For thousands of job seekers and their support staff, this week has been no holiday.
The single most dislocating event in the history of Australian disability employment services is in progress. Last Friday, 34,000 people with a disability lost the Disability Employment Service (DES) that they chose to join.
Most of the traditional services were local, personal and effective, ensuring that people with high-support needs participated in work. Their clients often have an intellectual disability or a psychiatric illness that intrudes upon their capacity to stay focused. Regular contact with someone they trust is vital to their employment success.
But this week the new service providers may not offer this post-placement support. In any case, and through no fault of the service, they will not know their clients, nor will their clients know them. An effective transition that takes into account the needs of the worker has not been considered. Employers were not consulted.
Last year our major funding body, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) decided that 85% of all DES business should be put up for tender. Their rationale was that these operators were under-performing. But it appears to me that after DEEWR shed 600 internal staff, they needed to reduce the number of providers that they dealt with to reduce their own administrative burden. Today there are sixty fewer employment services than there were on Friday.
The closures needn’t be happening at all – DEEWR are using flawed methodology to measure performance. They don’t understand that while one service might find work for someone with a psychotic illness another places a person with a limp. Clearly, these people have very different employment issues so require different levels of support to stay in work.
But for DEEWR, one equals one. This is why across Australia the number of centres specialising in autism has been cut from 11 to three. In Sydney, people with profound psychiatric illness will no longer benefit from specialised organisation 121 Employment. DEEWR say the system is adjusted to measure barriers such as where you live, the availability of work, your choices, family support, interests, abilities and disabilities, but this is not the case.
As the leader of a respected DES, I want our performance to be measured through our effect on the reduction in welfare payments. In essence, what we save the Commonwealth through sound job training and coaching, effective job matching and genuine post-placement support.
Workers with a disability thrive in the right role when their skills and interests align with their job. Because this sector of the workforce endures significant barriers to employment, in the past our government has deemed it fair to fund their transition from jobseeker to employee.
And funding the transition works – last year my organisation Nova Employment placed over 1000 people into work, 99% of whom are working for award wages. Our research shows that more than half of these people will be in work a year later. If the person placed into employment loses their job, we find them another. These people are our clients until they and their employer decide they can work independently.
Nova’s approach works so well that, in some cases, we outperform our mainstream competitors. Our Katoomba branch is the town’s choice for job placements. Despite competing against four providers, two of which only work with able-bodied clients, Nova Katoomba consistently impresses employers with their willing, hard working and dedicated jobseekers.
DEEWR disregarded its own five-star rating system to decide which Disability Employment Service was in and which was out. You’d think the highest rated would’ve have taken the lion’s share of the new work, but no. The majority made small or no gains. Many long established providers are simply gone. I’ve been forced to close 10 branches. I’ve lost approximately 45 highly valued and experienced staff who have contributed years of excellent work.
Take Paule Jarvis, for example. She came to us as a jobseeker but we found her work on staff. For eight years she’s been a powerful advocate for people with a disability and passionately working in her community on severe drug and alcohol issues. Paule is on the Police Disability Advisory Council. When her branch closed yesterday, her expertise was lost to us and the broader industry. She now plans to work in a shop selling sorbet.
Yet again, people with disabilities have been completely ignored by the decision-making process. This government’s own Senate Inquiry into Disability Employment Services received around 80 submissions, the vast majority of which were universally critical of the government’s intentions.
Minister Ellis has failed to understand the benefits (to us all) of person-centred employment services finding and keeping good jobs for people with profound obstacles to work. Government cost cutting saves a little money that, if well directed, could be used to support vulnerable citizens into independent work. These people could have been happy, engaged and productive taxpayers, not dependent on welfare.
This week, spare a thought for the enthusiastic jobseekers and dedicated staff who have unnecessarily lost their jobs. Monday was indeed stormy, but the rest of the week, and the many weeks to come, will be just as bad.
Martin Wren, CEO Nova Employment
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Your Comments Marg Smith from SOUTH COAST wrote on 15 Mar 2013 12:29:55 AM KNOWING AND WORKING FOR MARTIN WREN FOR TEN YEARS WITH NOVA EMPLOYMENT AND SEEING THIS MAN STRIVE AND WORK SO HARD FOR THE GOOD OF HIS CLIENTS , I AM IN TEARS AND IN SHOCK THAT THIS COULD BE HAPPENING WITHIN THE DISABILITY SECTOR.ITS BEEN A FEW YEARS SINCE I HAVE BEEN EMPLOYED WITH NOVA, BUT AM TOTALLY DISGUSTED IN THE GOVERNMENT IN CHANGING A WAY THAT WORKED FOR THE CLIENTS AND EMPLOYERS. MARTIN AM IN TOTAL EMPATHY FOR YOU AND ALL YOUR CLIENTS AND STAFF.YOU ARE A MAN I HAVE GREAT RESPECT FOR, REGARDS MARG SMITH
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