Minister for the NDIS, Stuart Robert MP and the new CEO of the NDIA, Martin Hoffman, have announced the Government’s long awaited NDIS Participant Employment Strategy. The strategy has been developed to ensure the Government’s ongoing commitment to increasing the labour force participation of people with disability achieves positive results. The strategy builds on the recent commitment in the NDIA’s Corporate Plan of achieving a goal of 30 per cent of participants of working age (around 78,000) gaining and maintaining employment by 30 June 2023 (compared to the current 24%, or 41,000 participants). It is intended to facilitate NDIS participants’ choice and control by enabling them to succeed in pursuing their employment goals. “This strategy is all about giving more people with disability, who have the desire and capacity to work, better access to the right supports to achieve their employment goals while breaking down barriers that they face trying to get a job,” Minister Robert said at Strategy’s launch in Melbourne yesterday.The three-year Strategy will see the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) actively working to remove the barriers to employment for Australians with disability. One of the strategy’s central objectives is to ensure that a discussion about employment goals and the supports required to achieve these is at the forefront of NDIS participant planning conversations.The Strategy has been informed by extensive consultation with participants, the sector and government agencies and has five key areas of focus: • Increased participant aspiration and employment goals in NDIS plans • Increased participant choice and control over pathways to employment • Increased marketing innovations that improve the path to paid work • Improved confidence of employers to employ NDIS participants • The NDIA leading by example as an employer Over 50 specific activities have been identified that will be carried out over the three years of the strategy. These are intended to produce concrete results in each key focus area and drive an increase in the employment rate of people with disability to well above the current disappointing figure of 47.8%.The Strategy is designed to complement the Government’s election commitment to increase the employment of people with disability across the Australian Public Service to 7%. The Minister noted that the NDIA has been leading by example, borne out by 11.85% of its employees being people with disability.While the intent and objectives of the Strategy appear sound, NDS remains concerned that documents such as this one are pitched at such a high level that their practical application proves difficult to achieve – especially given the Strategy’s short three-year time frame. For example, the commitment to better supporting NDIS participants through the planning process and emphasising employment as an option should have already been more rigorously addressed. Previous attempts to educate planners and LACs to better support participants of workforce age to access employment appear to have achieved little, while often resulting in participants effectively being discouraged from considering employment, particularly in Disability Enterprises. Inconsistency in the design of participant plans and the knowledge of planners and LACs, as well as the unsatisfactory application of fixes designed to remove barriers to employment created by the planning process, continue to be a source of frustration for participants and service providers across the country.In order to ensure the Strategy achieves its goals, NDS would recommend strict monitoring of the implementation of key activities and the numbers of participants of workforce age in paid employment or with specific employment goals in their plans. There should be an emphasis on exceeding the participant employment targets, as opposed to merely meeting them. We note that the NDIS Participant Employment Taskforce is shortly to be disbanded and recommend that the government consider continuing the work of the Taskforce and charging it with monitoring closely the implementation of the Strategy as well as recommending practical remedial solutions if its goals are clearly not being met. In addition, complementary government policy reforms must be implemented that assist in the removal of barriers to employment faced by people with disability – these barriers are identified in the Strategy document. Examples of these would include simplification of existing prescriptive legislative and policy frameworks and further reforms to the income support system, with a focus on the removal of disincentives to work. The ability of the DES program to complement the NDIS must be improved and the NDIS must be able to offer ongoing supports to NDIS participants in DES (especially those with an intellectual disability) if needed to maintain their employment. Nevertheless, NDS is pleased the Government has released the Strategy and will work closely with the NDIA, DSS and NDS members to ensure its goals are achieved. The full Strategy can be accessed here (PDF).