An optimistic future for disability employment: young advocates facilitate the NDIS Jobs & Skills Forum.
About the Forum
The NDIS Jobs and Skills Forum was held on Wednesday 17th August 2022. It was called by The Honourable Bill Shorten, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and brought together people with disability, service providers, unions, peak representative bodies and more to talk about the future of disability employment, the NDIS, and the disability workforce. This article has been written by five young people from CPActive and Children and Young People With Disability Australia.
[Image description: Two young white people, Margherita and Ebe, sitting in an audience, smiling for the camera. Margherita has long hair and has a cane resting on their lap. Ebe has bright pink hair and wears an N95 mask. Both are dressed in bright professional attire.]
Article is edited slightly for length.
When we all came together two weeks ago, a group of passionate young advocates, we had no idea what to expect from the NDIS Jobs and Skills Forum.
Disability rights campaigner, Elly Demarchelier, flagged from the start that we were about to experience something that might be ‘messy,’ but also very important work - and that’s exactly what we got at the Forum. With a surprise visit from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a strong presence from Minister Bill Shorten throughout the day, and collaboration between different groups and sectors, the Forum left us feeling hopeful for the future of disability employment, leadership, and the NDIS.
The five of us each facilitated a stream of discussion at the Forum, including about ‘pathways to employment’, ‘models of employment’, ‘workforce supply’, and ‘workforce quality’. It was a valuable day full of discussion, collaboration, networking, and problem solving. Here are just some of the experiences we had on the day:
Declan, CPActive NextGen
I am a Juris Doctor (law student), legal intern and board member, with previous project experience in tertiary education. I am a part of CPActive NextGen, a youth advocacy movement run by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
My breakout group discussed Workforce Quality to ensure that the NDIS and other sectors should deliver a diverse and inclusive ecosystem of supports that are responsive and evidenced-based to ensure that capable and prepared individuals can feel confident accessing the right support at the right time.
My group also identified that there is no clear solution as this issue is complex and requires a multi-faceted approach to making change.
The experience I gained from facilitating the breakout session was invaluable and took me completely out of my comfort zone as I had never done something of this magnitude before. I’m confident that given more opportunities like this, I will only get better and more confident in my abilities as an advocate and speaker/facilitator. Whilst this event as a whole was quite daunting, I really enjoyed meeting people from various different sectors that in other circumstances would rarely cross paths. This event really felt like a ‘call to action’.
My hope is that we continue to have the ‘messy’, thought provoking discussions with industry leaders and that people with lived experience of disability are invited to the table and are treated with the respect, dignity and equality that we deserve and that our voices matter.
Meret, CPActive NextGen
I’m a filmmaker with cerebral palsy and I am part of CPActive NextGen, a youth movement run by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
Our breakout group discussed Workforce Supply to ensure that the NDIS has enough employees to meet the needs of people with disability as well as a larger percentage of employees with disability. Our group’s 10 year vision was to see people with disability make up 15% of the NDIS workforce (agency employees, allied health professionals and support workers) by 2032.
Our group had rigorous discussion about needing to distinguish between different sections of the NDIS (e.g. support worker and allied health professional) to accurately determine workforce supply requirements.
The best thing about the forum was having people from so many different backgrounds in the one room discussing the best way forward for the NDIS. I hope that future discussions take a similar form as I believe it’s the best way to improve the sector.
Kay, Children and Young People with Disability Australia
As a young, queer and autistic person with a lived experience of physical disability and chronic illness, I have first hand knowledge of the difficulties people with disability face in gaining meaningful employment and I am passionate about improving employment outcomes for young people.
Currently, I work at Children and Young People with Disability Australia as the Youth Connection and Opportunity Officer and as an Equity Projects Officer (Disability) at Edith Cowan University in Boorloo on Whadjuk Noongar land.
Having previously been involved in employment advocacy with CYDA, as a co-chair of the Youth Disability Employment Services Reform Working group, I was keen to expand the ideas and change-making conversations in this space with other passionate young advocates, people with disability, peak bodies and service providers to improve employment outcomes for people with disability.
I was fortunate to be involved with this powerhouse team of young advocates who each bring a wealth of knowledge and passion into this space, especially Meret who co-facilitated our group on ‘Workforce Supply’.
Workforce supply is a key issue in the NDIS space affecting the ability for the workforce to support and engage people with disability.
Our group was predominantly composed of service providers and peak body representatives who discussed their experience with the red tape and outdated processes that prevent the development of a stable workforce. A career in the NDIS needs to be professionalised, it needs to be respected, paid fairly and have opportunities for career progression.
People with disability need to be involved in every step of the process through employment in the NDIS, training new graduates on how to best meet our needs and through rigorous co-design of safeguards to ensure that the NDIS provides quality and meaningful opportunity for people with disability.
My hope for the future of the NDIS is that we continue to have these conversations in good faith in a solutions oriented way. Bringing together the many facets of the sector regularly to have open dialogue about how we can be doing better is key to creating better outcomes for people with disability and providing space for advocates to get involved.
Margherita, Children and Young People with Disability Australia
I’m first and foremost a queer, young migrant young person with a disability who day to day dips my fingers in a whole heap of advocacy, study and work pots. I’m a law student living on Ngunnawal and Ngambri land, as well as primarily working for Women With Disabilities Australia and a series of other disability advocacy organisations in diversity and inclusion.
I’ve been strongly connected with Children and Young People with Disability (CYDA) who contacted me to with the opportunity to facilitate part of the NDIS forum. In facilitating my room, “Models of Employment”, I used my own lived experience while drawing out that of others, as well as the work experience that was present in the room.
I had a whole heap of disabled people in my room and I was incredibly excited to hear from them, as well as have the service providers present listen to what they had to say & their first thought processes. I had two amazing supporters Kristen and Jean who helped visualise our thoughts - another way to be more accessible and creative in our discussions.
I want to see more meaningful involvement of people with disabilities in all areas - not just a one off forum with a select group of people but continuous consultation, including with young people. The future is not needing to ask for a space at the table because it already exists!
Ebe, Children and Young People with Disability Australia
In my day job, I work to prepare and support tertiary education equity and inclusion strategy: when Children and Young People with Disability Australia contacted me with the opportunity to facilitate at the NDIS Jobs and Skills Forum, I was extremely keen to put my lived and professional experience to good use. I am a young person with lived experience of disability, and I also have a strong passion for promoting education access for all people with disability - in discussing my session’s topic, ‘pathways to employment’, education, training, cross-sectoral collaboration, and employment service reform were all concepts that we covered.
I really enjoyed working with such a diverse range of people - it’s not often that you can get a room full of disability representative organisations, disability advocates, service providers, and employment services to come to a consensus on things! It was a great opportunity to meet new people from inside and outside of the sector, including incredible leaders like Elly Demarchelier, Christina Ryan, and Dougie Herd.
In the future, I really want to see a concerted effort from the Government to transition away from segregated employment: we need a national plan to create mainstream, open employment opportunities that are inclusive and supportive of people with disability. Universities have a huge part to play in this, both to support the skills development of people with disability, but also to educate employers to engage a more diverse workforce and to provide the research base and theory to help mainstream employers build their capacity to support this.
We are looking forward to collaborating in the future and seeing how the recommendations we proposed to Minister Shorten influence his contribution to the Jobs and Skills Summit in September.
We are committed to holding our representatives accountable, and to focussing on collaboration as a pathway to change.