The Australian disability sector must be central to our economic recovery. Here's why.
19 August 2020 at 5:52 pm
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset the way we think about the disability sector, positioning it as central to our entire community’s recovery and future prosperity, writes Jordan O’Reilly, co-founder and CEO at Hireup.
Last week Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott put forward a plan to lift us out of the COVID recession and address the mounting issue of Australia’s unemployment rate. She urged the government to hone its focus by selecting up to 10 industry “winners” to support – specifically, sectors in which Australia can be a world leader.
If the government takes Westacott’s advice and goes with this approach, the disability sector needs to be one of those winners. First and foremost because this is an industry that helps people, strengthens our communities and drives social change – but also for convenience. The disability sector is already primed and poised for world-first success.
Dubbed the “greatest nation building project on earth”, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is up, operational and close to full rollout, at which point it will deliver $22 billion in services and support to Australians each year. These funds go directly to people with disabilities and their families, who use it to access services from local providers, therapy centres and businesses.
This is not money that can be saved by individuals or spent elsewhere. Every dollar of NDIS funding will bolster the Australian economy. In its current form, this revolutionary piece of social and economic infrastructure will also create a colossal amount of new jobs.
When addressing the National Press Club late last year, Minister for the NDIS Stuart Robert said: “It is expected that the NDIS will require an additional 90,000 workers over the next five years, almost doubling the current estimated workforce of 100,000. This represents one of the largest job creation opportunities in Australia’s history.”
The majority of these new jobs are likely to be support worker roles that, as Robert explains, “require the right capabilities and experience rather than formal qualifications”. This means more young people, students, out-of-work job-seekers and people returning to work will be able to gain meaningful employment – work that fundamentally connects us and makes us kinder to each other.
In addition to support workers, new job roles in the sector will include therapists, assistive technology equipment providers, inclusion specialists, coaches and social workers, and more specialised roles such as behavioural support practitioners and psychologists. New and growing companies in the sector will require in-house staff across numerous departments, from finance and marketing to customer service, product design and IT.
There’s also an ecosystem of innovation around disability, encompassing online services like support worker platforms and telehealth through to the development of cutting-edge hardware and new technologies, such as 3D printing. The potential for innovation, start-ups and entrepreneurship in this sector is enormous.
With increased funding and support comes an increased capacity for these individuals and their family members to join the workforce. Over the coming years, full economic participation of this cohort will have a massive impact on our recovery. It will also lead to a more inclusive society.
Here we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset the way we think about the Australian disability sector, positioning it as central to our entire community’s recovery and future prosperity. We have an industry that is already benefiting from a world-first insurance scheme and, despite the current economic turmoil, is experiencing a boom in disability service jobs.
We have the chance to build a society that is inclusive, leaves no one behind and is better for everyone. If that doesn’t make the disability sector a “winner” – one that’s worthy of the government’s attention and support – I don’t know what does.