Worklink Employment Support Group Inc and Direct Employment Service IMPROVEMENT OF DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT SERVICES FROM 2012 RESPONSE TO KEY CONSULTATION QUESTIONS Background: Worklink Employment Support Group Inc. and Direct Employment Service have been providers of Disability Employment Services in the Cairns region since 1991. Together we currently deliver both the Employment Support Service (ESS) and Disability Management Service (DMS) under the current DES contract 2010-2012. We welcome the opportunity to provide feedback to the Minister for Employment Participation, the Hon Kate Ellis, regarding the “Improvement of Disability Employment Services 2012” Key Consultation Questions: Q: What policy refinements are required to ensure services remain focussed on assisting job seekers with disability gain and keep ongoing and sustainable employment? A: (1) The removal of the five day rule where a worker voluntarily leaves their job. Currently if a worker leaves their job voluntarily, they are allowed 5 working days to find another job to continue counting towards an employment outcome. If they do not secure another job within the 5 days then time already counted towards an employment outcome is lost and commences again when a new job is found. This rule has a huge impact on DES providers who are working with job seekers who have an illness or disability of an episodic nature. Not only does it impact on the ability to meet the program KPI’s but it has a significant financial impact on the provider. For example once a job seeker is placed in employment their Employment Assistance payments cease and no further funding is received for the job seeker until they achieve a 13 or 26 week outcome. “Jamie was supported into employment by his DES provider and an employment support plan was established. Jamie had a history of instability in employment due to his mental health issues which impacted on his ability to get on with others in the workplace. It was agreed that if Jamie began to have issues with other colleagues he would discuss the issues with his Employment Coordinator (EC) so strategies and supports could be implemented immediately so his job was not lost. Jamie had been in the job 11 weeks, when his employer contacted the EC to advise that Jamie had not shown up for work for 2 days and had made no contact. The EC contacted Jamie, who refused to discuss his reasons for leaving the job and stated he, would not be returning or looking for another job at this time. 4 weeks later Jamie was regretful of his decision and ready to resume job search.” Jamie was only 2 weeks short of achieving a 13 week outcome in employment but unfortunately due to his abandoning the job the 11 weeks he had accrued towards an outcome is lost and will commence from the beginning again when he secures another job. We recommend that the 5 day break in employment be removed for people with a disability of an episodic nature who leave employment voluntarily and be replaced with that of an allowable break which is 20 working days. This will allow a more realistic time frame to work with the person to stabilise their situation and assist them to find a new job. Q: What purchasing process is the most appropriate vehicle to improve the access of job seekers with disability and employers to high performing DES providers? A: (1) Extend the DES contract for a further 12 months as the current contract is only two and a quarter years in duration. This will allow further time to iron out current contract issues and for providers to be in a more competitive position for the procurement of the new contract. As we are only ten months into the current Deed period, we have yet to receive full Organisational Health Check Reports relating to DES KPI requirements and comparative data to enable our services to measure our performance against the ESA and national averages. As the procurement process is set to go to tender in September 2011, and performance for the June 2011 star ratings is determined by placements made by December 31st 2010, then effectively there is little time for DES providers to improve our performance for procurement purposes. (2) Partial rollover of contracts for providers with star ratings 3 or above. Remainder to go to open tender In addition to the 12 months extension to the current DES contract we support the partial rollover of contracts for providers with star ratings 3 or above. This would ensure job seekers with a disability would continue to receive a quality service from a high performing DES provider. (3) DES to remain a specialist program i.e. not to be mainstreamed with JSA. The DES model of service delivery is unique from that of mainstream employment services in that it is a place and train model, specifically designed to support people with a disability to participate in open employment with both on and off the job support from the provider as required. It is essential that the Disability Employment Services model remains as such and does not become part of Stream Services. The DES and JSA models both provide excellent outcomes for their job seekers but are significantly different in culture, the level of pre employment assistance and post placement support for job seekers and JSA is not a conducive environment for staff with specialist qualifications. People with a disability need individualised support by specialist services underpinned by the Disability Services Standards. Stream services are not designed to provide this level of support. (4) Retention of specialist mental health employment services. The option to deliver specialist services such as indigenous services or services to people with a specific disability such as psychiatric disability/mental illness should remain in the next contract. Providers of such services have spent many years training staff in their specific area of expertise or have employed specialist practitioners, for example Psychologists to provide specialist interventions for job seeker to overcome barriers to employment. Worklink is a specialist provider of employment services to people with a Psychiatric Disability/Mental Illness. We have two Psychologists who work closely with our job seekers to address barriers to employment such as anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, addictive behaviours to name a few. Q: How might the DES model encourage and support providers to better address the needs of employers, including employers in the private sector, those operating nationally and those in growth industries? A: (1) Access to an Employment Pathway Fund or similar for various jobseeker/employer support to be flexibly delivered by the provider. The current DES contract makes no provision for an Employment Pathway Fund(EPF) The EPF is available to the JSA to pay for the job seeker to attend qualified training, purchase work clothing, interpreter services such as Auslan, obtain licences such as fork lift, blue card, white card etc, and many other forms of employment assistance. The DES provider on the other hand must provide assistance to job seekers from their Employment Assistance payments. For example where a job seeker is classified as Level 1 we receive $890 per quarter to provide them with employment assistance. This makes it very restrictive in the amount of assistance that can be provided. This acts as a barrier for many DES clients when trying to compete with JSA clients. Employers are aware of payments and incentives available from JSA providers making DES clients less attractive in comparison. (2) Increase the number of PPP courses available to job seekers to meet the skills gaps employers are facing. PPP courses have provided a great opportunity for people on income benefit to gain skills and qualifications they would not have had access to previously due to the inhibitive costs of training. Recently PPP courses have been limited, leaving little training options for job seekers. We propose that the Government commits further funding for PPP courses so people with disabilities can participate in work related courses that will encourage employment outcomes or career path progression. (3)Access to higher wage subsidy payments to compete with JSA providers Currently DES providers can offer employers a wage subsidy of up to $1,500 (excl GST) over a 26 week period of employment to supplement the job seekers wages during the initial training period. This is a minor incentive for employers when compared to wage subsidies delivered for jobseekers through JSA providers. We suggest that through the implementation of an Employment Pathway Fund for DES providers, that these ‘pooled’ funds could be distributed more effectively and flexibly on a needs basis to clients/employers. Similar flexibility as provided to JSA providers under their EPF guidelines would be expected so that DES providers could tailor incentive packages for clients of varying needs or barriers to employment. This would improve job seeker chances of securing employment in an open and competitive labour market. Workforce participation rates for people with a mental illness in Australia are only 29% compared to 47% for people with a physical disability. In addition Cairns has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. If we are to improve participation rates for people with a mental illness and reduce the unemployment rate then we must offer a greater incentive to the employer. (4) DES providers to have access to Job Placement services DES providers to have access to Job Placement services and funding, similar to JSA providers so that they can network or provide services to employers not necessarily under the DES program. This will assist with employer/provider relationships that may create or maintain relationships for future DES placements. A similar model for Job Placement services as adopted in the Job Placement Licence contract 2006-2009 should be extended to DES providers and JSA providers only. Q: How can DES be further improved to help meet the Government’s commitment to close the gap in employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians by 2018? A: (1) Worklink and Direct Employment Services currently provide DES in the aboriginal community of Yarrabah, where the unemployment rate rose to over 85% with the loss of CDEP in July 2009. There is little or no opportunity for employment in Yarrabah, as there is no industry to support the community and transport is limited or too costly for people to commute to Cairns (over 70klms away) to seek work. In order to provide skills training and employment options for the people of Yarrabah, Government needs to work closely with the leaders of the community to explore business development opportunities which will be sustainable in the long term. (2) DES service providers need funding for the implementation of training in meaningful courses and life skills. At the moment training is not appropriate for indigenous people with disabilities/mental health. Money needs to be made available for DES to train indigenous clients in numeracy & literacy, computer skills and life skills in conjunction with strengths based counselling and mentoring. Q: What changes to employment services in remote areas would better deliver employment outcomes and meaningful participation activities? A: (1) Access to travel funds Enable DES to be delivered more flexibly in remote areas i.e. providers in non remote areas to have access to travel funds to deliver ‘on ground’ services such as in the Cape York region of Qld. Therefore local JSA providers may not necessarily be the only providers providing DES services in remote locations and specialist DES program providers may be able to provide services to these regions and clients. Q: What future initiatives can be taken to reduce administrative requirements, balanced against the need for appropriate accountability and performance information? A: (1) Review Guidelines for collection of Documentary Evidence The securing of documentary evidence such as pay slips can be difficult. Some job seekers see it as an invasion of privacy and for many with paranoid schizophrenia it causes suspicion and mistrust. We recommend that a declaration detailing place of employment, hours worked and rate of pay be completed and signed by the job seeker at the end of both the 13 and 26 week outcome period. Additional Abolish or overhaul Job Access. The service of Job Access is an unnecessary and unwieldy process of providing services to clients through the Employment Assistance Fund. Once again many of these services could be delivered flexibly by the provider with the implementation of an Employment Pathway Fund using similar guidelines to those already provided to JSA providers. Providers through accredited assessors could purchase workplace assessments, supported wage assessments etc and implement through a range of internal organisational procedures without the intervention and approval of an external service provider. Similar to JSA, providers would be able to tailor these services to the needs of the client/employer in a flexible and more timely manner. Therefore, a limited reliance on the Job Access service would be required in a new contract model.
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