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Event Wrap - Disability inclusion an Essential element for forward thinking employers

Guest speakers and panellists. Clockwise from back left - Luke Jenner, James O’Malley, Kenneth Lee, Daniel Valiente-Riedl, Jade Roche, Tim Dalli, Katrina Webb, Rhiannon Stokes

Image: Guest speakers and panellists. Clockwise from back left - Luke Jenner, James O’Malley, Kenneth Lee, Daniel Valiente-Riedl, Jade Roche, Tim Dalli, Katrina Webb, Rhiannon Stokes.

Employers were encouraged to embrace the potential of disability employment and keep taking steps towards disability inclusion at a recent seminar hosted by JobAccess in collaboration with Essential Energy.

The 21st seminar for employers by JobAccess and the first to be held in a regional area, Driving Disability Employment took place in Kingscliff NSW on Wednesday 11 March. It focused on providing employers with practical support, advice, and real world experiences to help effect positive change towards disability inclusion within their workplaces. JobAccess co-hosted the event with Alumni Partner Essential Energy, with 47 people in attendance.

Strong business case for disability inclusion for employers

Speaking at the seminar was Daniel Valiente-Riedl, General Manager at JobAccess, who explained the strong business case for disability employment, workplace diversity and inclusion.

“Rather than focusing on disability employment as ‘simply the right thing to do’, we encourage employers to look at the business case. Evidence for workplace inclusion is strong, as inclusive workplaces are three times more likely to be highly effective and five times more likely to innovate,” he said citing findings in the Inclusion@Work Index 2019-2020 by Diversity Council Australia.

He also explained the range of intangible long-term business benefits employers may derive from an inclusive workplace, including improved customer relations, enhanced brand and goodwill and a diverse workforce that not only draws from the widest possible talent pool but better represents and understands the community which it serves.

Change organisational thinking

Emcee and keynote speaker Katrina Webb OAM, Triple Paralympic Athlete Winner, also encouraged employers to get outside their comfort zone and challenge their thinking about employing people with disability.

“Reflect on your thinking, and what gets in the way of progression. Encourage individuals to think about their own thought process, and bring your whole selves to promote change in the organisation,” she said.

Work in partnership to drive inclusion across an organisation

Luke Jenner, Essential Energy’s General Manager, Customer and Network Services and Inclusion and Diversity DisAbility Working Group sponsor encouraged employers to view inclusion as a key part of business operations and to seek support when needed.

“Inclusion isn't just a policy or a corporate target at Essential Energy. We strive to weave it into our business in everything we do. Essential Energy recognises that one of the best ways to build an inclusive and diverse workforce is to work with partners whose value is not only aligned with ours but who can help us connect with people and advocate for the communities in which we operate. We've been incredibly fortunate to be able to partner with JobAccess who have supported and guided us on our disability journey from the outset,” Luke said.

Embrace the many benefits people with disability bring to a workplace

Attendees later had the opportunity to hear from employees and employers sharing their own experiences with disability in the workplace, with their open and honest insights one of the highlights from the day.

Jade Roche, Estimating Officer at Essential Energy was a strong voice at the seminar encouraging employers to take action.

“Don’t knock it until you try it. The common misconception about my disability is that soon as some people see the wheelchair, they assume that I must require help and couldn’t possibly be the fully independent man that I am. Simple issues like not being able to reach things teach you to think outside the box and always to remember ‘that if there’s a will, there’s a way’,” Jade said.

Tim Dalli, Zone Substation-Electrical Apprentice at Essential Energy, was another panellist pointing to the positive characteristics people with disability can bring to a workplace. “People with disability understand hard work. They are tough and determined by what they have been through and dealt with. They are excellent at adapting to overcome a problem, and they do it every day overcoming the unique obstacles having a disability places on top of the other issues life already offers us. True dedication, loyalty, empathy and appreciation is not something an employer can usually buy, but it’s the added bonus they get when hiring someone with a disability,” Tim shared.

Learn from other employers

Speaking as a current employer of people with disability, Dylan O’Malley, General Manager, Aruma urged his counterparts to not assume inclusion brings added costs to a business.

"(Businesses) all need to be viable, and that's the best thing we can do for everybody, but that doesn't mean we still can't provide the additional supports for individual groups. We need to provide confidence that effective management and diverse, inclusive environments can be successful.”

“When you're going through a transition period, there's not a lot of data or trends. Still, some organisations definitely can prove if done well those trends can work, so it's about building confidence in your middle management, it's about training, education and having long-term goals not necessarily a short-term focus,” Dylan said.

Northern NSW Local Health District was another organisation which partnered with JobAccess and Kenneth Lee, Manager Patient and Carer Experience shared his advice with attendees.

"JobAccess ran an awareness workshop with our HR people, and that was just a great place to start. We started messaging to our staff through our newsletters, memos from the Chief Executive (CE) and celebrating International Day of Disability and other opportunities to get disability on the agenda. We started to slowly make some headway as far as staff being more willing to be involved. Getting CE support onboard straight away was important. Getting the messaging right was important,” Kenneth said.

In closing the seminar, Daniel from JobAccess shared this final piece of advice to employers and their disability inclusion efforts. “Take a step…review the Employer Toolkit, connect with a Disability Employment Services provider, and of course larger employers can contact JobAccess to discuss a 12 month partnership to build disability confidence.”

Larger employers can enter into a free 12-month partnership with the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) – the employer engagement service of JobAccess – and work with a dedicated Professional Adviser to receive personalised, one-on-one support to develop workplace policies and practices that accommodate people with disability. Employers can call a JobAccess Adviser on 1800 464 800 to be connected with the NDRC.

JobAccess also has a comprehensive online Employer Toolkit covering a range of topics relating to disability employment to help employers hire people with disability and build their organisation’s disability confidence and competence.

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