Australian leaders in the construction industry are missing the opportunities unlocked by hiring people living with disabilities.
After Australian unemployment figures peaked at one million at the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, job advertisements are now increasing each month and businesses are starting to rebuild.
Of the 1.18 million people employed in construction, only 91,600 are living with disability, signifying dire underrepresentation in the industry, which could be due to a perception that construction is not a suitable area for those living with disability.
A study published in SpringerLink confirms the disappointing truth: those who make recruitment decisions in construction tend to prioritise hires they perceive to have the least barriers to work. Employers in the industry believe people living with disability are incapable of working long hours, need a modified workplace and are more expensive to train.
"It's vital that decision-makers in the construction industry are re-educated on their views toward people living with disability, as many don't require any modification to their workplace and there are grants available for those that do," says Steve Carder, general manager DES of leading disability employment service atWork Australia.
"This underestimating of the capabilities and experience of this demographic is creating unwarranted underemployment among people living with disability in the industry. This is a missed opportunity as these workers have been proven to be hugely beneficial to businesses' productivity, staff turnover and bottom line.
"Hiring a person living with disability shouldn’t be seen as an issue to be overcome, but as an opportunity to build stronger teams," says Carder. "It’s well-documented that employees living with disability generate less staff turnover and a superior attendance over their peers," he says, quoting an Australian Network on Disability page and jobaccess.gov.au statistic respectively.
A 2018 Accenture study in the US found that businesses that prioritised the inclusion of those living with disability achieved an average of 28 percent higher revenue, 30 percent higher profit margins and double the net income.
Carder says the talent pool of people living with disability grew in 2020. "The Disability Employment Services (DES) caseload rose by more than 30,000 last year making this the time for construction businesses to rebuild their team with solid foundations with employees living with disability.
"Unfortunately, while the time is right for Australia to address disability employment inequity, more work is needed to educate companies on how to engage the full talent pool. It's important that businesses are aware of free-of-charge support provided to them when hiring someone living with disability."
atWork Australia placed more than 6000 people living with disability, injury or health conditions into employment or further education in 2020.
Government funded DES offers businesses a range of provisions. Placements are assisted by post-placement support consultants who work with the employee and employers during the first year to ensure all needs are met, setting the foundation for long-term employment. If eligible, companies can also access financial support and workplace adjustments to accommodate someone living with disability.
Support like this will be come more vital than ever when JobKeeper payments dry up in late March. Carder warns that employment insecurity is set to increase mental health conditions – one of Australia's most common forms of disability. He urges construction businesses to seek support from companies like his, which offers Disability Awareness Training.
"Moving into 2021, construction businesses have the opportunity to help shape a society and their national workforce, that is inclusive for all people living with disability, injury or health conditions, while taking on employees that are proven to benefit businesses."