Innovation in disability employment services highlights vital role of rehabilitation counsellors

2 September 2009

The Federal Government's $41 million innovation fund which focuses on innovative solutions for disadvantaged job seekers coupled with a growing focus on social inclusion, is set to increase demand on the services of rehabilitation counsellors.

A/Prof Elias Mpofu
A/Prof Elias Mpofu

"Innovative employment services utilise location focused solutions to broaden work readiness, literacy/numeracy skills, job training and placement services and enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities in Australia." says Associate Professor Elias Mpofu, Head of the Discipline of Rehabilitation Counselling at Sydney University.

The rehabilitation counselling profession will be integral to developments in these services as they play the crucial role of assisting people affected by disability or injury to attain individual rehabilitation goals including returning to paid employment. Current job demand for qualified rehabilitation counsellors is exceptionally high with most students securing a position prior to graduation.

"The majority of our students are offered permanent jobs during their final-year clinical placements," says Trevor Hawkins, Lecturer in Rehabilitation Counselling at the University of Sydney. "I wouldn't say job security is what draws people to the profession, however it's definitely an added bonus."

The Innovation fund complements the Australian Government's new Job Services Australia which commenced operations in July 2009. The Fund supports innovative place-based solutions - both large and small - to assist the most disadvantaged jobseekers such as the homeless, ex-offenders, and people with disabilities, including those with mental health conditions.

"These projects provide a continuum of intervention strategies, including outreach, case management, job development, job placement, job retention and career development services. Using a cafeteria approach, individuals with disabilities can choose the services they wish to access, with guidance from experienced and qualified case managers,' comments A/Prof Mpofu.

Furthermore the Government has proposed a $1.2 billion transition to demand driven services for disabled job seekers by March 2010. This would see every eligible job seeker with a disability having access to personalised employment services as opposed to the previous caped structure .

A former national president of the Australian Society of Rehabilitation Counsellors, Mr Hawkins is also buoyed by these changes. "It's essential that all job seekers who need access to these services get what they need, in a timely fashion and in a way that caters to each individuals' needs. This has never been more important than it is now with financial instability having the greatest affect on the disadvantaged, as well as employer confidence."

The Prime Minister's wife, Therese Rein was herself once a rehabilitation counsellor and before stepping down to help her husband pursue his political career, founded her own employment services agency. "I worked with Therese many years ago on the national executive committee and feel that she too would be very supportive of these changes both in terms of the benefits they will bring clients and the status of rehabilitation counselling as a profession." says Hawkins.