I think we’d all agree that community connections are vital to a well-rounded life. Whether it’s family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, church, clubs or online groups, networks provide an enormous range of social opportunities. We make friends, we find jobs, and we learn. Most importantly, we share our lives, including its milestones and stumbling blocks.

Many of our job seekers with a disability don’t have this web of support.

What happens when we don’t have this safety net of other people?

Here’s a key question to consider: how useful are disability employment services? One disturbing answer is ‘Sometimes not at all’. Fortunately another answer is ‘They can be your best resource’.

When it comes to employment, it’s important to know that making an informed choice of service provider makes a big difference. Not just in getting a job, but in keeping it too.

One of the most appealing features of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is the freedom to choose your own services, and the ways in which they will support you. This includes choosing an Employment Support Service, should you wish to find a job. (And remember, here at NOVA we have a ‘zero exclusion’ policy when matching people with jobs; we encourage everybody to find out what’s possible.)

The trouble with choice though – and we’ve all experienced this at some time – is that it can stop us in our tracks, overwhelm us with uncertainty and anxiety.

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.