‘Zero exclusion’ means we don’t give up on people

Why set up a Disability Employment Service? Or, to go back to basics, why create a legislative framework such as Australia’s Disability Services Act 1986?

Those of us with long experience in the field might yield to cynicism and disappointment when contemplating these questions in 2016. We might mutter darkly about where the road paved with good intentions inevitably leads. Myself included.

However, the answers remain clear to me, even after thirty years in disability employment services. For one thing, there are so many benefits of employment for the most disadvantaged citizens. For another, people with significant disabilities experience barriers to work and need extra time and specialist support to reach the goal of employment.

It sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

But the model we set out with in Australia is no longer working.

We have allowed a system that ruthlessly enforces the drive for numbers and fails to properly serve the interests of people with disability. Especially those who require the most intensive, ongoing support.

I’ve felt the squeeze as successive governments have tweaked and poked at the contracts that serve the legislation. I witness with dismay the ‘gaming’ that goes on. I believe that the entry of ‘for-profit’ providers has threatened the viability and credibility of the whole program. So much talent has been driven from the industry and so many long-term, quality services have closed.

The financial gain for placing a person with low support needs and one with high support needs into work is the same, even though the high-support job seeker requires more time, ingenuity and attention. Competition with for-profit providers puts the industry in a terrible bind.

I could go on, and you can find a fuller discussion of these factors in my book The Ten Demandments.

But I’m not one to dwell on bad news. At NOVA Employment our original intent remains intact. Our goal is to support the most disadvantaged to achieve the maximum level of independence.

We practise a zero-exclusion policy, serving clients on a first-in, first-served basis. In other words, no one is in the too-hard basket. We don’t give up on people.

With us, there is no risk of harder-to-place job seekers languishing at the end of a waiting list. As far as employment is concerned there is nothing that can’t be achieved by a group of skilled people determined to succeed. Absolutely nothing. I guarantee it.

- Martin Wren