Employment opportunities for young disabled people are extremely limited. Young people with disabilities suffer a double disadvantage in the labour market and gaining employment for them is a major challenge.
Disabled youth believe changing employer attitudes is the most important factor in helping provide work opportunities with some saying their job-seeking experience was poor or very poor
Disabled young people the Commission spoke with said that the most crucial issue is “Overcoming the discrimination barrier and proving what you can do rather than what it appears you can’t do.”
One student said, “We all want to go to university to study, but in saying that, when we finish we find it really difficult to find jobs. We want to work but we can’t find work.”
Grant Cleland, chief executive of Workbridge believes one reason why disabled young people are struggling is because programmes and services to get them into employment often don’t consider their needs. One solution he says, “Is to get more employers to offer work experience. We need to be sure disabled young people are not forgotten.”
The lack of disaggregated data on disabled youth employment is also a problem and highlights an absence of policies and programmes to address the issue. It is believed that only 40% of disabled New Zealanders are in the labour force. The opportunity cost of this workforce exclusion is estimated at around $11.7 billion.
One organisation which aims to help address accessibility issues for disabled young people is Be.Accessible. Be.Accessible is a social enterprise that works across all sectors and communities to make Aotearoa New Zealand accessible for all people.
Chief Executive of Be.Accessible, Minnie Baragwanath says, “Disabled youth are an amazing untapped talent pool many of whom bring incredible creativity, loyalty and commitment to the world of work when given the opportunity.
We run the Be.Employed programme which works with businesses and organisations to enable them to tap into the rich resource of people with disabilities and access needs – people who offer unique skills and perspectives that bring value to the workplace.”
The Be.Employed programme works with tertiary institutes to broker work experience and employment opportunities for disabled students.
Minnie Baragwanath says, “We are looking to place university students with disability into paid internships with some of New Zealand’s largest corporates as a way to start to address this issue.
The final objective of this programme is that these internships then translate into full paid employment opportunities. This would be a ‘win-win’ because employers will get the kind of talent we all want in our workplaces and our young people will get very real employment and ongoing career opportunities.”
Misperceptions that people with disabilities are costly to employ and the reluctance of employers to hire young people with disabilities is a worrying trend.
Disabled groups such as Be.Accessible say there is an urgent need to reduce the fear about what disability means for employers.