With unemployment numbers surpassing 1 million at the peak of the pandemic, the year 2020 showcased the significant impact an unstable workforce can have on one’s financial, emotional and mental wellbeing.
But, for many people living with a disability, this was no new realisation.
Despite accounting for 20% of the Australian population, people living with disability comprise just 8.8% of the total workforce, and only 7.7% of the construction industry. This showcases the undeniable need for businesses to reassess approach to Diversity and Inclusion, particularly as businesses start to rebuild post COVID-19.
Studies show that the vast underrepresentation of persons with disability within the construction industry is due to perceptions that people living with disability are incapable of working long hours, needing a modified workplace and also adding to costs of training.
Steve Carder, General Manager DES of leading Disability Employment Service, atWork Australia, says this is simply not the case.
‘It’s vital that decision makers in the construction industry are re-educated on their views toward people living with disability, as many don’t require any modification to their workplace and there are grants available for those that do,’ he says. ‘This underestimating of the capabilities and experience of this demographic is creating unwarranted underemployment amongst people living with disability in the industry. This is a missed opportunity as these workers have proven to be hugely beneficial to businesses productivity, staff turnover and bottom line.’
These benefits are echoed by other research, including a 2018 US study which showed that businesses were four times more likely to outperform their competitors’ shareholder returns if they prioritised the inclusion of people living with disability. These businesses achieved an average of 28% higher revenue, 30% higher profit margins and double the net income.
Steve Carder says that the Disability Employment Services caseload rose by over 30,000 last year, making 2021 the ideal time for construction businesses to rebuild with diverse teams inclusive of those with disability.
‘While unemployment has risen, atWork Australia placed over 6,000 people living with disability, injury or health condition into employment or further education, showing that there are still jobs out there, which we anticipate will grow as businesses rebuild. We also expect the construction industry projected employment growth to reach 774,000 potential vacancies, resulting in an opportunity for those living with disability,’ Carder says.
To overcome the perception that hiring someone with a disability affects a business’s bottom line, atWork Australia aims to educate businesses about the free-of-charge support available to them. Government funded Disability Employment Services offer businesses a range of provisions that aid in the recruitment of persons living with disability. ‘Each placement is assisted by a Post Placement Support Consultant who works with the employee and employers during the first year to ensure all needs are met, setting the foundation for long-term employment,’ Carder says.
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