Part 2: The context
Over the last 30 years the proportion of employees with disability employed in the APS has declined; from 6.8% at its highest point in 1986 to 4.0% in 2020. In fact, the labour force participation for people with disability has remained stable since 2015, in contrast to an increase in the participation rate for people without disability.
In May 2019, the Australian Government committed to a new employment target for people with disability in the APS of 7% by 2025.
Across the APS, 7% equates to employing at least an additional 4,500 people with disability by 2025.
The APS will require more than 1,600 new employees with disability per year to join the APS over the life of the Strategy. This takes into account the number of people with disability that leave the APS each year and those who acquire or choose to share their disability status during their employment.
As well as this increased recruitment activity, the APS needs to create a culture which celebrates and welcomes diversity. It needs to make working environments more accessible and take a more flexible approach to job design. A more inclusive culture will increase retention and encourage employees with disability to share their disability with their agencies so that, where appropriate, arrangements can be made to maximise their job satisfaction, engagement and productivity.
The Strategy strives to empower agencies and individuals to positively influence the environment and culture of the APS. It also promotes a strengths-based approach, highlighting the inherent abilities of individuals with disability.
For those with disability who are women, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people who identify as LGBTQI+, there can be increased barriers to inclusion. The Strategy is part of a suite of strategies and actions to support and promote diversity, and inclusive practices across the APS.
The Strategy’s successful implementation will require broad agency commitment and the collaboration of Senior Leaders and APS employees to deliver real progress.
At a glance - APS employees who have shared their disability status
Why we need change
An APS workforce that better reflects the diversity of the Australian community will help produce programs, policies and services that meet the community’s diverse needs. People with disability bring lived perspectives and expertise to the workplace and want to make a positive difference.
‘If our workforce and internal experience doesn’t reflect the population then we will have blinkers on when developing programs, policies or providing service delivery.’– APS small agency
The Australian Government has indicated that the Commonwealth’s increased role in the provision of services and care for people with disability needs to be supported by a significant increase in the number of people with disability employed in the APS.
This will be achieved by recruiting a large number of employees with disability supported by a working environment that values diversity. We need to increase retention rates as well as encouraging an increased number of employees with disability to share their disability status on agency HR systems.
Our consultations with people with disability during the development of the Strategy highlighted both the level of interest that many have in public sector careers and the barriers they perceive to entry and to career progression. They see the public service as offering secure and meaningful employment doing jobs in which they can make a real difference to the community. However, there was also feedback that APS agencies are not currently seen as employers that are actively seeking to engage people with disability as potential employees, nor as well set up to create the environment and make the adjustments that enable their employees to perform at their best.
There is a strong business case for this change. International research shows that private sector organisations that lead on the employment of people with disability show significantly increased results on revenue, net incomes and profit margins compared to organisations that are not focused on the employment of people with disability. Diversity Council Australia reinforces the business case that organisations leading in access and inclusion of people with disability experience benefits such as increased productivity, increased employee job satisfaction, reduced employee turnover, and increased creativity and innovation.
‘Having people with disability in the workplace is an asset rather than a deficit.’– State Government Disability Advisory Council
Some of the approaches linked to employment of people with disability, such as workplace adjustments, can benefit all employees, not just those with disability. Our research shows that most people with disability do not require costly adjustments to the workplace or equipment, with a common adjustment being ‘flexible work arrangements’.
A strong evidence base of research, lived experience and practitioner experience demonstrates that there are a number of benefits from employing people with disability:
Benefits for the APS and agencies
- larger talent pool
- increased creativity, productivity and morale
- innovation and flexibility
- an employer of choice for employees with disability
- retention of valuable employee experience
- increased employee job satisfaction
- better representation and understanding of the Australian community the APS serves
- lived experience is incorporated into the development of policies that directly impact people with disability
- an APS that values inclusion and diversity
Benefits for people with disability
- included and valued within the workplace
- greater social connections and inclusion in society
- improved living standards and financial independence
- renewed sense of identity and increased self-esteem
- positive health impacts
Benefits for the Australian community
- an APS workforce that reflects the diversity of the Australian community
- improved products and services
- better use of tax dollars
- more people in meaningful employment
- development of better products and services that are able to be used by the entire population
- increased economic stability
- reduced demand for social welfare support
- ‘Maximise people’s ability to do their job well and everyone benefits - including the organisation.’ – Inclusion specialist
‘We know that people with disability want the opportunity to fully participate in the economic life of our nation. For people with disability who want employment, we should support them to find and keep a job. Employment gives people with disability more choice and opportunity to fulfil their other ambitions in life as well as generating demonstrable business benefits for employers.’- Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services
 4430.0 - Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2018
 The appendixes provides a definition of disability in the APS employment context.