Support not subsidies for people with a disability

Still fuming from reading in the Canberra Times that quotas or subsidies as incentives for employing people with disability might still be in fashion.

Let’s look at it from a business perspective. You have a product. You begin by promoting it with a discount, or even as a freebie. No matter, if its low price is the selling point, where do you go next?

This is what is happening when a disability employment service leads with a subsidy, rather than the value a job seeker adds to a business.

Where is the pride in your ‘product’ – trained, enthusiastic and supported workers? Best practice leads with the job seeker’s strengths, frequently doing away with subsidies while investing in good job matching and post-placement support.

But we’re not really here to talk about products and marketing are we? The biggest issue is what happens to the worker post-subsidy.

The current funding model has created a race to the bottom for quality outcomes, for both the employer as well as the individuals being placed in jobs. Placement and successful employment for no less than 26 weeks attracts funding of at least $8000 to the employment service provider. Providers are free to use this subsidy in any way that benefits their business – not necessarily the job seeker directly.

Let’s look at the difference between handing an employer a cash subsidy to help cover wages for six months, and pledging support hours for that worker for the next one, two, three years and beyond.

Firstly, when an employer opts for the subsidy the obvious message to the worker is: ‘I took you on because you were cheap, not because of your potential contribution to my business’.

Secondly, this scenario makes it all too easy to let a worker go at around the six-month mark. This is so common it has become the appalling norm.

Meantime, the worker has been devalued, denied meaningful, ongoing employment and pushed off the pathway to independence. Not to mention the waste of taxpayer funds! 

Ongoing support for workers is by far the best financial investment. This support involves developing workers’ social and work skills and assisting them to adapt to changing roles and requirements. I cannot overstate how important it is to keep paying attention to the needs of workers and to provide supportive environments in which problems can be pre-empted and resolved.

The data speaks for itself: effective post-placement support increases job retention after six months from 50 per cent to 80 per cent.   

- Martin Wren

You can read more in my new book The Ten Demandements. Contact me for a copy.