Fueling stakeholder engagement: summary of Workbridge community forums
Summary of report produced by Disability Responsiveness New Zealand in Jan-17
The purpose of the forums was to:
- Seek the authentic views of jobseekers with respect to a number of employment related issues
- Gain support for Workbridge’s status as New Zealand’s disability-employment broker of choice and
- Gather and analyse evidence to back up this assertion. This information will strengthen Workbridge’s position with the disability community, employers and Government during the transitional funding phase.
The ten forums were promoted widely and invitations were sent to approximately 2,500 active Workbridge jobseekers and stakeholders in the disability community. Community Forums were advertised in Workbridge offices. An invitation posted to the Workbridge Facebook page also attracted interest and some registrations.
Invitations to attend the forums were extended to all Workbridge Board and Council members throughout New Zealand.
Two press releases were prepared for circulation prior to and at the conclusion of the forums.
Information provided by Workbridge at the forums centred on:
- New Workbridge products/services and plans for new initiatives, such as the digital strategy, contact centre and the tertiary graduate strategy
- Advice about issues faced by Workbridge relating to changes in government funding in general and critically
- Discussion of Workbridge’s position as New Zealand’s disability-employment broker of choice and gaining support for this position from the sector.
Four questions were posed by Workbridge to all forum participants:
- What are the major issues you face in gaining or maintaining employment?
- What could Workbridge do to help solve those issues and improve your employment options?
- Imagine if you could design employment support for jobseekers in New Zealand, what would this look like?
- How do you want to receive service from Workbridge in the future?
A copy of the full report is available from Keay Bishop – firstname.lastname@example.org
The following key themes were constant throughout the forums:
- Every forum raised and discussed self-employment as a positive way jobseekers could help themselves into employment. Issues raised concerned the need for advice, training and ongoing support from Workbridge, rather than funding.
- Forum participants expressed the view that Workbridge needs to provide workplace education for managers and staff prior to and after placement, to ensure recruitment and retention of jobseekers.
- Post-placement support was viewed as critical to the ongoing maintenance of employment. It was also suggested that support could be provided to assist people to gain promotion.
- Stigma was discussed as a barrier to employment at several forums. This is prevalent among families of jobseekers, within the tertiary sector and fellow students, and among jobseekers themselves.
- It was reported at most of the forums that online applications are a major barrier to many jobseekers.
- It was suggested that Workbridge film and promote the use of video profiles of jobseekers, along with CVs to employers.
There was general support for Workbridge as New Zealand’s disability employment broker of choice from forum participants.
The information gathered from forum participants is available in the full report. A brief summary is provided below
Ignorance and negative attitudes on the part of employers about the capabilities of jobseekers was the most often reported barrier to employment by respondents. This view was often coupled with reported lack of employer education about disability responsiveness, including lack of knowledge about adaptive technologies, New Zealand Sign Language and information in Easy Read and other formats.
The next most often reported barrier was minimal accommodations and lack of ongoing support to gain and maintain employment. Coupled with this issue are the limitations to current Ministry of Social Development criteria for Support Funds.
Many respondents reported barriers to applying for jobs, such as the use of online application forms which contain misleading questions linked to ‘disability’.Health and safety issues and legislation were reported as commonly used reasons given by employers for not employing jobseekers.
Many respondents mentioned the role of volunteering in preventing social isolation. However some people reported not being able to gain access to voluntary work due to stigma.
While many responses from both the forums and online survey focused on specific, disability-related barriers to employment, several noted more general issues also experienced by non-disabled jobseekers in the community.
Question Two: what could Workbridge do to help solve those issues and improve your employment options?
Most responses to this question focused on the provision of a variety of supports needed by jobseekers. This support ranged from ensuring Workbridge staff have greater knowledge and awareness of disability issues and how to respond to these; to provision of more preparation, in-work and post-placement support to jobseekers; and more choice and control over use of Support Funds. It was also suggested that employers need access to employment-related disability responsiveness training, including information about what Support Funds can be used for.
An issue that arose at all ten of the forums and in many of the online survey responses was that of self-employment. It is notable that respondents are seeking collective and individual support from Workbridge, rather than funding as such.
It was noted by many respondents that at least annual contact between Workbridge and key stakeholders is highly desirable, in order for the latter to receive advice and information; and so stakeholder can provide input about what Workbridge services could be improved.
Although some responses to this question were similar to those gathered from question two, many people took the opportunity to broaden the focus from the support required from Workbridge to that required from the whole of society:
- Greater Government support for individuals and groups of jobseekers to start their own businesses and social enterprises.
- Jobseekers need to be paid to provide disability-related education.
- Quotas were discussed and many people agreed these would be a positive step, particularly in the state sector.
- Funding for jobseekers over 65 who need to remain in work.
- Greater choice, control and flexibility by jobseekers, regarding all disability-related funds.
- Changes to Support Fund criteria and recognition of all adaptive technologies.
- More jobseekers in control of our own sector and not just useful as unpaid volunteers.
- Ongoing support as needed and greater advocacy for disability employment generally
- Correct Government funding levels so Workbridge can concentrate on doing its job instead of endless form filling and compliance for contracted
- Extending support provisions provided at school into employment.
- Abolish the 90 day trial and if used, make employer accountable for the dismissal.
- More funding to support an extended Mainstream Programme.
- Keep jobseekers at the heart of all that is done in our name.
There was universal support from respondents to plans for new initiatives, such as the digital strategy, contact centre and the tertiary graduate strategy, outlined by Workbridge Chief Executive: Grant Cleland. The only codicil was a widely held view that online and call centre options should be provided alongside, and not instead of, face to face contact. Positive comments were also received regarding plans to offer jobseekers free Wi-Fi access and a computer terminal in each Workbridge office to undertake job searches. It was noted that these computers must be equipped with whatever is necessary to ensure accessibility, such as screen reading software. “If Workbridge can’t get this right then how can we expect employers or anyone else to?”
Suggestions from forum participants for additional enhancement to existing services provided by Workbridge included:
- More forums and online support for people seeking employment.
- Establish an online jobs board like Greyskills, which lists skilled disabled individuals for hire.
- Use the Mainstream Programme where possible to increase number and diversity of placements.
- Establish or support establishment of a programme of disability responsiveness education for employers.
- Market the skills and abilities of anonymous candidates via Facebook, so employers can review these and call Workbridge when they see a match with what they require.
A total of 160 people from the forums and survey have expressed a desire to join the Workbridge Partnership Programme. The purpose of this programme is to enable Workbridge to keep the momentum begun at the forums and through the survey going; to provide information about Workbridge services and any changes which may result from alterations to funding arrangements etc. in future. The partnership programme will also be a useful vehicle for Workbridge to receive advice from jobseekers about their requirements going forward.
81% of attendees completed the Evaluation Form and 81.3% of these people rated rate the forum as very good to excellent.
The following recommendations, based on feedback from both the forums and online survey, are presented as a guide to planning and decision making about future Workbridge programmes/services.
It is recommended that Workbridge:
- Seek funding from groups such as chambers of Commerce and other employer groups to provide disability responsiveness training, directly relating to disability employment issues, to employers. Issues could include basic disability responsiveness, provision of advice/information about adaptive equipment and funding for this, health and safety and how to streamline application processes to ensure these are accessible.
- Discuss with the Ministry of Social Development, ways to make the process of applying for Support Funds easier, flexible and much more accessible for jobseekers.
- Discuss with the Ministry of Social Development, possibilities for bringing the policy and administration of Support Funds into line with the ‘individualised funding’ model and the key ‘Enabling Good Lives’ principles of: Self-determination; Person-centred; Ordinary life outcomes; and Easy to use. The aim being to enable jobseekers to use their Support Fund allocation more flexibly; to so they have greater choice, power and control in meeting individual employment needs.
- Meet with the Chief Executives of the various disability support agencies to discuss ways in which Workbridge could assist them to recruit and retain disabled staff within their organisations, not necessarily their own clients.
- Ensure Workbridge staff undertake regular disability responsiveness modules and be required to pass these, to keep disability knowledge, competence and confidents skills current.
- Meet with the Citizens Advice bureau and Salvation Army to encourage the recruitment of disabled volunteers and provide ongoing support for this.
- Provide more preparation, in-work and post-placement support to jobseekers.
- Establish a network for jobseekers wishing to be self-employed. This could comprise a dedicated resource within or contracted by Workbridge, to provide advice, information and ongoing support to disabled people who wish to manage their own businesses.
- Establish an online jobs board similar to Greyskills, which lists skilled disabled individuals for hire – could be part of a business network.
- Establish a ‘My Workbridge’ space on the Workbridge website, for jobseekers and members of a possible business network to store and share information.
- Set up a website for jobseekers to showcase their skills and enable employers to check this for matches to skills they require. Have a link on the Workbridge website for employers to click and view videos about success stories.
- Employ one staff member specialist in each impairment type to provide advice and information to Workbridge and liaise with relevant disability agencies.
- Have Selwyn Cooke produce a leaflet about employer expectations specifically directed at jobseekers.
- Audit Workbridge documents and processes for optimum accessibility. This includes checking for vagueness, ambiguity and overly complex language and other access issues such as ensuring Seeflow translated and screen reader friendly information on the Workbridge website.
- Provide ‘auto buzzers’ at Workbridge offices, so Deaf know when they press the alert buzzer someone has heard this.
- Consider facilitating mentoring opportunities for disabled students, similar to the ‘Disability Mentoring Day’ which used to be held by the Mainstream Programme.
- Discuss with the Ministry of Social Development, the possibility of contracting to manage an ‘in-work support programme’, to increase retention in employment by disabled people. This to include working with employers to highlight progress, noting achievements, training undertaken and gaps in capability to be filled.
- Publish a quarterly newsletter for members of the Workbridge Partnership Programme to ensure members are kept up-to-date with current and future service delivery plans. This could also be used to highlight and celebrate success and to profile supportive employers and agencies.
Profile willing jobseekers via filmed interview, to showcase knowledge, skills and experience to potential employers. Make these profiles available through the Workbridge website and also use them at various networking events.