A new pilot program based in Western Sydney will be assisting older workers with disability to find more work prospects by improving their digital literacy skills and preparing them for office or work-from-home jobs.
SkillRestart, developed and run by disability employment provider AimBig Employment, will be upskilling long-term unemployed older workers with disability through the program by teaching participants to use common office software and remote collaboration tools.
Mature workers already have difficulty getting new employment, adding disability into the mix can make employment prospects even starker for those mature workers.
Terry Wilson, General Manager of AimBig, says that a program focussed on upskilling in digital literacy and confidence is vital for older workers with disability.
"We have been told by people with disability that work-from-home opportunities are very desirable, whether that be full or part-time. With the right support, working from home reduces the obstacles involved in travel and the effort that can take," explains Mr Wilson.
"For those with a mental health condition, working from home can provide a comforting and safe environment that enables them to be more productive.
"Providing flexible working options for people with disability is the way of the future. There is so much willingness from people with disability to fully participate and perform well. It is a win-win for the business and individuals."
People with disability have lower labour force participation, 53.4 percent, and higher unemployment rates, 10.3 percent, than people without disability, 84.1 percent and 4.6 respectively.
While one in five Australians have a disability, the likelihood of having a disability increases with age. Over a quarter of people aged 60-64 years are living with disability, and this number increases to 40 percent for people over the age of 65.
Older workers with disability are already at a disadvantage getting work, and workers with lower wealth and education levels can be pushed into an early retirement because they cannot find work.
SkillRestart is a unique program designed to provide participants who have experienced deskilling with the tools and confidence to work in an office space and from home.
This is especially relevant as more work-from-home job opportunities arise in admin, data entry and call centre roles, which has been a major area of growth due to COVID-19.
Mr Wilson says, "It is easy to feel left behind with today’s rapidly changing workplace technology and software, particularly if you never worked in an office environment or have experienced a break in employment.
"SkillRestart is designed to get people up to date and ready to work in work-from-home roles or office-based environments. Work-from-home roles in particular are a major growth opportunity and likely to suit people with disability.
"The program addresses a number of challenges. Firstly, many mature age workers are sadly overlooked by employers due to ageism and a perception that they lack the skills to work in a modern workplace.
"Secondly, while some may have basic IT literacy skills, they may not be at a sufficiently advanced level. Many are referred to existing certifications, however, we believe that these courses do not adequately prepare individuals for working in a collaborative, modern workplace using up-to-date digital tools."
The program runs for 12 weeks and is a hands-on group train program. Participants will also be working towards a Certificate III in Business (26 week course) over the time of the program. They will also be able to get practical experience and training working with businesses.
The program started this April and Mr Wilson is looking forward to seeing how much of an impact the program will have on older workers with disability.
The program is currently looking for participants for the pilot program. To be eligible, you must be over 50 years of age and have a disability recognised by the Department of Disability Employment Services.
SkillRestart would benefit an older worker with disability who is experiencing long-term unemployment or has had limited exposure to modern office software. This includes mature workers with disability who are transitioning from blue-collar roles to work-from-home or office-based roles for health reasons.
"Unfortunately, the odds are unfairly stacked against mature Australians with disability, but employers can get so much from this group if they are willing to give them a chance. They have skills and life experience that they have developed throughout their working life," says Mr Wilson.
"The business case for hiring people with disability is very strong - people with disability generally take fewer days off, take less sick leave and stay in jobs longer than other workers.
"They also ensure that your team best reflects the community in which it operates. They are an untapped resource and can be hugely beneficial."
Local businesses can also get involved in the program by offering practical experience opportunities to participants.
Businesses would be able to outsource administration tasks, like data entry of call centres.
To get involved in the program or to learn more, visit the AimBig Employment website.