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More youth in the disability workforce

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Kirinari and their youthful workforce! There are at least two good reasons to attract young workers.

Sufficient and suitable workers need to be available to provide NDIS services. However, workforce shortages are driving waiting lists across Victoria, particularly in regional areas. So providers need to tap into a broader range of workers including more young people.

Employing more young disability workers is also important to support choice and control for younger NDIS participants. Whilst disability support is predominately delivered by women. They make up 81% of the workforce; 26% of whom are aged 45-54 years old, 15% are aged 55-59 years (NDIS - Data and insights). It is easy to imagine that an 18-year-old would generally prefer to go to the footy, or for a beer at the pub with a “peer” rather than an older support worker.

Attracting young people into Disability Support Work is an imperative to providing a sufficient and diverse workforce who can offer genuine choice of supports. And disability work offers young people satisfying and challenging jobs where they can build a career if they want to.

Kirinari and their youthful workforce!

Kirinari, in Wodonga Victoria, have created the right culture, environment and the opportunities that are attracting the young people that the sector needs. The Workforce Connector met with a group of them to learn what attracted them and why they stay at Kirinari.

Their interview process was described as “casual”, “cool”, “easy going and welcoming”. This went a long way to ensuring these young people felt they had found their good fit in terms of a work environment. Kirinari have also introduced a group interview model which at least one of the group had experienced and thoroughly enjoyed.

Kirinari employs both males and females aged under 25 years. This reflects the population of people with disabilities it serves, and has resulted in both fulfilling work experiences for the staff and very happy and satisfied customers.

On their website, Kirinari’s mission and values are stated as:

“We are a thriving and invaluable service creating inspiring lifestyles of choice. We aim to empower people to live their lives to the fullest. We are dedicated to giving people with disability greater choice and control. We are here to turn dreams into a reality. We think life should be fun and actively aim to make it so for our customers, employees and colleagues” (Kirinari Community Services)

It is clear from the stories shared by their young employees featured below that Kirinari is indeed living these values and delivering on their promise to make life, fun and engaging. They are obviously turning “dreams into a reality” for this cohort of staff. In a two-week period (at the time of writing), Kirinari had received 10 approaches from workers to enter the sector. Fortunately, this is a trend that seems to be ongoing!

Kirinari are committed to ongoing training and skill development for their staff, particularly in relation to complex behaviours. Debriefing sessions, sometimes offering pizza as an extra incentive, are held regularly. However, stories shared indicate that staff engagement is so high that this particular incentive is not really required to get staff to attend!

Their day program holds a voluntary BBQ breakfast once a month for staff. The Team Leader ‘shouts’ coffees and this event always attracts a great turnout! It also provides the opportunity to share and brainstorm ideas in a more social, relaxed environment.

Kirinari management is well connected in the Wodonga community. The ‘secret’ to their success in recruiting and retaining so many young people in their workforce appears to be based on the following:

  • managers’ demonstration of respect for young workers and the recognition their potential
  • commitment to making a positive, first impression that the organisation is a good place to work
  • young managers, team leaders and corporate services team members provide role models for potential career paths and exemplify that progression is possible in a reasonable timeframe
  • young people applying for jobs receive a timely response
  • group interviews have proved successful
  • jobs are sculpted to match the young person’s preferences and skills
  • a positive, inclusive and respectful culture, in which employees feel valued, is promoted and enacted
  • personal values that individuals are aspiring to attain through their work are acknowledged and opportunities for these to be realised are provided



Gemma commenced work as a teacher’s aide, straight out of Secondary College after completing her Certificate 3 in Education Support. This position enabled her to engage with students with autism and other disabilities. Following this pathway, Gemma then commenced her teaching degree.

Gemma’s partner was employed as a security guard at one of the Kirinari houses and mentioned he thought she would enjoy the work. Needing to earn some part time income, Gemma started working in the disability sector for Kirinari at 18 years of age.

Gemma loved working for Kirinari and thoroughly enjoyed the hands-on experience of working in the houses. After a time, through her skill set and passion, she realised the opportunity to move into the corporate office as a rostering assistant. This is a position she continues to enjoy immensely.
This new role has provided her with a completely different perspective on how both the houses and business operate and she is learning and developing constantly.

Her previous experience of the clients and working in Kirinari houses has enabled her to be extremely effective in her current role as she understands the needs of the clients and can better judge the right staff member to match them with.

Getting the right employee for the right customer is a major component of the job satisfaction Gemma gets from her role and seeing photos that come through of the events and activities staff and clients engage in gives her genuine pleasure and fulfilment which ensures she loves coming to work every day.

Gemma’s aspirations don’t stop with her current role. She sees a genuine career pathway for herself within the Kirinari culture of always creating opportunities and seeing the potential in it staff which has resulted in her aspiration to move into a People and Culture Leader role in the coming years.


Kirsty owned a retail business before moving into the Disability Sector in search of more satisfying work experiences.  This search for fulfilment in her career led her to study her Certificate IV in Disability and saw her working for a couple of different organisations.

Encouraged to move over to Kirinari by her now mentor with a permanent offer of part time work as a Key Worker was all the incentive Kirsty needed.  The move into a Team Leader role across two of the houses came soon after and this was followed by her transition into the corporate office as a rostering assistant.   

This was both a more difficult and challenging role and Kirsty thrived on the opportunity it presented to better know and understand both her client and her staff needs, likes and aspirations to facilitate a great match between them. 

Having ‘walked the walk and talked the talk’ of working her way through the Kirinari business Kirsty was a natural to take on a People and Culture Leader role.  It helped knowing her experiences of first-hand disability work would support her to be a more empathetic Manager.

Today Kirsty oversees 12 group homes, 50 staff and 30 different customers. No two days are ever the same be it working in houses one day and meeting with National Disability Services representatives and some of her staff the next. 

Variety and challenge are all part of the immense job satisfaction she gets out of her work 


Mitch was working in retail and studying IT when his then housemate and friend suggested Kirinari as a potential employer. 

With a parent working in the corporate side of the business and another parent with a disability Mitch had some exposure and understanding of what might be involved in working in the sector. Despite this lived experience Mitch was still somewhat taken aback by the sheer diversity of disability that existed but it didn’t take him long to adjust. 

He spent his first 6 months working across Kirinari Houses and the Day Program.  This gave him a real sense of the variety of work involved.  His natural curiosity led to him expressing an interest in the management of risk across the behaviours spectrum.  Kirinari recognised his potential and offered him a Key Worker role with Complex Behaviours for a couple of their clients. His interest in compliance ensured Kirinari had the right opportunity for him. 

Mitch loves the problem-solving aspect of his role.  Particularly identifying behaviours and then delving into what triggers and motivates them.  He gets tremendous satisfaction from sitting down with a team of staff involved in an incident and them brainstorming and mind mapping the issues and resolving to learn from them moving forward. 

Attending a conference in Melbourne as a support worker for a week around the issues of kids in foster care opened his eyes to the range and diversity of opportunities within the sector.  He really appreciated being able to have this learning opportunity and on full pay.

Mitch commenced his Certificate IV online last year but has it on the back burner as he takes on a new challenge within the sector with The Personnel Group. 


Sam used his last years of school to follow is dream of becoming a Heavy Diesel Plant Mechanic under a traineeship working in a mine. By the time he undertook his second trade as a Heavy Diesel Road Transport Mechanic he was starting to come to the realisation that his career progression opportunities were limited and he felt burnt out.

He started working in a bar but wasn’t getting anywhere near enough hours. Meanwhile he was applying for jobs but was not hearing anything back. He had applied for 70 with no job outcomes he was rightly becoming frustrated.

In a final attempt to secure something that would lead to work, he took three copies of his resumes to local businesses, one of which was a Disability Services Provider. They got right back to him and although he didn’t have experience, they saw his potential and offered him the break he needed.

His very first shift was ice skating with a client in a wheelchair and as he hung on and glided over the ice, he couldn’t believe he was getting paid to do this. “It was a great ice breaker” he said.

When his partner received a teaching job offer in Albury, Sam was also offered an opportunity to work in the school environment as a teacher’s aide working with students with disability.

One of the teachers mentioned he played footy with someone who had involvement within the disability sector. He was surprised when he learned she was actually the CEO of Kirinari and decided to call her. Sam had the most laid-back interview in the coolest office he’d ever seen and was sold on the chance.

Although he had applied for a casual job, Kirinari had already noted his potential and offered him a Team Leader role within their day program. Leading a team of middle-aged women was a challenge he took on with a mix of nervousness and great gusto. His mentor Jody has been a great support to him.

Sam loves to understand what makes people tick and this had led to his interest in Behaviour Support. He would love to pursue his career in that area of disability. He recently applied to undertake his Certificate IV but was too late in applying for this year’s intake so has instead applied for the Kirinari Leadership Program along with Key Word Sign and Auslan training.

When doing Community Access work Sam encountered a client with an interest in mechanics and with his background, he was able to share his experience of this type of work by finding peoples cars that needed servicing and taking his client through the process of what was involved. Seeing the absolute pleasure on the face of a guy after jacking up a car and changing a tyre gave Sam the warm fuzzy feeling that heightened his appreciation for his new career and the opportunities for satisfying work it delivered on.

With experience of the School Leavers Employment Support (SLES) program from his first role in the sector back in Bathurst, Sam is using his initiative and aspiring to initiate SLES in the current Day Program he’s leading and is looking forward to the challenge this will generate for him.


Sara is in her third year of a Nursing degree and has been working with Kirinari since May 2019.  She had mentioned to her local hockey coach that she was looking for part time work to support her studies, after her experiences of hospitality left her unsatisfied.

Although she had undertaken placements in Aged Care and Acute settings, Sara had no specific disability experience but came with plenty of passion and a curiosity to better understand the sector

She was nervous at her interview but was immediately made to feel comfortable by the office environment and people in it.  She was invited to start work as a volunteer but immediately got rostered on some buddy shifts and then was straight into work and she hasn’t looked back.

Sara can see synergies between her nursing studies and disability work. She was really surprised during her recent nursing placement in a hospital setting that qualified health professionals had limited to no experience of engaging with someone with an intellectual disability or autism.  She can see real opportunity for those working in health to learn and better understand the experience of disability and how to best engage with those people who have disability but come into regular contact with health services.

Sara’s own disability awareness has increased significantly during her time with Kirinari and her job satisfaction is immense. She absolutely loves her work and gets a real kick out of hearing what her clients did in Day Program and in taking them out for Community Access. 

She sees a real opportunity ahead for herself to link her disability experience with her nursing studies.


Makayla has lived experience of disability through the care of two younger siblings with Autism and her own Autism diagnosis. This has led to a true passion for disability work and working in the sector since July 2019 has certainly expanded and increased her own knowledge and understanding,

Having undertaken her Certificate 3 in Early Child Care whilst completing secondary college. Makayla didn’t particularly enjoy working in the sector so committed to her Certificate IV in Disability work at the same time that her friend sent her the Kirinari Seek advertisement. 

Hearing back within a week of applying gave her confidence and the laidback interview approach of Kirinari staff left her feeling great about the opportunity. 

With extensive experience with high-risk behaviours from caring for her siblings, Makayla has proven a natural talent working across two Kirinari houses.  She is thoroughly enjoying getting to know and better understand her clients and their experiences of Independent living. 

Having gained a lot of support from her peers, and despite being the youngest staff member Kirinari has identified her potential and Makayla has just last week started a Team Leader role covering someone on maternity leave and is thriving in the opportunity to learn and develop her skills. 

One of her most fulfilling experiences is helping to set up a brand-new house with a client with challenging behaviours.

Makayla loves working in disability and particularly with Kirinari as she grows in her understanding of what goes on behind the scenes in making the life of someone with a disability as rewarding as possible. 

With a long-term goal of studying social work operating in the youth, mental health and social services space, she is confident she is gaining the right sort of experience to help her along that path. Meanwhile she loves nothing more than going to work and taking clients for coffee or to the movies and watching and supporting them to live their best lives.


Kasey has been working in disability with Kirinari for 4 months having engaged with them through their newly introduced group interview process.

Year 12 was a struggle for her as she battled ill health and failed to get the support of her teachers.

With her mother a Team Leader with the organisation, Kasey has quickly gained a solid understanding of how things are done. 

Kasey is currently working across two Kirinari houses, one with behavioural issues and one independent living client.  She is gaining new insights into the requirements of support in very different environments.

She loves seeing the enjoyment her clients express when she takes them to their Day Program and then share the experience of new and exciting things with her. 

Her Team Leader has really supported Kasey in her development and is teaching her new things and new ways to do things which is adding extensively to her high level of job satisfaction. 

With a long-term goal of working in paediatric nursing, Kasey sees herself working in the sector for the foreseeable future and would love the opportunity to develop herself to become a Team Leader and she feels confident that Kirinari will support her to achieve this goal. 

Tips for CEOs and HR Managers

The following information was gathered through a conversation with young people (under 24 years of age), employed in various disability support roles at Kirinari in Wodonga, Victoria. It was facilitated by the Disability Workforce Innovation Connector team with support from Kirinari leaders.

Kirinari was identified for this investigation as they have been very successful in attracting young people to work in disability support roles. This summary, for intended leaders and HR Managers, aims to provide insights and information that can be translated into practical strategies. For example, tapping into a wider pool of potential employees and increasing the proportion of young people to better reflect the diversity of the customer base.

The young people who participated in the workshop were impressive individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and each with a unique story to share. However, there were some common themes that emerged that may be helpful with the recruitment and retention of more young people in the disability workforce in Regional Victoria. These include:

1. Value proposition

The value proposition for young people working in Disability in Regional Victoria appears to include:

  • Forming real relationships.
  • Being able to make positive differences in people’s lives
  • Lots of variety, challenges and fun
  • Being paid to engage in social activities with customers. For example. Going shopping, participating in sporting activities, attending the movies, etc.
  • Access to lots of training and development opportunities, many during work hours
  • Plenty of “on the job” learning that may assist with future career roles and advancement
  • Flexible work hours with consideration for work-life balance
  • Opportunities to earn whilst studying for a qualification
  • Getting out, working outside the confines of the office and moving around
  • Working with interesting people and extending their circle of friends
  • Providing a job
  • Offering a career with visible role models who have progress within the organisation

2. Sourcing and attraction

Make the attraction and recruitment process welcoming and easy

Managers welcoming new job seekers and making the recruitment process seem easy is important. The young people often commented that the job interview process was friendly and in no way intimidating - more like a conversational “get to know you” as opposed to a formal interview.

Recognise workers strengths and facilitate career progression opportunities

Common themes included that managers welcomed them personally, recognised and acknowledged their potential, assisted to minimise barriers whilst both encouraging and facilitating their decision to work with Kirinari. They talked about the ways in which managers helped them build on their strengths and how they found themselves progressing to become team leaders, supervisors and other roles such as roster administration and people and culture leader.

Share stories through social media and encourage word of mouth

It was evident that word of mouth and social media play a very important role in recruiting young people. Being active and effective on social media platforms is a way of spreading an understanding of the range of roles available and the career opportunities. Helping workers know what they can share about their work experiences whilst respecting privacy of their clients was seen as helpful.

Make the Job opportunities visible locally

The availability of local employment was an important factor for a number of the young people who shared their work stories. A number had had difficulty finding any work in their area.

2. Retention

Key themes supporting the reasons why young people continued to work in disability included:

  • positive workplace culture
  • managers and staff constantly conveying and promoting a friendly, quite social atmosphere
  • managers were genuinely interested in each individual
  • encouragement and support provided, particularly when young people were not sure what the work actually entailed or needed skills to deal with behaviours of concern
  • opportunities for both professional and personal development and career progression
  • opportunities to meet people
Contact information

For more information contact Dianne Hardy, Disability Workforce Innovation Project Lead, 0436 820 088, submit enquiry/feedback