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.


About Peter Smith

Disability practitioner at Praxis Disability Consulting, PhD researcher - Sydney Medical School, Research affiliate - Centre for Disability Studies, Sydney. Lecturer in Counselling and Case Management - ACAP. Counsellor and Psychotherapist at Praxis Counselling and Therapy. Interests: Disability employment, person centred practice, self determination theory, existential therapy, personal counselling
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