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Implementing the Strategy will require both short-term and long-term actions and goals. The APS and broader employment landscapes will continue to change over the duration of the Strategy. The capacity to continuously improve will be crucial and Strategy implementation will need to be adaptive and flexible.

Outcomes of focus areas 1 and 2

Graphic representing the connection between Focus area 1 - attraction, recruitment, and retention; and secondly accessible and Focus area 2 - inclusive workplace cultures to achieving an improved APS with 7% employment of people with disability.

Focus area 1: Attract, recruit and retain more people with disability

Outcome: We will increase the number of people with disability in the APS through attraction, recruitment and retention initiatives. We will ensure that the APS is an employer of choice that is well regarded in the broader disability community.

The APS has been seeking to increase employment of people with disability for a number of years, with limited and inconsistent progress. This Strategy is an opportunity to approach recruitment differently. Our aim is to almost double the number of APS employees with disability in just 5 years.

Meeting our target will require agencies and the APS as a whole to make an immediate, discernible shift in recruitment practices. This requires a positive change in attitudes towards recruiting and supporting long-term employment of people with disability. There is a large talent pool we can draw from with 2.1 million people with disability being of working age (15-64 years).[5]

APS employees who have shared their disability status by classification and the additional employees required to get to 7%

Bar graph depicting current employees with disability and Additional employees needed to reach 7% target. Currently 1439 APS 4 with disability, 471 additional APS 4 needed.

Source: APS Employment Data release 30 June 2020

This graph provides a picture of the recruitment levels required by classification level if the 7% target were applied to each APS classification level. Although the target is for the whole of APS, these figures may assist agencies to consider attraction and career development needs at all levels, not entry level recruitment alone.

‘The APS should be a role model for other large employers and celebrate its employees with disability, highlighting the valuable contribution they make to the public service.’

– APS employee with disability

We need to rapidly expand entry pathways and remove the barriers present in our recruitment methods and systems. To complement that work, we need to promote APS employment and its benefits to jobseekers with disability, particularly young jobseekers with disability.

Action 1: Develop a whole-of-government approach to large-scale recruitment of people with disability designed to meet the government’s recruitment target. Expand the range of employment pathways into the APS, including through the use of Affirmative measure – disability for entry level, middle management and senior roles.

The Australian Public Service Commission will work with agencies to develop and implement a whole of APS recruitment approach that will enable the APS to meet the level of increase needed to achieve the government’s target. To support this, we will define and develop incentives for agencies to engage this group of potential employees.

Our recruitment efforts must engage people with disability as widely as possible. For example, the APS should be providing as broad a range of entry-points as possible. To achieve this, the Australian Public Service Commission will work with agencies to expand the range of employment pathways into the APS, including through the use of Affirmative measure – disability for entry level, middle management and senior roles.

Positions advertised under Affirmative measure − disability are designated for people with disability as set out in the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2016.[6] Affirmative measure – disability and targeted pathways can act as a strong attractor for prospective employees, and demonstrate our commitment to employment of people with disability. Agencies must actively identify opportunities to use Affirmative measures across all levels, entry points and roles within the organisation.

‘There is a perception from Disability Employment Services providers that we’re only looking for graduates.’

– APS Senior Executive

Employment pathways can include internships, work experience placements, entry-level graduate positions, traineeships, cadetships and specialised programs. The success of targeted pathways increases when there is significant attention paid to supporting job-readiness and the readiness of the workplace. Agencies should work with employees with disability, disability peak organisations and specialist providers to ensure the job is designed to their individual capability and for sustainable employment outcomes.

Action 2: As part of the broader APS reform work, develop APS-wide branding and employee value proposition that enables the promotion of the APS as an employer of choice for people with disability. Actively seek out skilled and talented people with disability.

Successfully promoting the APS as an employer of choice will depend on a strong and unified brand that appeals to prospective employees with disability. We are competing with other organisations for talent and we need to make a good case for the APS and its agencies as employers.

‘I saw the APS as an employer who would provide me with opportunities to develop and provide an inclusive and supportive work environment.’

– APS employee with disability

Our reputation and employee value proposition is directly connected to the experiences of current APS employees with disability.

There is an external perception that employment in the APS is inaccessible for people with disability, and that required workplace supports may not be available. We need to understand why these perceptions exist so that we can actively promote the value and range of APS careers to change this perception.

APS recruitment must move from a passive to an active approach to recruit and retain people with disability. Actively engaging with people with disability and encouraging them to join the APS will support this. To meet the APS disability employment target for the employment of people with disability, agencies will need to present themselves as employers of choice directly to prospective employees with disability.

‘You need to go to them; they don’t see the APS as a genuine possibility.’

– Disability Employment Services provider

Action 3: Agencies to work with the Australian Public Service Commission to conduct a review of recruitment practices (including application of Affirmative measures) to ensure alignment with contemporary and inclusive practices.

APS recruitment practices need to be flexible enough to access the broadest range of talented applicants. They need to be contemporary and equitable ensuring merit-based selection is robust and inclusive. Employees with disability who are unsuccessful in securing an APS role must feel they had a fair assessment and feel encouraged to apply for APS jobs again. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, it is unlawful for an employer to treat an applicant with disability less favourably because of their disability.

‘…a decision relating to engagement or promotion is based on merit if: (a) all eligible members of the community were given a reasonable opportunity to apply to perform the relevant duties…’

– Subsection 10A(2)(a) of the Public Service Act 1999

RecruitAbility is an APS scheme which aims to attract and develop applicants with disability, and facilitate cultural changes in selection panels and agency recruitment.[7] The scheme has been shown to improve recruitment experiences and outcomes, but has been applied inconsistently across the APS. Improving the operation of the RecruitAbility Scheme will assist in building our reputation as a genuine employer of people with disability.

‘Asking: “what do you need to do your job well?” should be standard practice.’

– APS Senior Executive

Inclusive recruitment practices can provide prospective applicants with confidence that the organisation is prepared and well-placed to provide the support and tools they will require to be successful in the role. Agencies must adopt more personalised recruitment methods and assessment processes. Effective practice in this area varies between agencies and the Australian Public Service Commission will work with agencies to review current practice and build awareness of good practice alternatives.

To be effective, expanded recruitment efforts need to enable people with disability to perform at their best in recruitment processes, and in the workplace.

‘I have skills, but I struggle to show them in interviews. Job trials are good for me!’

– Participant at Workshop for Young People with Disability (hosted by the Australian Public Service Commission and Australian Human Rights Commission)

Attorney-General’s Department – Case Study

We are committed to breaking down barriers and building an inclusive culture, where adjustments are accepted as part of everyday operations that enable staff to fully participate in our workplace, and where the value of diversity is recognised and embraced. We have come a long way as an organisation and we’re proud of this progress. We also acknowledge there is still much work for us to do.

We have developed an accessibility catalogue, providing staff with a range of assistive technologies to assist with their everyday work needs. Our Celebrating Ability Network has hosted accessibility challenges, providing staff a unique insight into the experiences of life with disability. These challenges provide insights for colleagues and managers as to how we can better support staff with disability. All assistive technology is assessed for compatibility with our enterprise architecture, rated to PROTECTED. Information Division has introduced laptops to replace traditional desktops. This step has increased the flexible work environment across the department, which is critical in meeting the needs of staff with disability.

The Disability Royal Commission (DRC) has driven the broader introduction of assistive technology. The DRC workforce has 12% of staff identifying as having disability (and as high as 64% in some teams). Mobile technology solutions allow the DRC to operate a genuinely, fully-flexible working environment which is critical to meeting the needs of staff with disability. This has provided scope for the DRC to employ people with exceptional skills who otherwise may have been excluded from the workplace and has by extension built a supportive and inclusive culture where disability is simply accepted as the norm and not as a limitation. The effect of an accessible digital/IT environment therefore extends much further within an organisation than the ability to achieve a task; it’s also a cultural and productivity benefit across the board for the APS and the Australian community as a whole. It allows us to model the behaviours the Australian Government has committed to through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including full and effective participation and inclusion in society, and equality of opportunity.

Focus area 2: Accessible and inclusive workplace cultures and environments

Outcome: We will develop workplace cultures and environments that remove barriers to performance and support career development for all employees, including people with disability.

While recruitment will increase the number of employees with disability, we also need to make changes to ensure we retain new employees. When we improve the workplace experience of employees with disability we improve the retention rate of new and current employees. Over time, this may encourage more people with disability to share their disability status on agency HR systems. The key areas for improvement are inclusive culture and accessibility.

Improving these will take concerted effort over a longer period. It will involve changing the attitudes and mindset of our workforce and changing the way we work and engage with each other. APS employees with disability must be central to, and consulted on, these actions.

‘Ask us what we need to develop and improve, and work with us to make adjustments.’

– APS employee with disability

When current and prospective employees with disability have confidence that an APS career can meet their needs and aspirations, the APS will see better results in recruiting talent, employee performance and retention. This has already been the experience for the National Disability Insurance Agency, Services Australia, Department of Defence and Australian Taxation Office.

‘Here, we believe that diversity and inclusion is the key to getting good results and is ingrained in everything we do.’

– HR, APS small agency

Agencies with the largest number of employees who have shared their disability status

Pie chart, 2019 APS employees census figures Employees with disability. Services Australia 1927, ATO 582, Department of Defence 523, NDIA 489, Home Affairs 305, All other APS agencies 2178

Source: APS Employment Data release 30 June 2020

Inclusive culture

Action 4: Agencies to provide disability awareness and capability uplift for managers and senior leaders.

The behaviour of APS leaders has a significant impact on employee engagement as well as on organisational performance. Leaders play a vital role in creating and maintaining positive workplaces that are free from stigma and discrimination. We need our leaders to act as role models – and ideally as coaches and mentors.

We should provide consistent disability awareness and confidence training to managers, to embed the confidence and knowledge needed to effectively support employment of people with disability. Many of the manager-related issues employees with disability encounter are not disability-specific, however they may have an increased impact on employees with disability.

Through modelling consistent and unbiased behaviours, our leaders and managers can foster a culture where all employees, including employees with disability, feel safe, valued and respected, and are supported to perform optimally. Visible commitment by senior leaders backed by meaningful assessment mechanisms can ensure acceptance and support for workplace initiatives concerning disability.

Action 5: Agencies to implement the disability liaison officer model to support employees with disability.

Introducing a disability liaison officer model widely in the APS can provide employees with disability with a knowledgeable touchpoint to navigate systems and access supports. Liaison officers provide support to employees with disability at any stage of the employment lifecycle when it is beyond the manager’s capability. Disability liaison officers should be impartial, objective employees who understand the barriers and systems in the workplace. These officers can have honest, safe and confidential conversations with employees with disability, to best support resolving their needs. Liaison officers can play a leading role in uplifting the experience of employees with disability and guiding managers and senior leaders.

The Australian Public Service Commission will work with agencies to develop a disability liaison officer network to share experience and maximise the effectiveness of the model.

Action 6: Improve disability awareness and confidence to create an inclusive culture.

The Strategy depends on commitment from all APS staff to include and value employees with disability.

Results from the 2019 APS Employee Census indicate that employees with disability are more than twice as likely to report having experienced discrimination in the course of their employment during the last 12 months (26.9% compared with 10.9% for employees who do not share their disability status). More than half (53.5%) of these employees identify disability as the basis of the discrimination.

Percentage of employees who have experienced discrimination, harassment or bullying

Bar chart depicting 2019 APS employees census figures.

Source: 2019 APS Employee Census

Encouraging and enabling employees to undertake disability awareness, confidence and rights training will promote inclusiveness and dispel misconceptions about people with disability. Celebrating days of significance and sharing stories of success will continue to positively influence the cultures of APS agencies. Employee disability networks can also help to drive agency culture and systemic change.

Action 7: Agencies to review business practices to include workplace adjustments and to embed conversations about workplace adjustments into all stages of the employee lifecycle.

We must be able to provide our employees with the tools they need to perform at their best. We need efficient and reliable procedures to put these workplace adjustments in place from: attraction, recruitment and onboarding to performance, talent and career management and succession planning for employees.

Conversations about workplace adjustments should take place before an employee starts, with an aim to have any adjustments ready on day one. Regular conversations asking ‘what do you need to do your job well?’ and ‘do you feel supported in relation to your work?’ should occur throughout an employee’s career.

Workplace adjustments are a performance enabler and can have a strong impact on an employee’s experience. Managers must address them proactively to support and retain their employees.

‘My manager ensured staff in the office were aware of guide dog etiquette before I commenced employment. She arranged an opportunity for me to speak with all staff on how they can assist me in the workplace.’

– APS employee with disability


Action 8: Ensure employees with disability are supported and encouraged to take up mobility and career development opportunities.

Professional development is a crucial part of an APS career. The 2019 APS Employee Census results indicate that employees with disability are less likely to be satisfied with the opportunities for career progression in their agency. The development of career pathways for employees with disability requires particular attention to reduce career stagnation. Both agencies and employees benefit from mobility and professional capability growth.

We should provide career development support for employees with disability, including through mentors, coaches, mobility opportunities and employee networks. Professional development and talent management programs should actively include employees with disability.

Career satisfaction and a genuine sense of opportunity within the APS are central to retaining our existing employees with disability, and the many more we aim to recruit.


Action 9: Agencies to ensure all internal and external products and services are accessible.

Our workplaces must not be barriers to our employees’ performance. We must act to address and prevent issues with workplace design and systemic barriers to the use of assistive technology.

Like any employee, when those with disability have the systems, tools and access to carry out their work, they can perform at their best. Acting to ensure accessibility and inclusion must be business as usual in the APS, for our employees and for the Australian community. Taking a proactive approach to accessibility is efficient and effective. Agencies must also consider accessibility requirements for working from home arrangements for people with disability. This also includes consideration of flexible work hours.

All our employees should have access to information and training on accessibility, so they can produce documents, conduct meetings, communicate with colleagues and the general public and collaborate in an inclusive way. All APS employees should be able to recognise when a product or service is not accessible and have the ability to make it accessible or refer the matter to a party who can ensure the product or service is accessible.

‘Assistive technology is a long-term investment, rather than a cost, with immediate and medium-term gains.’

– Inclusion specialist

Action 10: Audit of existing Australian Government owned and rented premises for their current levels of accessibility.

Agencies should involve employees with disability and experts on organisational planning, digital and IT policy, change management, and job design to improve accessibility. The Australian Public Service Commission will consult with the Department of Finance on the conduct of an audit of existing Australian Government owned and rented premises and a review of current leasing arrangements to ensure entity compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and other relevant standards. 

Action 11: Collaborate to share assistive technology and equipment across APS agencies and digital environments.

Feedback from employees indicates that uncertainty about retaining assistive technology and equipment may discourage them from seeking further career opportunities across the APS.

We have invested in assistive technology and equipment for our employees and we should make the most of this investment by sharing them across the APS. When an employee moves within the APS, they should retain what they need to perform.

‘Creating opportunities for mobility to foster more collaboration and partnerships is key – more movement of ideas, people and approaches.’

– Public administration specialist

Agencies should continue to implement workplace adjustment passports to facilitate the movement of their employees within agencies and the APS. An APS-wide workplace adjustment passport, supported by advice and guidance, could provide consistency and portability across the APS.

‘As Chair of the APS Disability Champions Network, I am delighted to work across the APS to help ensure we can all attract, support and value people with disability in all our work places. In my own department, we have recently launched our first Accessibility Action Plan which identifies specific actions, responsible areas and timeframes to continue building an inclusive workplace. I look forward to working with the Network to ensure that - as a result of the Strategy - we strive across the APS to create inclusive cultures where we can all be at our best.’

- David Fredericks PSM, Chair, APS Disability Champions Network

Action 12: Agencies must consider accessibility when procuring goods and services.

The APS can influence the wider Australian community regarding accessibility and inclusivity in the workplace. We should support businesses that focus on accessibility. This includes the acquisition of IT systems, software/hardware, accommodation and travel arrangements for interstate and international travel.

The Commonwealth Procurement Rules contain mandatory requirements for applying Australian Standards, including the Australian Standard Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services (AS EN 301 549:2016). This Australian Standard requires that all technology procured is accessible. This will help foster universal design and improve the experience of all APS employees.

‘Working at Questacon has been a very rewarding experience, being able to come into work and being able to work with a wonderful team of people has been a joy for me. Having the opportunity as an employee at Questacon has helped me with my independence financially but also in problem solving and gaining confidence.

In learning new skills I have the ability to feel I am contributing to the community.’

- Questacon employee

Questacon’s inclusive employment journey - Case Study

A great way to build disability confidence in staff and to better understand the needs of visitors with disability is to hire people with disability.

In 2018, Questacon began a journey to increase the employment opportunities for people with disability and aimed to become a recognised leader as an inclusive and accessible workplace.

The process began as one identified position for a person with disability and has now grown to become an organisational wide disability inclusion strategy with a number of people with disability employed across a number of different roles.

During one of our recruitment rounds an applicant was identified as someone who had the right attitude and skills to work at Questacon. Although their abilities were not the best match for the advertised role, their abilities were the right match for Questacon.

With our diverse activities and operations, we thought we must be able to create a position that would suit this applicant’s personality, skills and aspirations.

We did away with position descriptions and a meaningful job was designed which started with a four hour shift every week.

We didn’t realise at the time but we had created a role that suited the individual while adding value to the business through inclusive job design.

Our employee is now piloting our Disability Cadetship program and has increased their hours to 3 shifts a week.

We learnt that to build an inclusive team that reflects our audience, a flexible person-directed management approach is required. In this approach managers are also mentors. We strive to ensure all employees have good working relationships, interesting work and the ability to make a meaningful contribution to the organisation and community.

Last reviewed: 
3 December 2020