What Mainstream Employment Services can learn from Disability Employment Services

I often ponder what the world would look like in reverse. Today, I’m thinking about how Disability Employment Services are lumped in with Mainstream Employment Services (MES), not the other way around, and yet DES get a lot right.

For starters, the best of us offer individual service. We get to know our job seekers’ skills, interests and experience so that we can match them to the right job. From what I’ve heard of general employment services, this does not happen. It’s more a case of job seekers being handed a chair at a desk with the Internet and being told to ‘search here’.

Leading on from this, I would imagine that generalist services might really fall down when faced with a job seeker without independent capacity. Working in DES, I know it’s by no means the easiest part of the job, but it’s one of the most rewarding. It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that anyone who wants to work gets the best possible chance of finding and keeping work.

A lot of the issues that DES has are shared by MES as well. These include,

  • Our being an agent between employee and employer
  • The potential employer’s perception of the quality of our job seekers
  • The micro and macro environments in which we operate
  • The ‘win or die’ approach.

Agent between employee and employer

To put it crudely, we work in ‘sales’. Our ‘product’ is a quality job seeker perfectly matched to the prospective employer. To sell this product, staff need to be well supported, well trained and well paid. Otherwise, it’s too easy to miss the boat on the next point.

Employer’s perception of the quality of our job seekers

Employers represent a slice of our society. They come from all backgrounds in all suburbs with all of our biases. Over the years, each of the individuals collectively known as ‘people with disability’ have been grouped into the ‘too hard basket’ and, worse, been treated as second-class citizens. In my experience, once employers see past this false perception, their business benefits enormously.

Micro and macro environments in which we operate

With governments changing every three years or so, sweeping policy changes often mean that the good can be thrown out with the bad. Even small reforms, such as changing the name of the funding body, reduce productivity and result in lost opportunity for job seekers.

The ‘win or die’ approach

With pressure to win a contract or lose the business (and not much space in between), each DES is almost forced to ‘game’ the system in order to say afloat. Instead of asking, ‘How best can I serve the job seeker?’ DES have to ask, ‘How can I survive?’ And that’s a tragedy.