NDIS workforce participation lagging behind general population

A variety of factors, including COVID-19, disability-related stigma and discrimination, and a lack of knowledge of the employment-related support available, have contributed to NDIS participants struggling to attain work.

Much of the data regarding workforce participation is drawn from the National Disability Insurance Agency’s (NDIA) outcomes framework questionnaires, which were developed to measure participant outcomes across the lifespan.

The different types of employment available to people with disabilities include:

  • Working in the open labour market.

  • A supported wage system for employees with disability who have a reduced work capacity.

  • Australian Disability Enterprises (ADE) which provide significant support for workers with disabilities.


Speaking at the 2021 Injury & Disability Schemes Virtual Seminar, Sally Galbraith, a Director in the Office of the Scheme Actuary at the NDIA, noted that COVID-19 had an impact on all three types of employment, both for those aged 15-24 and those aged 25 to 64.

“The employment to population ratio for NDIS participants is on average 42 percentage points lower compared to the general population, for those between 15-24 years old, and 56 percentage points lower compared to the general population for those aged 25 to 64,” Sally said.

Some of the key drivers of successful employment outcomes for NDIS participants include having received support to find work, a higher level of education, and having a work goal in their plan. There were also some differences by primary disability, for example, participants with hearing impairment were more likely to find work.

Renata Morello, a Director of the Research and Evaluation Branch of the NDIA, presented research which examined workforce participation among NDIS participants who have an intellectual disability, are on the autism spectrum, or have a psychosocial disability. This research found that employment gave NDIS participants a sense of purpose and increased their connections with other people.

Both participants and NDIA staff reported that a lack of inclusive employment options was the greatest barrier to finding and keeping a job. Disability-related stigma and discrimination also made it difficult for participants to stay in work.

Receiving support to maintain base level needs, such as daily living, stable housing, mental and physical health, gave participants the energy and time to find and maintain employment.

Many NDIS participants lacked self-confidence to find a job, while some were unaware of what employment-related support was available. Some participants also felt their disability was not well understood by providers, and support and service delivery staff.

Participants reported that long periods of unemployment made it difficult to return to work because it was looked on unfavourably by employers, while stretches without work left them needing to rebuild their employment skills. Workforce flexibility which was individualised to each person was also found to be critical to ensuring that NDIS participants were able to remain in employment.

“There are also systemic barriers that impact the ability of NDIS participants to find work. Being with Disability Employment Providers for years without success often made participants disenfranchised and unable to find work,” Renata said.

Some participants were also restricted to working in ADEs and would have liked the ability to progress beyond ADEs and into the open workplace.

“The research demonstrates that some key enablers for workforce participation include person-centred planning and support, empowering and engaging participants, early intervention initiatives, the need for formal education and training post school years, and flexible and adaptive workplaces,” Renata said.

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