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Good business sense: employing people with a disability

Good business sense: employing people with a disability

CEO of Weld Australia, Geoff Crittenden, explains the importance of employers embracing a diverse workforce as Australia faces a huge shortage of welders.

A Weld Australia member – who happens to be one of Australia’s largest mining and minerals companies – raised an important issue with me recently.

This mining company is committed to creating a diverse workforce. They know that inclusive and diverse teams are good for their business; their research proves that these teams are safer, more productive and have a better culture.

Having already implemented successful programs to increase the workforce participation of Indigenous Australians and women, the mining company has now turned their attention
to people living with a disability.

One has to wonder whether the manufacturing industry has considered employing this cohort of people. Are we doing enough to help people living with a disability find employment and gain a sense of fulfilment from contributing to society?

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have preconceived ideas about disabilities and the impact that they have on people’s ability to function as a productive member of a team.

The statistics

Around 1 in 6 (18 per cent) people in Australia – or about 4.4 million individuals – are living with a disability.

Alarmingly, people with disability make up 37.9 per cent of the population living in poverty (despite only making up 18 per cent of the overall population).

One reason for this is that Australia ranks lowest among OECD countries for the relative income of people with disabilities. Overall employment rates for people with disabilities remain low, with workforce participation at around 54 per cent compared to 83 per cent for people without disabilities.

Disappointingly, this labour force participation rate for people with disability has remained largely unchanged over the last 20 years – it was 53 per cent in 2003.

Overcoming barriers to employment

In 2015, the Age and Disability Discrimination Commission undertook the Willing to Work: National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australians and Australians with Disability.

The Inquiry examined practices, attitudes and federal laws that deny or diminish equal participation in employment for Australians with disability. The Inquiry Report was released in May 2016. Its key findings included the following:

  1. Discrimination is underpinned by negative assumptions and attitudes that are held by many employers and throughout the community about the productivity and capability of people with disability and perceptions that they present a higher work health and safety risk.
  2. Employers may lack knowledge, awareness and skills to develop inclusive workplaces, implement recruitment and retention strategies to support people with disability and meet their legal and regulatory requirements. They may also be unaware of government programs and supports that can assist them.

Challenging the assumptions

Australia faces a shortage of 70,000 welders by 2030.
Australia faces a shortage of 70,000 welders by 2030

The thing is, these assumptions are simply incorrect. There are significant business benefits when employing someone with disability – benefits that have been confirmed in both Australian and international studies.

According to research by the International Labour Organisation, employees with disability are:

  • Reliable: People with disability take fewer days off, take less sick leave and have a higher retention rate than other workers. Safe Work Australia has confirmed that the costs to business of absenteeism and sick leave for employees with disability can be as low as 34 per cent of the cost incurred by their colleagues.
  • Productive: Once in the right job, people with disability perform equally as well as other employees.
  • Affordable: Real cost savings are realised through reduced turnover, recruitment and retraining costs. People with disability have fewer compensation incidents and accidents at work in comparison to other employees.
  • Good for business: People with disability build strong relationships with customers and boost staff morale and loyalty by helping to create a diverse workforce. Teamwork is enhanced. It enhances the company’s image among its staff, community and customers with positive benefits to the employer’s brand.

The Soldamatic augmented reality welding simulators can be used to teach just about anyone to weld – people with depression, or autism, or PTSD. This training can then be followed with certification to ASNZS ISO 9606.

In a welding workshop, a person in a wheelchair or with any other physical disability is ideally suited to managing the work of two or three cobots. Alternatively, they could take on a role as a Welding Inspector.

Welding workshops complete Job Safety Analysis and Welding Procedure Specifications for every job. They identify whether a particular welding job needs to be completed by a welder certified to AS/NZS ISO 9606, or an expert pressure vessel welder with 20 years’ experience. In much the same way these assessments are undertaken, industry could be identifying tasks that are suitable for people with a disability.

Understanding the support available

There are two major Australian Government funded employment services programs available to employers who wish to recruit people with disability. They are Disability Employment Services and Job Services Australia.

Employers in remote Australia can also access the Remote Jobs and Communities Program, which delivers employment services to people living in remote areas.

For more information, visit: www.jobaccess.gov.au.

There is a range of Australian Government funding initiatives if you employ a person with disability, including:

  • The Employment Assistance Fund provides financial assistance for work- related modifications, equipment and services to help people with disability get employment and perform their work as independently and productively as possible. The assistance is available to new and existing employees with disability.
    For more information, visit here.
  • The Wage Subsidy Scheme offers financial assistance to employers who employ eligible people with disability who are registered with a Disability Employment Services provider. For more information, visit here.
  • Disabled Australian Apprentice Wage Support is an Australian Government incentive payable to an employer who employs an Australian Apprentice who satisfies the disability eligibility criteria in an Australian Apprenticeship. For more information, visit here.

Job Access also has a detailed Employer Toolkit that includes information on disability employment basics, recruiting people with disability, getting your workplace ready and managing your team.

A $50 billion outcome

It is estimated that the economic benefits of employing people with disability would add over $50 billion to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product GDP by 2050 – but only if Australia were to move up into the top eight OECD countries for employment of people with disability.

With Australia facing a shortage of 70,000 welders by 2030, industry needs to consider accessing a diverse range of skilled and talented people. We need to take advantage of Australia’s untapped workforce to meet the needs of business. Smart employers recruit and welcome talent with disability.

In the majority of cases, people with disability are able to work and want to find a job. They simply need to be given the chance to show what they can do.

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