The Victorian government has released a 21-point plan to increase representation of people with disability in the public sector from 4% to 6% by 2020, and 12% by 2025.
“The plan adopts the social model of disability – a contemporary approach geared toward removing environmental and social barriers to employment as opposed to focusing on what a person can or can’t do because of disability,” writes Victorian public sector commissioner Paul Grimes in his foreword.
The action plan, Getting to Work, states that people working in government will need to build a “shared understanding” of the social model to which Grimes refers, and describes three focus areas for efforts to meet the targets.
There’s awareness-raising to “change the way we think” about disability in the workplace; new measures aiming to boost recruitment and promotion rates; and targeted career support underpinned by new data collection, governance and monitoring arrangements.
The 21 commitments build on previous efforts to promote inclusive workplaces in government, although many are simply promises to explore various ideas. Officials also seem keen to present the VPS as a leading employer of people with disability that is now striving for improvement, lest anyone think the plan implies it is a laggard.
Martin Foley, the Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, said the plan was a “blueprint for creating safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces free from discrimination” in his announcement, which also proudly added:
“As one of the state’s largest employers, the Victorian Government is a leader in the employment of people with disability, who bring valuable experience to the workplace and are motivated, reliable, and productive.”
The Victorian government is aiming relatively high with its targets, compared to others. Only the Queensland government is similarly ambitious, with a goal of 8% representation by 2020.
New South Wales is going for 5.6% by 2027, while Western Australia aims for a modest 2.3%, with no particular time-frame attached, and the Commonwealth has a commitment to increase representation, but no specific target.
“We are leading by example and removing employment barriers to help more people with disability to work in flexible and sustainable roles within the public sector,” Foley said.
Grimes also took the opportunity to plug the virtues of public service careers and reassure prospective applicants that the VPS was already a relatively inclusive employer.
“The public sector offers meaningful work and progressive career experiences,” he said in a brief statement.
“Our inclusive culture enables and supports people with disability to realise their full potential. The public sector performs better when our workforce reflects the diversity of the Victorian community.”
The VPSC has produced support materials for agencies including a poster and a bunch of accessible versions of the plan: one in simple language, an e-text that works well with screen readers, an audio version and a video describing the plan in Auslan sign language.
What’s in the plan?
Departmental heads will play their usual roles, hatching plans via the secretaries’ board, monitoring and setting the tone. They will each anoint a deputy as their disability champion and establish a “dedicated capability” to contribute to implementation.
The list of actions includes new “communications, marketing and engagement” activities and an “online toolkit” as a reference point for employees, “awareness and confidence” training, a new community of practice, as well as a partnership with the relevant staff network to “drive cultural change” and encourage everyone to think differently.
Public service leaders will “review and refresh” recruitment policies, “scope” special measures and alternative pathways used in other governments, like the Commonwealth’s RecruitAbility program, and “explore” the possibility that “a disability-confident vendor” could be engaged to facilitate a larger pool of candidates.
They will also “explore and scope” the idea of drafting a “disability capability framework” that would define “the knowledge, skills and capabilities” required to increase disability confidence in Victorian government workplaces.
More decisive and practical measures include: new pathways in existing graduate and youth recruitment schemes; scaling up the RISE program, which currently provides opportunities to people on the Autism spectrum in the Department of Health and Human Services; and new leadership development programs and optional mentoring for people with disability.
As with all such efforts to lead large-scale change, the strategy will have little impact and the targets will not be met without strong support and enthusiasm from staff at all levels, but particularly managers in the middle ranks.
The public sector commission includes statistics to demonstrate the moral case by quantifying apsects of the disadvantage that exists in the community, and the business case by quoting estimated economic benefits of reducing that disadvantage, and dispelling managerial myths.
“The cost of recruiting an employee with disability is generally lower, their productivity is equal to other workers, and they build strong relationships with staff and the community,” according to the action plan, which notes “misconceptions over the cost of hiring and absenteeism” persist.
“Recruitment, meaningful employment and career progression of people with disability creates positive work environments, which can lead to higher team performance.
“Employees with disability report fewer occupational health and safety incidents than those without disability.”
Readers are informed the document reflects “local and international good practice” and was developed in consultation with a staff network for people with disabilities called The Enablers, in collaboration with various departments and agencies.
“It has been informed by desktop research, consultation with local and national and international public and private entities and peak bodies, employee survey results, workshops with departments and feedback from Victorian public sector employees with disability.”
It also lists the “challenges” identified from the consultations and workforce data. Currently, VPS employees with disability struggle to get into senior levels and are clustered at the lower end of the pay scale. They also report the most bullying of any identified “diversity group” and high rates of discrimination, while recording lower levels of “engagement” and less satisfaction with the opportunities open to them.
Workplace adjustments, inclusive recruitment processes and the relevant legislative protections are all inconsistently applied across the public sector, and plenty of internal policies and processes that were not designed with inclusiveness in mind remain in place.
Victoria’s public sector targets and the new plan to achieve them are part of a strategic cascade of sorts, flowing from the state disability plan, Absolutely Everyone. This spawned another plan to encourage greater economic participation by people with disabilities in all sectors of the state’s economy, Every Opportunity, which in turn has led to this week’s action plan from the public sector commission.