2021 provides a unique opportunity for construction businesses to build even stronger workforces by recruiting employees living with disability and adding onto its YOY increase of employment .
According to ABS figures, approximately 1 million Australians were unemployed  at the peak of the pandemic in 2020. Today, this figure has dropped to 952,100  paired with the fact that job advertisements have increased month on month since April 2020. With job advertisements now exceeding pre-COVID levels , it is beginning to show that businesses are starting to rebuild. As they do, it’s important that disability inclusion is central to these renewed workforces.
In Australia, the construction industry currently employs approximately 1,183,200 people, which accounts for 9.2 per cent of the total workforce . Within this total, only 91,600 people living with disability were employed .
This indicates a large level of underrepresentation of people living with disability in this industry, and could be due to a perception that construction is not a suitable area for those living with disability.
A recent study  found that those who make recruitment decisions in construction tend to prioritise those they perceive to have the least barriers to work and found that those living with disability were ranked the second highest in perceived barriers.
Employers in the industry believed people living with disability to be incapable of working long hours, needing a modified workplace and also adding costs to training.
Steve Carder, General Manager DES of leading Disability Employment Service, atWork Australia, said it is vital that decisionmakers in the construction industry are re-educated on their views toward people living with disability, as many don’t require any modification to their workplace and there are grants available for those that do.
“This underestimating of the capabilities and experience of this demographic is creating unwarranted underemployment amongst people living with disability in the industry,” Mr Carder said.
“This is a missed opportunity as these workers have proven to be hugely beneficial to businesses’ productivity, staff turnover and bottom line.”
A report by Accenture has highlighted that employers that hire people living with disability have an average 28 per cent higher revenue than their competitors and 90 per cent lower staff turnover .
“Hiring a person living with disability shouldn’t be seen as an issue to be overcome, but an opportunity to build stronger teams,” Mr Carder commented.
He added that the talent pool of those living with disability grew significantly in 2020.
“The Disability Employment Services (DES) caseload rose by over 30,000 last year, making this the time for construction businesses to rebuild their team with solid foundations with employees living with disability,” Mr Carder said.
“In fact, while unemployment has risen, atWork Australia placed over 6,000 people living with disability, injury or health condition into employment or further education, showing that there are still jobs out there, which we anticipate will grow as businesses rebuild. We also expect the construction industry projected employment growth to reach 774,000 potential vacancies, resulting in an opportunity for those living with disability.”
Mr Carder said unfortunately, while the time is right for Australia to address disability employment inequity, more work is needed to educate companies on how to engage the full talent pool.
“It’s important that businesses are aware of the free-of-charge support provided to them when hiring someone living with disability,” he said.
atWork Australia’s research with over 450 small, medium and large businesses found the main reasons that companies use recruitment agencies are to find the right candidate (70 per cent), save time on recruitment (56 per cent) and to access job-ready candidates.
“Government-funded DES offer businesses a range of provisions that go far beyond the main reasons companies engage recruitment services. Each placement is assisted by a Post Placement Support Consultant who works with the employee and employers during the first year to ensure all needs are met, setting the foundation for long-term employment. Additionally, if eligible, companies can access workplace adjustments to accommodate someone living with disability,” Mr Carder shared.
Financial support for businesses accommodating people living with disability will become particularly important in March, as JobKeeper payments come to a close and employers reassess their workforce.
“As we enter 2021, it’s imperative that we continue to look forward with an optimistic caution,” said Mr Carder.
“Businesses we are speaking to are struggling with employee wellbeing as well as recruiting and retaining staff. As JobKeeper comes to an end, employment insecurity and fear of redundancies is set to increase mental health conditions, one of Australia’s leading forms of invisible disability. This is set to make workplace experts who understand disability, such as Disability Employment Providers, an essential form of support in recruitment.”
Tools like Disability Awareness Training, empower businesses to build a more accessible and inclusive workplace and confidently support their employees living with disability. Providing businesses with practical tools and strategies, employers have said that this helps them gain a deeper understanding of how to attract, recruit and support a diverse workforce.
“Moving into 2021 construction businesses have the opportunity to help shape a society and their national workforce, that is inclusive for all people living with disability, injury or health condition, while taking on employees that are proven to benefit businesses,” concludes Mr Carder.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018
 Accenture – Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage – https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-89/Accenture-Disability-Inclusion-Research-Report.pdf