The NDIA are going to start investing in disability employment services a year earlier, in year 10.

This will be a complete waste of effort, time, resources, money ($130 million!) and good will. It won’t make a scrap of difference.


Because the nature of our jobseekers is that skills learnt in year 10 rarely transfer to the following year and these skills even less transferrable across a change of context, such as from classroom to workplace. The majority of our clients require specific workplace training according to the roles they are seeking to fill. This is why work experience placements are part of any solid transition-to-work program. 

More often these programs prepare our young people for play, not work. They offer no progressive skills training, like work placements, just entertainment. This means young jobseekers with disability do worse than if we left them alone – the few skills they did have are lost through leaving them idol.

Instead of trying something new that might sound fancy, why don’t we look at what we have done that works? We could try by asking the top five service providers for their tips and strategies for placing young people with psychiatric illness, intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder.

I think you’ll find that ascertaining jobseeker’s interests and skills, job matching and providing ongoing, long-term support is required to gain and maintain employment for people with disability. Going in a year earlier won’t help a dot.

Take that $130 million and allocate it to providers that are already achieving great results. Then watch the statistics and, more importantly, the benefits for each individual change before your very eyes.


While I applaud the initiative and determination from the parents of this young man on the autism spectrum, at the same time I am ashamed of the evolution of Disability Employment Services (DES). For background, read this article. But here’s the summary.

Brodie’s disability was deemed too great for his allotted DES to handle. However, in truth Brodie has no greater level of disability than those for whom the Disability Act 1986, was created. It was set up for people whose disability was a significant barrier to employment in everyday workplaces. It was not set up for people with a sore foot.

At the same time I am not surprised that this happened to Brodie and his family. It’s happening all around the country as skilled DES staff leave the industry in droves.

Since the Disability Act 1986, successive Australian governments have spent a small fortune equipping DES staff with the skills to support people with autism and intellectual disability into work that suits their interests and abilities. Now we’ve abandoned them, and our investment.

As the CEO of a DES, it would be so much more profitable for me not to take on a young fellow like Brodie, instead, going with easier-to-place clients. Easier-to-place clients are cheaper to place in that they take less time, less effort and fewer staff skills to get to know the jobseeker, find a good job match and support them in work.

Unfortunately, and to our great shame, DES are provided no incentives to maximise the potential of jobseekers like Brodie. In the current system, long-term outcomes are not encouraged. Independence doesn’t seem to be our aim. Inclusion does not come from such attitudes.

Over thirty years after we set up a strong system to support people like Brodie, we can’t give him proper support.

Our nation should thank his parents. Their son is getting out in the sunshine and putting in a full day’s work. He’d be tired at the end of it and sleep better because of it He now waves and smiles at his clients where before he made no eye contact. He discusses his day with his family. This is inclusion. We all need to feel this.



For the record, we don’t need to include Disability Employment Services (DES) in the Royal Commission. All we need to do is look at the top five services in New South Wales to see what works. Then replicate.

It frustrates me no end that successive governments haven’t made an effort to find out what works. You’d think they’d care about their investment. Our investment. 

At present, many disability employment service contracts seem to be allocated willy-nilly. Sometimes operators are awarded contracts with no runs on the board over years and years. At other times, similarly small operators are punished for their lack of success. But at no time are those under-achieving operators taught how to become over achievers!



  1. The industry has become competitive. In this environment, any sharing of information could risk competitors winning the tender.
  2. Apparently the funding bodies ‘can’t show favouritism’. But of course, they do all the time, and should.

Here are some recent numbers that support my thesis that the least successful DES would do well to learn from the most successful. 

Pick any disability and the results are largely the same … For the sake of argument, I’m randomly choosing psychiatric illness in New South Wales. In 2017, 34 organisations found jobs that lasted for 26 weeks (or more) for 9690 people with psychiatric illness in NSW.

NOVA topped these results with 953 jobs out of the 9690. This represents 10% of the total. The next best service, Key Employment Association, found 841 jobs and ORS found 832. Together with Castle Personnel Services (805 jobs), in a reasonably typical year, these four providers found around a third of the employment for people with psychiatric illness in NSW during 2017.

Some organisations at the bottom of the pool only worked with 20 people over a contract of four years! And this is not because they were based in a small, remote town.

Government must decide: do you want employment full employment for people with disability who are willing and able to work? If so, reduce the competitiveness, increase the cooperativeness and pay attention to what works.