Feature Issue on Transition in a Global Context for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
Jobsupport Transition: Raising Expectations
Tyler Burrows-Whitely talks with a Jobsupport transition trainer in the environmental services department of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia.
Jobsupport Transition is an Australian work experience program that helps school leavers with significant intellectual disability (IQ60 or below) aiming to get a job in open employment. In Australia, open employment refers to jobs in the mainstream workforce, typically referred to as supported employment elsewhere.
Jobsupport, the program’s parent organization, delivers two core programs. Jobsupport Employment, established in 1986, provides job placement, training and ongoing support services. Jobsupport Transition is a post-school work experience program that provides a bridge between school and the Jobsupport Employment program. Since commencing in 1997, more than 680 young people have progressed though Jobsupport Transition into paid employment in a wide range of jobs across a variety of industries.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is an individual funding model of disability support that was progressively rolled out across Australia commencing July 2016 (trial sites commenced from 2013). School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) are a category of funding under the NDIS available to young people in the final years of school and typically for up to 2 years. SLES is designed to help school leavers who require additional supports before entering employment to learn experientially about work and explore their work potential (National Disability Insurance Agency, 2020). The Jobsupport Transition program is currently funded as a SLES service.
Traditionally, programs have tried to prepare people for work by teaching skills deemed necessary for employment, meaning those who never achieve those skills remain excluded from the workforce. The transformational change in approach, enabling people with moderate intellectual disability to access open employment, was to centre job searches based what the person can do. The Jobsupport Transition program aims to not only have participants experience success in a workplace context, but also to use the workplace context to learn more about their strengths and interests.
Jobsupport Transition supports participants to:
- Increase their confidence to attempt open employment through experiencing success in a work experience placement
- Overcome barriers to entering open employment
- Make an informed choice about work
- Identify, strategies, supports, and settings that will give them the best opportunity for success in open employment
The program is based on the premise that classroom training is not effective for preparing people with significant intellectual disability for employment because most have difficulty applying what they learn to new settings. Jobsupport Transition uses long-term experience placements set up to be as much like paid jobs as possible, with each person receiving individualised training and support to achieve their employment goals from a Jobsupport vocational trainer based at each worksite. Rather than providing generalised training, the aim is to provide an on-site, positive work experience that raises expectations for what the school leaver can achieve.
Research has shown that successful employment outcomes for people with intellectual disability can be achieved with a package of supports that includes (1) assessment of a person’s goals, skills, strengths and needs; (2) job search and job customization based on this assessment; (3) intensive onsite training in the job using instructional strategies based on learning theory and applied behaviour analysis; and (4) ongoing support services to meet changing needs of the worker and employer that continues through employment (Kregel et al., 2020). Jobsupport has found that many school leavers are able to successfully transition to employment directly from school with this type of support. Others require additional training or intervention strategies to increase their chance of success in achieving their employment goals.
Low expectations create the most significant barrier to open employment for people with significant intellectual disability. By raising expectations through the adoption of these supports, the Transition program has increased the number of young people entering the Jobsupport Employment program (Centre for International Economics, 2021). Many of these young adults would not have otherwise attempted open employment.
Other common barriers to success are lack of workplace stamina, difficulty accepting direction and difficulty staying on task, which primarily occur due to lack of learning opportunities. In addition, more than half of school leavers referred to Jobsupport have no prior experience in independently travelling by public transport, with many never having had the opportunity to undertake any travel training. With this systematic instruction, which requires more resources than are available through employment services funding, independent travel is achievable.
Most Jobsupport Transition participants begin engaging with the service, identifying individual goals, and planning their program in their final year of school, and then commence travel training and work experience when they have finished school. Once any individual barriers are overcome, participants typically continue with their work experience program while they wait for the employment service to locate a customized job that matches their needs and preferences.
History of success
Jobsupport Employment has the highest job placement and job retention rates for people with intellectual disability in Australia. The latest available disability employment service data by disability type shows Jobsupport achieves much higher outcomes for people with intellectual disability than other services, with Jobsupport having a 52-week outcome rate of 67.2% compared to the national average of 28.7% for intellectual disability (Centre for International Economics, 2021). Jobsupport’s employed clients work an average of 20 hours per week, earn an average $AUD408 per week and have an average job tenure of 7.7 years (February 2020 data).
Jobsupport Transition began as a pilot program in 1997, aiming to address self-fulfilling low expectations of school leavers, families, and schools and to encourage more people to see open employment as an achievable option. Prior to the rollout of the NDIS, school to work transition programs were funded by individual states. The scheme’s school leavers’ supports model was largely based on a model that had operated in New South Wales before SLES was introduced nationally. Within this model, Jobsupport Transition achieved the highest outcome rate across services, with 65.2% of participants gaining open employment, compared to the NSW average of 26.3 %. Similar outcome rates have continued with the shift to SLES. In June 2020, Jobsupport Transition had SLES outcome rates of 65.5% open employment. In comparison, December 2020 national data showed 18% of SLES participants were in open employment 3 years after commencing SLES (NDIA, 2021).
From its inception, the Jobsupport model and practices have drawn from available evidence of ‘what works’ in Australia and internationally. Jobsupport collaborates with the Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Sydney in evaluating its own practices and the available research. We also advocate for on-the-ground research that looks at the practices of services achieving outcomes to better understand how individual program components contribute to those outcomes for different disability populations. Research into the practices of successful services has been recommended by Kregel et al. (2020) in their literature review of evidenced-based employment practices for people with intellectual and development disabilities and by Xu and Stancliffe (2017) in their analysis of the diverse outcomes of NSW TTW services. Such research is important to differentiate between popular approaches and practices that are informed by evidence. We encourage readers of this article to explore the Jobsupport website which includes links to published disability employment data from Australia, www.jobsupport.org.au
Centre for International Economics. (2021). Keeping SLES effective: The case for moderate intellectual disability. Report prepared for Jobsupport.
Kregel, J., Wehman, P., Taylor, J., Avellone, L., Riches, V., Rodrigues, R. & Taylor, D. (2020). A comprehensive review of evidenced-based employment practices for youth and adults with intellectual and other developmental disabilities: Final report. Rehabilitation Research and Training Centre, Virginia Commonwealth University and Centre for Disability Studies. https://cds.org.au/download/Jobsupport-Evidence-Based-Practices-Review-Final_.pdf
National Disability Insurance Agency. (2020). School Leaver Employment Supports Booklet. https://www.ndis.gov.au/providers/working-provider/school-leaver-employment-supports
National Disability Insurance Agency (2021). Employment outcomes for NDIS participants as at December 2020. https://data.ndis.gov.au/reports-and-analyses/outcomes-and-goals/employment-outcomes-participants-their-families-and-carers#employment-outcomes-for-ndis-participants-as-at-31-december-2020
Xu, T. and Stancliffe, R., 2017. An evaluation of employment outcomes achieved by transition to work service providers in Sydney, Australia. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 44(1), pp.51-63.