July 1, 2018 marked the start of the new Australian Disability Employment Services (DES) program and the appointment of new organisations to the DES market.
One of the new entrants to the DES market is PeoplePlus—an Australian owned organisation which has been delivering employment, training, education and business start-up services to Australian jobseekers for almost 20 years.
Having worked with many disadvantaged jobseekers, through their jobactive service, becoming a DES provider might seem like a natural progression for PeoplePlus; however, the decision was a personal one for the organisation’s CEO, Con Kittos.
“Australia ranks 27 out of 27 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) members, in terms of employing People with Disability. I’ve always been shocked by this figure and felt a real sense of shame about it, so a few years ago I decided that I needed to do something.”
Determined to shake up the way DES is delivered in Australia and lead the country from the bottom of the OECD list, Kittos came out of semi-retirement and spent 12 months travelling the world to research best-practice in disability employment services. He then hired some of the most experienced and well-respected thought leaders in the country, including Peter De Natris (former Executive Director, NDIA), Ingrid Cucchi (former Director, Department of Employment) and Dr Peter Smith (Director, The Centre for Disability Employment Research and Practice) to craft a holistic DES business model for PeoplePlus, that would deliver sustainable and meaningful careers for people with disability and long-term benefits for businesses.
The PeoplePlus DES model is based on the Discovery Approach - discovering what participants want and what employers need - and is centred on creating jobs that fit people rather than trying to fit people to jobs. “We believe that there’s a job for everybody,” says Kittos. “The key to finding the right job for someone is actually taking the time to get to know them and their unique passions, skills and strengths.” Equally, he says, getting to know employers and understanding their business needs is critical to the successful placement of participants into employment, which is why the PeoplePlus model has a strong focus on empowering and supporting employers.
PeoplePlus will encourage employers to create full-time, part-time and job-share employment opportunities that benefit their business. Employers will be supported with Disability Awareness training (as well as any information required for individual employee needs), wage subsidies and ongoing professional support throughout the term of employment. In addition, as a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), PeoplePlus can also facilitate the training of Participants in any skills required by an employer. Kittos says, “if we can’t do it, we will find and fund a training partner that can.” PeoplePlus has also committed to collaborating with other DES providers to widen the pool of job candidates and to share employer vacancies.
Executive Director of the PeoplePlus DES program, Michael Britt, says “We’re passionate about being a different voice in DES. We will proactively engage employers to demystify disability, challenge assumptions and provide information regarding the benefits of hiring a person with a disability.”
Both Kittos and Britt believe that the overall key to successful DES delivery is trust, respect and collaboration, particularly with other NDIS service providers.
Britt says, “We recognise that we can’t do it alone, which is why we have an open-door policy in regards to Partners. We want to solve the puzzle together and we invite providers to speak with us, to understand our point of difference, our organisational structure and our ability to customise solutions.”
It seems that PeoplePlus has come up with a smart, holistic solution for improving disability employment rates in Australia, as well as a win-win situation for participants and employers.
But is it really achievable?
“We’re not promising quick results,” says co-designer of the PeoplePlus DES model, Peter de Natris.
“But what PeoplePlus does promise is a long-term investment in individual career paths and exposing people to experience and training that will lead to employment in a great workplace that they enjoy and value.”