existing relationships, or via a direct mail campaign - about the employment supports your organisation offers, and how they intersect with DES.
It’s pretty clear that there is an information, education and advocacy piece needed to plug the employment gap, not just with Participants but also with families, Planners, LACs, Support Coordinators, DES providers and education providers.
This is simply too important to not be everyone's responsibility.