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:


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.


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.


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!


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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Maintaining Fidelity in the Discovery Process

Customised employment has been rapidly gaining ground over the past decade in the USA as a result of the efforts of people like Cary Griffin and his people at Griffin Hammis Associates and Michael Callahan at Marc Gold and Associates.

Across the USA and Australia there are many people that proclaim that they use Customised Employment and its key process of Discovery. The evidence suggests that for many this is simply a name and for some a process that they can short cut to suit themselves. The reality is that there are no shortcuts to job development and successful outcomes – you must use the entire process.

In order to protect the fidelity of the process and to ensure that the process of customised employment is properly implemented, a discovery fidelity scale is being developed. Lead by Dr. Stephen Hall from Griffin Hammis, a consortium of academics, practitioners and disability councils, this project is moving rapidly to validity and reliability testing. Once validated it will provide an empirically validated measure as to whether Discovery has been properly implemented – in short whether you are actually using all the steps required to be truly using Customised Employment processes.

With Discovery now a legally mandated process in the USA, the development of the Discovery Fidelity Scale holds out the promise that those that say they are using customised employment will truly be customised employment specialists. The scale itself will only be available to those who have completed training in its application, something that will be available when the scale is finally validated.

At present the working model isn’t available publicly or able to be distributed. However we at CDERP will be reviewing the scale at our October retreat in order to provide input into its development and application globally.

This is one of the many things that we’ll be working on at our retreat. I’m presently in the USA looking at how customised employment is done and have just spent the last few days with Cary Griffin at the annual Griffin Hammis invitation only retreat for experts in customised employment. I’ve got a bucket load of stuff to share with CDERP people and our retreat attendees. It’s going to be fun and the next year is full of promise, which includes a disability employment study tour of the USA in June that culminates with presenting at the ASPE 2017 conference in Portland. We’ll be detailing more of that trip at our retreat.



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The Best Head for the Hills Retreat

The Centre for Disability Employment Research and Practice are holding their annual disability employment think tank in October, 2016.

Details via the link.http://www.cderp.com.au/the-hills-retreat-2016.html



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Disability Employment Framework Enquiry

I’ve uploaded a copy of my submission to my Google Plus page for anyone who is interested to read.

You’ll find it under the posts page at;




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First World Problems

One of my students sent me this video link. It highlights and puts things into perspective. Watch and reflect.

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