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.

www.cderp.com.au

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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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A Matter of Trust: Building Relationships with the People, Institutions and Organisations – Commentary by Peter Rhodes – CDERP.

On the 2nd July 2016, Australians were asked to cast their vote for the people they “best trust” to represent them in Canberra. Post analysis showed a large percentage of voters appear disillusioned by the existing system which in their eyes continues to promise many things but often fails to deliver on those expectations. This trend is not new! Community trust of governments and their representatives around the world has been dropping for years and is currently at an all-time low. So why is this erosion of trust in governments, institutions and their representatives so universal?

Fundamentally, trust remains a fickle commodity. As the saying goes:

Trust arrives on Foot but can leave on Horseback!!

As a result, years of toil establishing trust can be lost in a heartbeat by, poor decision making, selfish acts, disrespecting others and in a number of cases with institutions, promising the world but delivering far less. For some, particularly those who feel marginalized within their community, the window of opportunity for establishing trust with a new institution can be small and narrow. Some believe, through their life experiences, it’s safer to circle the wagons and maintain a small inner circle of friends (the trustworthy few) rather than endure the continued let downs from institutions, social systems and the people who represent them.

So should we bother establishing trust with new relationships? Why should we persist establishing new relationships when the pain of broken trust (untrustworthiness) can be so unforgiving?

All individuals are social beings. We require people to justify our existence and give our lives meaning and purpose. People who maintain a low opinion of their world, who consider broader society as generally untrustworthy, often have a lower quality of life, poorer health outcomes and often have reduced life expectancy. Thus levels of trust within an individual remain a strong indicator for health and wellbeing. We need people in our lives and hopefully those relationships can remain trustworthy.

However, to achieve “a better life”, we often need to trust more than our immediate family or friends (our proximal partners). We need to establish trust in our institutions and their representatives that provide everyday services such as; clean water, edible food, reliable energy (electricity, gas, petrol), transport, law enforcement, education, health care and access to finance & employment opportunities. Evidence suggests the greater the circle of trust, the more cohesively we interact with our community. Issues such as social inclusion and social empowerment can only be achieved within a foundation of broader community trust.

One relatively new organization which is currently spreading its wings amongst the disability community across this nation is the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). It’s service delivery will be represented by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a scheme aiming to provide reasonable and necessary social supports to approximately 460 000 higher needs people with disability. Also under its charter is an aim to improve the lives of approximately 1.2 million people with disabilities who will not receive direct NDIS support plans but should receive benefits through better access to mainstream services, better access to community services and greater assistance for informal supports such as family and friends.

Thus the overall vision of the NDIA/NDIS is to make the lives of every person with a disability more accessible to a community which has:

• greater opportunity,
• better tailored mainstream services and structures that enable
• greater participation at all levels within society

These are massive goals, dare I say aspirations, that are making, in effect, significant promises to the disability community.

Again, this can provide concern!

Is it right for a government organization such as the NDIA, which has a long and complex journey ahead, to again wrap a marginalized group (people with disability) in visions of grandeur and according to some of the preliminary conferences held by the NDIA over the last few years – a dream of a mini-utopia. Is this again the institutional overreach which is promising a lot but may fail in aspects of delivery??

One recent example:
Millions of dollars have already been spent on community Readiness Programs. Programs which essentially explain the rules of access to the NDIA. At the end, people walk away with some knowledge and a direction to fill in an aspirational plan of how to make their lives more liveable within the community. Recently, they also have access to a date, a planned rollout date within each state, discussing when the NDIS will be starting in their region.

However, within this communication bonanza, are people made aware of the potential “time gap” between being ready with an aspirational plan and the receiving of real/personalized services provided through the assistance of an NDIA planner? Some people will wait another, 12-18 months before the NDIA “rolls into” their area. Once it’s “rolled in” what is the timeline between a regional start up and someone hearing the knock of a Local Area Co-ordinator (LAC) on their door and then the return of a funded plan delivering real services of support.

So here again we test a fundamental “matter of trust” – Promises v Real Delivery.

To enhance trust between an individual and an organization, the first essential ingredient is accurate communication – telling it as it is, not what we want to hear!! A major dent in this vehicle called trust would occur if we know the new truck has rolled into town but it’s not coming down my street for another 12 months. What makes it worse (less trustworthy) is when the communiqué says: be patient, we’re coming – but as all good tradesmen, you don’t show up when you said you would. That belated “Sorry” call deflates expectations and aspirations and again erodes trust. The communication is now slow, hesitant and potentially unforgiving.

So let’s change the organizational mindset – let’s try to build or maintain trust.

If the NDIS knows there will be a significant time gap between a regional roll-out and an individualized operational authentic support plan, then it’s time to tell people well before the problem escalates. If they can’t achieve “On Time, Every-time Services”, then forewarn people.

A potential Trust Builder (one that embraces true “Fairness and Respect”):

Under-promise and Over-deliver!!

Let people know to have their pre-plans ready and then as a matter of courtesy, provide the dates that contact will be achieved (a true date not an aspirational date) – even have the courage to provide the worst case scenario if that is likely. Because from personal experience, when an organization or institution makes itself available ahead of schedule, you get a semblance of believing these people care, they are authentic and a potential to embrace a feeling of enhanced trust.

So to all Organizations and Institutions who relate to the public and want to maintain trust:

• Don’t aspire to promise more than can be delivered
• Communicate accurately before a problem occurs
• Make sure the language is accessible
• Take ownership of service issues
• Aim to deliver service outcomes ahead of communicated schedule or as a worse -case scenario, at the time stated.
• Re-communicate change quickly
• Don’t allow, social media or the press to be the deliverer of faults, which are actually facts.

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Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities.

Today the committee released its final report to the USA Secretary of Labor. Established in September 2014, the primary purpose of the work of the Committee was to address issues, and make recommendations, to improve the employment participation of people with I/DD and others with significant disabilities by ensuring opportunities for Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE). This is a brief summary highlighting what are to me some of the key points.

The committee define competitive integrated employment as work performed on a full or part-time basis (including self-employment) for which an individual is:

1. Compensated at not less than federal minimum wage requirements or state or local minimum wage law (whichever is higher) and not less than the customary rate paid by the employer for the same or similar work performed by other individuals without disabilities;

2. At a location where the employee interacts with other persons who do not have disabilities (not including supervisory personnel or individuals who are providing services to such employee) to the same extent that individuals who do not have disabilities and who are in comparable positions interact with other persons; and

3. Presented, as appropriate, with opportunities for advancement that are similar to those offered other employees who are not individuals with disabilities and who have similar positions.

The report noted that; Increasing CIE for individuals with I/DD as well as those with other significant disabilities is a widely shared goal, but one for which a truly comprehensive federal strategy has yet to be defined and implemented.

For people with I/DD or other significant disabilities, center-based employment, also called sheltered workshops, have long been used as a place to provide “prevocational” services for people deemed as either unemployable in CIE or as “needing training” to prepare them for eventual CIE in their communities.

However, center-based employment has been shown to rarely result in CIE, and most participants in center-based employment are paid substantially below minimum wage. Currently, an estimated 228,600 people with I/DD and other significant disabilities are being paid subminimum wage under certificates issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD).

Consistent with what evidence tells us, they report; ”Models have shown repeatedly that people previously considered ‘unemployable’ can work, can be productive and can achieve independence. Thus, investing in this approach is a wise use of public funds.” In light of these truths, finding ways to make CIE accessible for individuals with I/DD and other significant disabilities should be a shared priority of federal and state governments and disability community stakeholders.“

“Creating opportunities, removing barriers, and expecting a substantial improvement in the workforce participation rate of individuals with I/DD and other significant disabilities are all essential elements to ensure full economic participation and self-sufficiency. Working adults with disabilities are two times more likely to be living in poverty than their non-disabled peers. CIE is a pathway out of poverty that changes expectations about income production, savings, and economic mobility.”

In the area of practice implementation consistent with our research they note that the application of evince based practice is sketchy at best. It’s not uncommon to find services that state they are one thing actually just using the term to mask what is essentially “their version of evidence based practice.”

They reported; “Even when services are intended to result in CIE, the design and implementation of services are not reflective of Evidence Based Practice (EBP), that is, practice grounded in research and shown to be effective. For example, there is considerable research support for providing experience in community-based workplaces performing actual work tasks as a tool for exposing individuals to career and employment options and as a way of determining work preferences and teaching work skills.”

“However, this EBP strategy is inconsistently applied, or alternative and ineffective strategies are employed, such as “work readiness training” in sheltered workshops, which compounds the ongoing challenge service providers face in successfully engaging employers who might hire individuals with significant disabilities. These circumstances point to an obvious need for elevating the skills of practitioners in the field who are supporting individuals with significant disabilities in seeking and obtaining CIE.“

“Delivering services that result in CIE requires a highly skilled workforce reaching a standard that has yet to be set nationally. In order to develop this workforce there needs to be access to quality training and a rebalancing of funding to pay professional wages that acknowledge the need for high standards to achieve high CIE outcomes.”

In the area of workforce development they made a number of recommendations such as;

CIE capacity-building for service provider staff needs to be driven by a common standard by which performance can be developed, supported and measured so that:

i. Pre-service and in-service training, ideally framed by certification standards, and technical assistance related to the expectation, value and outcome of CIE and skill development to facilitate CIE is provided at various levels, including:

ii.

1. Workforce development/employment and education/training service staff of all WIOA core programs and key partners at all levels of employment (i.e. executive, supervisory, and direct service personnel)

2. State agency workforce development/employment and education/training vendors

3. Certification, licensing, and quality assurance personnel associated with respective state agency workforce development/employment and education/training partners

4. Teachers and educators at all levels (early learning, pre-K, K-12, special education, higher education), and

5. Medical professionals who treat individuals with disabilities, including individuals with acquired disabilities (e.g. doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, medical specialists, trauma medical staff, etc.)

ii. Pay scales for disability support professionals take into account certification standards so that these professionals are compensated at a rate that reflects their responsibility and expected competence in delivering services that support CIE. An effective employment system that supports CIE is contingent on the performance and retention of skilled disability support staff. The return on the federal investment in services that support CIE is consequently enhanced.

Additionally the following was recommended;

a. Nationwide web-based, centralized instruction must be developed and implemented in order to mandate that all public workforce system employment services personnel become certified to ensure the continuity of the provision of quality services to businesses and people with disabilities, in particular to people with I/DD and significant disabilities.

b. Educational online initiatives should include, but not be limited to: all employment services personnel within the public workforce system and directed to AJC management and staff, business service representatives, Workforce Development Board members and staff, state workforce executives, and vocational rehabilitation staff.

c. Leads to a certification credential for both current and new employment services personnel working within the public workforce system

d. Certification requirements should build on existing standards, such as those established by the Association for Persons Supporting Employment First (APSE) Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP) exam, and augment any other existing professional standard requirements, e.g., Certified Rehabilitation Counselor

Certification and appropriate remuneration have been discussion points domestically for some time.

Significant among the recommendations was that transition service should start at the age of 14, something that I’ve long believed would rid our current system of the inconsistencies that abound in the delivery of school transition services. It is suggested that:

1. Students with significant disabilities to leave school either employed or with a post-school employment plan that leads to employment;

2. Students with significant disabilities to participate in transition programs that include integrated work experience, internships, apprenticeships or similar job experiences.

Additionally they recommend;

a. setting of transition goals that are based on CIE first and “presumed employability” of all individuals,

b. a requirement for a minimum of one competitive integrated job prior to high school exit that is documented as a transition service,

c. required participation of both the state vocational rehabilitation services agency and the state intellectual/developmental disabilities agency at Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings of transition-age youth, and/or or other agencies responsible for providing or paying for transition services,

d. prohibition of Section14(c). subminimum wage employment or services as an allowable transition service or post-school outcome, and

e. the age of concentrated transition planning to begin no later than 14.

Families should also be supported through the following measures;

i. Information to families of students with disabilities about strong predictors of post-school success, to include paid, community-based, integrated work experiences prior to school exit.

ii. Family engagement strategies to include:

1. support for the whole family in working toward shared goals for their children,

2. a clear role for family participation,

3. a role for successfully-employed self-advocates and their families to mentor students and their families from diverse cultures who are learning about their own possible career pathways,

4. career exploration opportunities,

5. building students’ self-advocacy and self-determination skills, including making informed financial decisions and improving financial capability,

6. progress monitoring at key transition stages en route to achieving job of choice (from early intervention, middle school, high school, to post- school, and including CIE and postsecondary education), and

7. sensitivity to cultural diversity among families.

This is a detailed report running in excess of 100 pages and well worth reading.

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A New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes(2015) – Revisited

Only a few days ago a colleague of mine asked if I’d read this report and what my thoughts were on it. His interest was aroused by his understanding that the minister was going to respond to this in coming days, which to be honest came as a shock, as I thought that this had happened a year ago and I’d thought that the report was buried when Tony Abbott had his Malcolm moment.

Having recently read the US Dept of Labour Report into improving disability employment outcomes, I thought that it was worth second look. In the intervening period since its release I’ve been working on a variety of research reports including work on developing a social entreprise model of open employment, work on developing a new tool for measuring employment outcomes, my own PhD research in the DES system and of course my work on customised employment and visits to overseas services that deliver disability employment. All of these events naturally allow you to develop your perspective, so with that in mind these are my thoughts on the report.

The DES Provider System.

The report seems to emphasis that DES providers should consider reframing themselves as mainstream service providers, based on what I’d consider the dubious premise that JSA (now JobActive) providers delivers better results. Remember there’s lies, damn lies and statistics. The authors of the report state; “While clients of DES providers can choose to access Employment Providers, there should be more effective linking between the two types of providers. This is particularly important for many DES clients that have difficulty in finding meaningful work that matches their skill levels because mainstream employment services often have access to a greater diversity of jobs, including skilled positions.” (pp152) There’s a few things that I take issue with, but lets start with the notion of what is meaningful work. To my knowledge Job Active and DES actually don’t measure what is meaningful work, indeed there is no recognition that work and employment are different things. If they define meaningful by how long a client stays in a job placement, then it is at best a questionable measure, at worst a complete misrepresentation of “meaningful” work.

Secondly the idea that JobActive has access to a greater diversity of employment and skilled positions is a complete furphy devoid of any real evidence. It also supports the notion that employment services is simply about plugging people into a job, rather than looking at using evidence based practices that lead to real work with real career prospects that match the individual and their preferences to a suitable employment setting. Job Matching and Career Development are more name than established practice in employment services.

Finally, what are skilled positions and how do you know whether the client has any skills, if you don’t have any evidence based processes to truly understand the client?

Disability Awareness Training.

This is something of a holy grail in employment services. But you’d have to ask why that after 30 odd years of disability awareness training, why haven’t employment rates gone up. Their can’t be anyone on the planet who isn’t aware of disability, so why haven’t employment rates improved? Maybe it might be a simple case that business is immune to the message (crying wolf to many times) and have simply switched off, so that they can focus on their business? Rich Leucking said it best a few years ago when he said enough of the disability awareness training, time to move onto something more effective.

Social Entreprise / Social Businesses.

The fact that they managed to seperate this into two different business types highlights the fact that globally we don’t have a clear definition of what a social entreprise is. Certainly there are research efforts underway to define this, but the report from my perspective simply muddies the water. A social entreprise is a business with a social purpose that invests in that purpose. The report muddies the water by referencing profits and not for profits and distribution of capital. The authors to my mind have confused themselves by adding layers of comment that simply reinforce their own particular understanding.

Our research project into social entreprise has developed a definition which defines a social entreprise by it’s characteristics.

Ultimately whether you want to call it a social entreprise or a social business is a moot point. It’s whether the business is addressing a social need that is the decider.

The NDIS.

Only got a brief mention, but it is clear to me that they don’t see a role for the NDIS in mainstream services. Given the arbitrary and non sensical nature of the divide, i.e., capacity to work measured in hours, I wonder if this is simply about protecting your own yard. After all if they consider that the barriers to people in DES accessing JobActive as a constraint, then why not remove the barriers to NDIS clients accessing the “superior services” that they highlight as a feature of the JobActive providers?

Big Business.

Please no more championing what big business does and recommending more awards. Big business in reality aren’t big employers of people with a disability. Name me one big business that has a workforce that is representative of the community at large? Where’s the business with 20% of its workforce having some type of disability? Do I have to say more?

Often, we see large business lauded by vested interests about their diversity policy and how they employ large numbers of “Australians.” I could name a few biggies that are held out as examples, all of whom are also guilty of destroying local employment with mass sackings in the name of efficiency, usually around dividend and profit time. Focus on local business and you’ll get better long term results.

Micro-Business.

Good to see that it gets a mention. The vast majority of business that exists today is a micro-business. That is a business that employs its owner and one or two other people. At least the report had something positive to say about them, noting that;

“Micro businesses are responsible for employing around 20 per cent of individuals. Due to their small size, micro businesses tend to be more embedded in their local communities. Research suggests many micro businesses are active contributors to community capacity building.”

“As a business entity, they have proven successful in facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship and serve as a supporter of community development by investing in local areas and contributing to community initiatives.”

Personally the figures regarding the number of micro-businesses in Australia is as odds with global figures, but thats a moot point. Given that big business is in reality a small employer, more famous for destroying local employment and exporting it overseas, the hope for the future for most Australians lays in creating your own employment, not in increasingly technology driven, labour exporting big business. The reports comment regarding innovation and small business is interesting in that its the opposite of what the government is doing by throwing money at big and foreign businesses to innovate. Innovation starts locally by small business developing their niche, thats were the support should be. Think about that for a minute!

Conclusion.

Personally, what we have today is a result of years of vested interests protecting their patch at the expense of the clients and the failure to use of evidence based practices. The head of a large DES provider recently opined that we know what works, now we simply need to be free to do it. So time to stop producing glossy reports for government and simply get on with focusing on introducing evidence based practices and really personalise your approach to employment. The answer doesn’t lay with government, it exists within you, if you’d be bold enough to let it out.

This is what happens when I have a Sunday morning to spare!

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