Fostering sustainable mainstream employment for people with disability

Senior Lecturer at Flinders University Dr Manoharan (left), Senior Research Fellow Dr Claire Hutchinson (middle), Associate Professor Janice Jones (right).

Endeavour Foundation's Disability Research Fund congratulates this year's recipients, Dr Ashokkumar Manoharan and the research team from Flinders University, for their study' Facilitating sustainable employment of people with intellectual disabilities in Hospitality SMEs: A multi-stakeholder perspective.

With a vision close to our hearts, the research team aims to increase sustainable, open employment outcomes for people with intellectual disabilities in the hospitality industry.

The study is currently in its first stage, where the team set out to identify the barriers employers face when hiring PWID. We spoke to Senior Lecturer at Flinders University, Dr Manoharan who is leading the study.

"Delivering sustainable mainstream employment for people with intellectual disability is of high priority. Yet most research in the area focuses on job readiness rather than employer readiness,” Said Dr Manoharan.

“The hospitality industry is a potentially attractive employer of PWID, but barriers exist. Some large organisations in the hospitality industry employ PWID. However, 76% are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and have been slower to support their recruitment.”

Engaging with key hospitality workers is an essential focus for the study to assess the attitudes and expectations of employers when hiring PWID. Their perspectives will provide a strong indicator to the barriers and enablers to the sustainable employment of PWID.

Research Officer at Flinders University, Dr Graeme Payne, has so far conducted 40 interviews with senior staff in the hospitality industry, some employing PWID and some not. A further 45 SMEs were approached but declined an interview.

Those interviewed expressed some fears surrounding dangerous kitchen environments, challenges with the ability to think quickly, and concerns around confidence building. However, despite these concerns, a number indicated that they would consider the employment of a PWID.

Interviewees* who currently employ PWID have successfully addressed challenges and noted rewarding and successful experiences.

“If you wrap your arms around them, they will be very, very loyal to you, and that goes a long way.” - Owner/manager, Hotel

“They haven't had a lot of wins, I would say, in life. Once they can do something and realise they can do it quite well and are in a supportive environment, I think they get a lot of rewards from doing that.” - Owner/ Manager Café/Bakery

“Our business is about integrity and trust. We show we care for our staff, patrons, and our community. Taking on a person with an intellectual disability aligns with our values and shows we go the extra mile.” - Hotel Owner/Manager 

“PWID may need additional support, but so do new workers”. - Hotel Assistant Manager

Consultant for the Independent Advocacy and the Disability Royal Commission (DRC), Sundara Rengasamy, provides input and represents the views of PWID as a valued member of the steering committee. A passionate advocate, Sundara hopes the study will achieve excellent employment outcomes for PWID.

"Being on the steering committee is important because I can provide insight into the study. Sundara said. "I would like to see the study achieve a great outcome for the people with intellectual disabilities."

Sundara strongly backs PWID in sustainable open employment, and although interest is increasing, Sundara hopes the study will surge the demand for PWID in the hospitality industry.

"From this experience, I have learnt that hospitality workers are interested in talking to employment services to help people with an intellectual disability enter the hospitality industry. Sundara said. "I would like to tell the hospitality managers hiring people with intellectual disabilities to look at their ability and skill sets."

The team continues to identify barriers to sustainable open employment for PWID. Next, they will launch a national-level survey where their findings will guide the development of a toolkit for SME businesses, supporting the growth of PWID employed in hospitality settings.

Endeavour Foundation Disability Research Fund is committed to supporting quality research that genuinely makes a difference to people with intellectual disabilities. We look forward to seeing the progress and support of Flinders University in its endeavour to positively stimulate demand for people with intellectual disabilities in achieving employment sustainability.

*Quotes from hospitality employees are anonymised due to confidentiality and research ethics.

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