A turning point in disability confidence for NNSWLHD

Lismore Base Hospital in Lismore, New South Wales (Source: NNSWLHD)
Image: Lismore Base Hospital in Lismore, New South Wales (Source: NNSWLHD)

With a network of 12 hospitals and multi-purpose services and 20 community health centres, JobAccess alumni Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) provides public healthcare for a community of 300,000 residents across Northern NSW. The scale and reach of its service delivery also make NNSWLHD the largest employer in the region.

Studies show a workforce that reflects the community they serve is better positioned to understand and respond to the needs of consumers from diverse backgrounds, including disability1. Manager Patient and Carer Experience Kenneth Lee says ensuring inclusion for employees and patients at NNSWLHD is vital to deliver a quality healthcare experience.

“One of our objectives has been to create awareness, overcome stereotypes and stigma associated with people with disability. We also wanted to know ‘how to start?’ as we had no idea about how to improve diversity within our workforce,” Kenneth shares.

The process of implementing the NSW Government’s Diversity Action and Inclusion Strategy saw NNSWLHD identify ways to improve disability awareness within the organisation.

To support this objective, NNSWLHD entered into a free, 12-month partnership with JobAccess Employer Engagement – the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC), completed in August 2019. The NDRC works with larger employers by providing expert advice, resources and strategies to improve their disability confidence. The 12-month partnership is designed to help identify and remove any attitudinal, systemic and operational barriers to disability employment in the workplace.

Flexible approach to recruitment

As a starting point, NDRC Professional Adviser David Tran reviewed NNSWLHD’s recruitment policies and practices, accessibility of information and selection methods through the lens of a person with disability.

“Having a dedicated consultant come in and guide our efforts was indeed valuable. We incorporated David’s recommendations from the review into our Disability Action and Inclusion Plan 2019-2023,” Kenneth says.

One of the recommendations was to adopt a flexible approach to recruitment practices. In many ways, this was an essential step for NNSWLHD towards disability inclusion in the workplace.

“We always had a very constrained approach to our interview process. Ironically, it was based on the idea that we should have one process for everyone, so as not to discriminate against anybody.

It was a real turning point in people’s understanding that one approach doesn’t suit everyone.”

Kenneth says incorporating flexible ways to assess candidates with disability gave the organisation the licence to be more creative, ensuring equitable access for everyone.

“We are now more open to having people tell us what works for them, rather than us deciding what works for everyone,” he shares.

The NDRC’s recommendations have not only helped make recruitment processes inclusive but also impacted career progression opportunities for employees with disability.

“We are implementing changes to our career progression processes. For instance, for some employees who have been on casual contracts, we are turning those into permanent employment. Also, we are working to re-grade positions for some employees who are consistently performing duties associated with a higher grade.”

Image: Two clinicians at a hospital (Source: NNSWLHD)
Image: Two clinicians at a hospital (Source: NNSWLHD)

Engaging with DES providers

Disability Employment Services (DES) providers are experts at connecting people with disability to prospective employers.

As part of the partnership, JobAccess and NNSWLHD organised a DES Employer Information Session inviting local employment service providers to gain insights and tips for their candidates with disability to secure roles across the organisation.

“Initially, we didn’t know what to think about DES providers, or what services were provided and how they would work with us. The information session we hosted with JobAccess helped answer some of these questions for us,” says Kenneth.

DES providers can support employers in many ways. They source eligible candidates for jobs, offer advice on promoting job vacancies, shortlisting candidates and interviewing people with disability. They can also provide guidance on disability awareness in the workplace, available financial support, flexible working arrangements and disability legislation.

“DES providers offered some great information during the session, including how we can support candidates with disability. They were responsive to our questions, and also offered to provide awareness and education to our staff. They also walked through scenarios on what it looks like to work with them.

The range of skillsets available among DES candidates got us thinking of all the positions we could offer people with disability, beyond stereotypical roles. The session helped us understand that disability covers a diverse range of circumstances, and we need to consider disability in that broader sense.”

NNSWLHD have also developed a process guide that encourages hospital managers to identify roles for people with disability within their services, and proactively engage with local DES providers to ensure employment opportunities are afforded to community members.

The process guide is an example of good practice to help hiring managers be aware of the supports available. With access to information and continued implementation, Kenneth is confident that disability employment will become second nature. “Once we get to a certain level of diversity, some of the things will happen naturally,” he says.

Increase in manager confidence

Aiming to increase the employment of people with disability within the organisation to 4.8% by 2025, Kenneth believes their 12-month partnership with the NDRC has helped NNSWLHD get a step closer to that goal.

“There is more confidence in our managers to talk about disability. They now think about disability not in terms of how the work will be done but about how a person will add value to the workplace.

Additionally, it has helped us be more responsive to our clients with disability. Managers are starting to understand the benefits of how having a diverse workforce translates into servicing a diverse community,” Kenneth concludes.

For employers looking to increase their disability confidence, there is a wide range of support available. You can contact JobAccess on 1800 464 800 to speak with our Advisers and learn more about working with the JobAccess Employer Engagement (NDRC) team.

Employers can also join the JobAccess mailing list to receive e-newsletters and invitations to employer events designed to help employers begin or further their efforts in employing people with disability.

1.Building inclusive workplaces for a diverse workforce. Heads Up. 2017. https://www.headsup.org.au/training-and-resources/news/2017/09/15/building-inclusive-workplaces-for-a-diverse-workforce

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