Quality within the stars

There have probably been few people more openly critical of the Disability Employment Service (DES) Star Ratings than I.

Ranging from 1 to 5, the stars are supposed to give insight into the quality of service from each DES. But the measures are blunt. The rating is influenced by placement and milestones in employment at 13, 26 and 52 weeks, and stops measuring after that. Not coincidentally, the nation-wide retention drops when the job subsidy ends.

The stars have also created a climate that encourages bad practices, like gaming (exploiting unintended loopholes to improve performance outcomes on paper) and creaming (excluding the most disadvantaged job seekers in order to gain better results faster).

To their credit the Department of Social Services (DSS) has recently introduced greater emphasis on keeping a job, but we still have a way to go.

As of 23/5/16, for the first time NOVA Employment has achieved a perfect 5-star rating across all of our sites. This result comes despite my tasking the NOVA team to ignore the star ratings. I’ll explain why.

In my book, The Ten Demandments, I put forward the idea that ‘aiming high’ on behalf of people with disability is an obligation for service providers. Aiming high means more hours worked, greater wages earned, longer retention, better quality jobs and the prospect for career development. Combined, these measures lead toward a truly inclusive society. And, unsurprisingly, they make everyone’s work more enjoyable.

The results are now in. Around 10% of all NOVA-placed workers are employed in Apprenticeships and Traineeships, long known for their retention and career development. More than 23% of all jobs found by NOVA staff are full time roles. Further, minimum-hour jobs (8 hours per week) are around half the national average, which means that through NOVA you’re twice as likely to get work that is more than 8 hours per week than with most other service providers. This matters. Increased participation means you’re a valuable member of the team so are less likely to lose your job, you have greater financial freedom and a stronger sense of belonging.

Combining the goal of ‘aiming high’ with an experienced and passionate management team, dedicated placement and support specialists and the best systems support, has led to NOVA’s meeting the funding body’s criteria while at the same time finding the highest number of award-wage jobs with the most hours and the longest retention in this nation for people with disability.

I still don’t like the star-ratings system, but, given we live or die on meeting their requirements, I’m relieved to know that this success can be coupled with great outcomes for people with disability.

- Martin Wren