Why Employment First?

It is my privilege to have been involved in supporting people who have a disability into employment. Into ‘real work’: jobs in a regular setting like folk who don’t have a disability, with the same rights and responsibilities, the same working conditions, the same pay or at least pay that has been fairly and independently assessed.

And you know what else?

The same right to be appraised for performance and maybe even lose the odd job or two if they don’t meet their performance targets.

So, why employment first?

Employment is an excellent way to spend your day. It certainly beats participating in a ‘day wasting’ program. (I picked up this terrific expression on a recent conference in Hawaii.) Through employment we gain many benefits, not least of which income, social support and somewhere meaningful to go each day.

The last thing we want is for young people with disability to lose the skills and eagerness acquired at school. Instead, we want to grow and add to skills and, at the same time create a system that assumes everyone not only has the right to work but that they will receive the support and encouragement necessary to make the transition from school to work in a seamless fashion.

Sadly, the concept of employment first still requires a kick along. It’s not always the natural assumption of workers, not of parents and carers, and sometimes not even the expectation of people who have a disability themselves.

So that’s why Employment First – it’s not only a great concept, it’s the pathway to developing a more inclusive society where those disadvantaged in the employment market are not viewed as objects of pity or welfare burdens but are recognised for their capacity to contribute.

I know this work. I know it’s in the interests of employers and helping people with disability find meaningful roles. And I know that this is in the interest of the community. I know this because I have seen it work more than 15,000 times.

- Martin Wren