Bridging the employment gap for youth with disabilities

Bridging the employment gap for youth with disabilities

Across Australia, securing employment remains a significant challenge for young people living with disability. Studies show 18% of school leavers with disability do not enter the labour force for up to seven years after leaving school, compared to 5% of those without disability.

Moreover, young people with disability experience a much higher relative rate of underemployment.  Of all people with disability, just 53.4% are in the labour force, compared with 84.1% of those without disability.

One organisation that has been helping schools address this important challenge is non-profit organisation Life Without Barriers. Since launching in 1994, the organisation has been connecting people with a disability to employment pathways in more than 300 communities across Australia.

Below, The Educator speaks to Gillian Gardner, Manager of Disability Employment Strategy and Projects (Emerging Business) at Life Without Barriers, about the challenges and opportunities for creating employment pathways for young people living with a disability in 2024, and how the organisation is making a meaningful difference.

TE: The latest statistics on the participation of young people living with a disability in the workforce are sobering to say the least. Can you talk us through how Life Without Barriers is addressing these challenges in 2024?

In response to these statistics, initiatives like Life Without Barriers' Young People's Employment Pathways are addressing this gap. The program offers an engaging and practical way for young people (15+ years of age) with disability to explore diverse career options and industries, aiming to enhance their skills and capabilities while empowering them to pursue their employment goals.

TE: What can principals do in their capacity as school and community leaders to ensure disadvantaged young people thrive beyond the school gates?

In the bustling school setting, school and community leaders can tap into services like Life Without Barriers’ Young People’s Employment Pathways to assist students with disability in moving from school to the workforce.

Life Without Barriers’ Employment Pathways Coaches collaborate with Principals and Teachers and engage with students either before they complete school (from Year 10 onwards) or after finishing school, utilising NDIS School Leaver Employment Supports which are also known as SLES. 

Life Without Barriers’ SLES - these services are designed to offer an individualised employment pathway plan, and job-focused experience and skills training, further study aligned with employment goals.

These services can be aligned to school transition plans and career guidance. 

TE: Research has shown that the integration of life skills and financial literacy into the curriculum is crucial for preparing disadvantaged students for the workforce. How is Life Without Barriers contributing to this important effort in 2024?

Life Without Barriers' School Leaver Employment Supports provide a practical avenue for young individuals with disability to explore various career options and industries, enhancing their skills and working towards employment goals.

The activities include exploring diverse workplaces; engaging in work experience opportunities; investigating study and training alternatives; building confidence, team dynamics, and interpersonal skills; developing workplace-specific skills; and preparing for job searches.

Additionally, SLES incorporates learning modules that participants can choose based on their goals. These modules offer work-ready skills training in areas such as money-handling, social communication, presentation, time management, communication skills, travel skills, and more.

TE: In what ways do community-school partnerships enhance support for disadvantaged students, and how is Life Without Barriers facilitating such collaborations?

Building partnerships for learning and wellbeing involves parents, caregivers, schools, service providers, and communities working together to ensure that a young person's learning, school community, and social life is positively supported.

Life Without Barriers, a not-for-profit organisation with nearly 30 years of experience and one of Australia's largest national NDIS providers, is deeply rooted in the vision of fostering partnerships. Committed to breaking down employment barriers for people with disabilities, Life Without Barriers actively engages in close partnerships with school and the wider community through initiatives like the Young People's Employment Pathways.