Essential Energy harnesses the potential of a diverse workforce
Image: AccessAbility Day 2018 participant Jake Williams (centre) being shown an Essential Energy-owned Zone Substation by employees Kristy Sprague (left) and Matt Hunt (right). (Source: Essential Energy)
A reliable energy source is vital to the social-economic development of any region, especially areas with limited accessibility. Essential Energy enables this growth by powering 95 per cent of New South Wales and parts of southern Queensland, focused on regional, rural and remote communities. With a network span of 737,000 square kilometres, Essential Energy reaches more than 840,000 homes and businesses, 170 hospitals, and 1,250 schools.
Broad geographic coverage means working with diverse customers. With almost 3,000 employees based in around 100 local depots and regional offices, Essential Energy understands the role workforce diversity plays in supporting the communities it serves.
General Manager, Customer and Network Services and Inclusion and Diversity DisAbility Working Group sponsor Luke Jenner explained the organisation’s approach to building an inclusive and diverse workplace. “Diversity across all spectrums, including gender, heritage and ability, promotes diversity of thought, which in turn encourages an innovative and agile workforce. This approach to an inclusive workplace ensures all voices are heard and the potential of every employee is realised,” said Mr Jenner. “Our Inclusion and Diversity policy covers all employees including directors, managers and supervisors and highlights the importance of providing an environment where employees from all backgrounds can work together to reach their fullest potential.”
Essential Energy has six inclusion and diversity streams – including disability – that report to the organisation’s Diversity Council formed two years ago. Financial Policy and Reporting Manager and DisAbility Stream Lead James Arscott shared, “While the working group undertakes a range of initiatives to promote workplace diversity, we were looking for industry partners to propel our efforts in building disability confidence and inclusive opportunities for people with disability.”
The DisAbility Working Group’s search led Essential Energy to contact the JobAccess Employer Engagement team – National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) and enter into a 12-month partnership. The NDRC works with larger employers to provide tools, training and resources to build their disability confidence. The partnership aims to help organisations remove any barriers in the workplace and improve their disability fitness.
Professional Adviser David Tran from the NDRC worked together with Essential Energy’s DisAbility Working Group. “David helped set the partnership’s goals for the year and joined us at our monthly working group meetings to track progress and identify next steps,” added Mr Arscott.
One of the key objectives of the partnership was to increase disability awareness among all employees. “We wanted our staff to feel comfortable when working with people with disability and remove any pre-conceived notions. The disability awareness training delivered by the NDRC did just that.”
As part of the partnership, Mr Tran also reviewed Essential Energy’s recruitment policies and procedures. “Recommendations included improving website accessibility so that employees, customers and stakeholders with disability can better engage with our content,” said Mr Arscott.
Essential Energy also identified the opportunity to widen its talent pool by establishing connections with Disability Employment Services (DES) providers. Participation in AccessAbility Day facilitated this opportunity. An Australian Government initiative, AccessAbility Day offers employers a chance to work with DES providers and host jobseekers with disability (participants) to see their potential in the workplace.
Mr Arscott said, “Being an AccessAbility Day employer was an excellent experience. Not only did our staff genuinely enjoy the experience, but it also gave us an insight into working with DES providers, established our readiness to employ people with disability and demonstrated that hiring from this talent pool is not hard.”
Essential Energy hosted 27 participants during AccessAbility Day, which was one of the most significant placements by an employer in 2018. The organisation contributed the highest number of participants of any regional organisation in Australia registered with JobAccess. “The uptake and response from participants were overwhelming, and we received great feedback from DES providers.”
A DES provider who placed a candidate at Essential Energy said, “Our candidate had a wonderful time within their placement. Everyone made them feel extremely welcome and comfortable throughout the day. Because of this opportunity, our candidate’s self-confidence grew immensely, and they set new employment goals they would like to achieve in 2019.”
Mr Arscott added, “The NDRC played an important role in the AccessAbility Day outcomes we achieved. In addition to guiding us on how to plan for the Day, the disability awareness training run by David helped us to develop a network of internal disability champions across different sites to support the participants we hosted.”
Going forward, the organisation aims to harness the immense potential of this talent pool. It has set a target to grow the composition of employees with disability to 3 per cent of its total workforce by 2025, up from 1.7 per cent in June 2018. “Essential Energy has taken valuable steps to shape an inclusive culture that celebrates our diversity. The NDRC partnership has reinforced our direction and ongoing initiatives to improve disability employment practices.”