Social Enterprise – New Name for an Old Dog!

In our research looking at social enterprise as a conduit for open employment, there was a train of thought backed by overseas experience that sheltered workshops would appropriate this title to dress up their enclave settings into something more politically and socially acceptable. I’ve just looked through a social enterprise leaders list of social enterprises and I’m dismayed by the number of sheltered workshops or ADE’s as we call them now in Australia that are rapidly rebadging themselves as social enterprises.

The majority of these organisations fail to provide open employment opportunities and worst of all fail to provide award based wages, rather they pay piece work rates that can equate to only a few dollars per hour for there workers, although calling staff workers in these settings in demonstrably wrong, given that they are really government subsidised clients.

Until this new type of sheltered workshop adopt open employment pathways and career planning and support, then they will only ever be capture and keep employment settings that fail to deliver on true independence, social inclusion and social cohesion. So much for self determination!

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Job Assessment – What Assessment?

I was thinking about JCA’s, the process and the number of inappropriate assessments that are turned out. You could argue that it’s the clients fault because they provide the evidence, but given the time frame in which they’re conducted you could equally argue that it’s the assessor’s inability to understand the client that is at fault. Ann Neville wrote in 2011 that her research had shown that it was the mismatch between disability and the assessors qualifications. I won’t argue with that as I’ve seen assessments signed off by exercise physiologists, whose training in the area of intellectual disability would be slim at best, non existent at worst.

But it raises the question as to why assess in the first place. Certainly the JCA process with its deficits approach effectively means that the client is disadvantaged from the start. But again why assess and why send in a report to the employment consultant that has the capacity to prevent the consultant from seeing the real client.

I would argue that if DES is to truly operate in a person centred way, using customised employment strategies, then JCA’s are of no value. Before you scream blue murder, ask yourself to clearly explain the difference between someone with a benchmark of 8 hours and 9 hours? Better still explain it to someone who doesn’t work in the DES system.
Customised employment practices require the use of Discovery, of developing an understanding of natural supports and integrating them, understanding the client in their own environment and understanding the client from a functional perspective. None of these factors can be understood or explored in the current assessments processes and this is only the start of the customised employment process.

It seems to me that the system is mismatched with the client and that process is more important that truly understanding the client. It might be easier to change the system and let consultants do their job in a true person centred manner.

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A Discussion of Recruitment, Development and Retention Best Practices.

In late 2015, I attended the annual disability employment think tank hosted by the Center for Social Capital, the not for profit affiliate of Griffin-Hammis Associates. Held at a wilderness lodge in Idaho, the purpose is to get people away from technology and to speak freely about emerging trends in our field. In 2015, the focus was on staff, an important factor in the success of our work with clients.

We looked at seven areas of concern and discussed potential solutions and emerging practices. What did we discover? Amazingly or should I say not so surprising in the setting that we worked, over two hundred practice ideas and solutions emerged from our group of 40+ individuals involved in different aspects of disability employment. The findings are too voluminous to discuss in the limited space of this forum.

What I can say is that the findings and ideas are extraordinary in both their depth and simplicity, highlighting that no single person has all the answers and that by sharing and opening engaging in discussion about the future of disability employment, solutions to everyday and complex challenges that we face can be found.

Of course one of the commonest issues facing disability employment in Australia is the cloak and dagger manner in which service providers guard “their secrets”. Guess what? Your secrets are not worth keeping to yourself and the sector and by extension clients would be better off if you’d open up and share what works, what doesn’t and what we need to do to create a new paradigm.

I’m off to the USA to attend this years invitation only event in August and I’m taking one of the Centre for Disability Employment Research and Practice associates with me. We’ll be primed when we get back and will share some of what we discovered in the USA when we host the first of our annual disability employment think tanks in October this year.

Exciting times lay ahead of us with the NDIS priming the future of Disability Employment Services and we look forward to disrupting the conversation and building a new client centred disability employment paradigm. Join us!

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Defining the Future of Disability Employment Through the Lens of Person Centred Practice.

In 2015 in my submission to the DES Framework Review I wrote the following opening statement regarding person centred practice in disability employment.

“Any review of the current program needs to start with defining what the program is about. At present the program suffers in that it is presented as a person-centred program to support people with disability enter the workforce, yet when examined against accepted definitions of person-centred practices, the program fails to satisfy even the most generous definitions of person-centred practice, as illustrated by the following comments.

Amado and McBride (2002) developed a framework for human services that propose to provide long term support for people with disabilities should support

• People to discover and move toward a more desirable future.
• Protect and promote five valued experiences: sharing ordinary community places and activities, contribution, expanding relationships, being treated with respect and having a valued social role, and choice.
• Offer needed help in ways that support and strengthen community competence.

Stirk and Sanderson (2012) noted that person-centred practice is a philosophy of practice that goes to the heart of the culture of a service organisation. Schalock and Verdugo (2012) made the point that individuals receiving services will have their own unique view of what a person-centred service is.

Collectively, these positions highlight the difficulties that the current program has in relation to being person-centred. It fails due to not having a clear vision and guidelines that allows service providers to alter their culture to reflect the notion that a person-centred practice is defined by the unique method that it delivers individualised service to a person with a disability.

The program of the future must clearly articulate to service users and staff what a person-centred program is, how it will operate, what the program can and will do, have sufficient flexibility to meet client expectations and provide a framework that allows staff to operate in a truly person-centred way.”

Nearly a year later reflecting on this, I wonder how many people with a disability have been engaged in the process of defining a new system of disability employment practice? Some time ago a friend of mine noted that the issue with person centred practice is that the minute you try to manualise it, it fails. Given that how person centred a program is has a large subjective element based on the recipients experience of the system, I wonder if the solution to person centred practice in disability employment lays in two areas; how an organisation responds to the individual and how we assess the outcome?
How do we achieve this? From the organisation perspective possibly the solution is found in proper training in person centred practice and the actual planning methodology, followed by a comprehensive review of current practice to ensure that procedures reflect staff understanding. Granted it might require some changes in the way that the organisation operates, but it shouldn’t conflict with compliance measures and it has the potential to improve client engagement with the process.

Measuring outcomes will require a new paradigm. The current system of star ratings isn’t a true outcome reflection in any system that reflects clients, but is simply a guide to who plays the system effectively. It doesn’t measure quality in outcome and the impact of the employment achieved or whether it is valued by the client. Yes, you could mount a case that clients are excited about getting a job, but what about in six week or six months time. What about the impact of the clients new found employment on the other aspects of the clients life? There’s probably a pervasive argument that it’s not part of the DES program or concern, but if I continue to fall out of jobs and require ongoing investment to start the process again, then clearly we have a problem that hasn’t been identified.

I would argue that an outcome measure that examines and measures social inclusion and social cohesion, along with quality of employment is a better measure of a program that affords a person centred approach and better guide for clients in a system that allows clients to choose their DES provider. Yes by all means measure compliance, which really is an audit exercise, but a system that offers itself as person centred would and should measure client factors in order to define success. The more we understand the client equation, then the less likely clients are to fall out of employment.

Something to ponder!

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Is Social Entreprise the New Black?

Some months ago when I started my current research program into social entreprise as a possible driver for open employment for people with a disability, a colleague in the USA stated he hated the use of the term “social entreprise” because it could be bastardised and used to dress up a sheltered workshop or Australian Disability Entreprises (ADE) as they are is Australia, without making any changes to how they operate or the outcomes that they achieve. I could see his point and it gave me pause to think what I might find.

Afterall we’d already moved away from the “sheltered workshop” terminology to Australian Disability Entreprises to make them more acceptable and to a degree this was successful in part due to the lack of community awareness of what an ADE is. Social Entreprise is a whole new term with a trendy proposition – a business aimed at community benefits! For ADE’s and their not for profit owners, it fits with an enlightened community, particularly for not for profits who have religiously engaged in a war on the “for profits” entering their sector, you know the one – charities. How dare they make a profit from community service work!

Not for profits of course make a profit, the difference is that all their profits must go towards furthering their stated cause rather than paid out in dividends to shareholders and in the event that they are wound up, the assets go to a like minded not for profit. Now a number of our not for profits if they were listed companies would rank right up there in the top 100 companies, so lets get away from the fallacy that they’re little businesses.

Social Entreprises have been around for the better part of thirty years serving a variety of causes, but lack a clear definition of what a social entreprise is. Efforts have been underway for some time to create a common definition, but I wonder if this will simply be an exercise in semantics?

When I started my research I looked at a variety of lists of social entreprises in Australia to see if there was a common thread. Disappointingly what I’ve found is thousands of sheltered workshops or ADE’s now listed as social entreprises that appear no different in how they operate today to when they were largely formed. This sadly confirms some of my colleagues suspicions about social entreprise and to a degree is consistent with much of the language that exists in the disability employment community in that terminology is adopted to describe practice with no relationship to real evidence based practice.

What would you expect to see in a real social entreprise that operates in the disability space? Well for me that would include evidence based practices, a community benefit focus, full award wages, career options, training and development, choice, on the job support and a profitable business. Oddly that’s not too dissimilar to what we’d all expect in a respectable employer.

Will we see real social entreprise evolve in Australia or will we continue to see the rise of faux social entreprise? Me, I’m an optimist, so I think that with full support from the boards of ADE’s, a move to change the culture and the utilisation of all the service providers assets, including lifestyle services, supporting the social entrepreneur within, we can move to true social entreprise models of open employment.

Where do you start? Why not start by having a look at what exists within your organisation and contrast that with successful social entreprises.

I’d like to see social entreprise not be the new black or this season’s fashionable entity, but simply an entreprise that quietly goes about changing society, the lives of the people that work within them and be seen as a valuable community partner.

This is something that I think we might explore at our Disability Employment retreat in October.

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The NDIS and Employment

One of the areas of support available within the NDIS is that of support to find and maintain a job. Recently you may have noticed a rise in the number of ads for the School Leavers Employment Support (SLES) program, many of the ads from Disability Employment Services (DES) providers now moving into the NDIS space.

SLES is of course a remake of the state based Transition to Work (TTW) programs that were designed to assist students to transition from high school to employment, a program that by any assessment was a mediocre success at best. The new version starts with a teacher delivered functional work assessment for students with permanent disability. From here of course there is a visit to a planner and then the opportunity for the student who has qualified for the NDIS supports to talk with one of the providers about using their services. Most of the providers have put up glossy websites touting their credentials and reasons to use their services. Most offer work experience and an array of reasons to connect with them.

Without going into the mechanics of the process of becoming eligible to access the supports and of course the $20K plus funds available to pay the provider there is an elephant in the room that no one will talk about.

Given the failure of the DES system to manifestly improve employment rates amongst people with a disability, what makes anyone think that the DES providers will make a difference in the NDIS arena?

One of the promises of the NDIS was the opportunity for people with a disability to exercise real choice and control over their life and destination. These types of parameters don’t exist in practice within the DES system and aren’t likely to be displayed by DES providers working in the NDIS space. Why, well because it will require a radical change in culture within the provider system, something that isn’t possible by simply saying we’ve changed and made a pretty website.

Evidence based practice requires that providers function in a true person centred manner and adopt the practice of customised employment if they are to really work within the client driven and controlled NDIS environment. For disability employment service providers, this is something that they’ve yet to demonstrate capacity to deliver. There are of course a few exceptions within the DES system.

The NDIS held out the promise of true client driven and client controlled practice and outcomes, outcomes that include career planning and real work for real pay. It includes self-employment for those that want it and ownership of entreprise. Rebadging old systems that only marginally worked and allowing the programs to be driven by marginally effective providers isn’t innovative and doesn’t bode well for the future of employment under the NDIS.

I fear that what we are witnessing is a repeat of the sheltered workshop movement rebadging themselves as disability entreprises and now of course the current flavour of the month; social entreprises, without making any real change to how they operate other than a new logo and a fresh coat of paint.

Change is possible and outcomes can improve, but it will require real innovation and real change. There is one opportunity for change and improvement, but it won’t come from the old providers, but that’s another story.

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Measuring the Success of Disability Employment.

For many years now Disability Service providers have been awarded stars ranging from one to five to signify how successful they where at producing employment outcomes. For all intents and purposes this is the only measure that clients have to gauge the success of the provider, but is it truly a measure of the employment success?

Surely there are other factors that should be taken into account in determining the success of the outcome, factors such as the end benefit of employment. It could be argued that outside of whether they found you a job are irrelevant, however ask yourself whether you’d stay in a job if it didn’t provide other benefits beyond a wage.

Employment for employments sake lacks merit. Employment that provides tangible benefits such as career progression, inclusion, cohesion, empowerment and quality of life benefits are some of the hallmarks of quality employment. None of these factors are currently part of the measure of success in rating the providers in the DES system and why not. At a guess I’d say that it’s simply the fact whilst we might like to think that DES is different from mainstream employment services, it isn’t. It’s a job service designed to plug you into a job quickly so that government can reduce welfare outlays. Cost reduction is always the governments agenda and well rightfully so, as the capacity to pay for services isn’t infinite.

That said, there should be a better way to measure employment outcomes that also takes into account the social quality of those outcomes in terms of the impact of employment on the client long term. Employment in itself isn’t simply about an income, but about the intangible effects that employment brings to the individual and the community at large. It is this relationship with the other or environment that determines the type of society that we have.

So how do we create a better outcome measure that reflects government priorities and client ambitions?

At the Centre for Disability Employment Research and Practice (CDERP) we’re undertaking a project to develop a better outcome measure utilising social quality theory as our framework. As part of this research, we need to define what the parameters actually mean to people. These parameters are the four pillars of social quality theory, being Social Inclusion, Social Cohesion, Empowerment and Socio-Economic Security. Now it might be easy to say that we actually understand what these four factors mean, but do we? What do they mean to you, what do they mean to someone with a disability, we don’t know until we actually have that discussion with the community.

It’s a bit like work and employment, they appear to be the same, but they’re not!

Where to from here? Peter Rhodes from CDERP is currently outlining the first part of the research into defining these parameters, which will lead to a research project to development of a consensus view that we can work from and test. We expect to start this conversation in general terms at our disability employment retreat in October, 2016. From here, it will move to the broader community, before drilling down in the disability community. Join us in this exciting project!

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