Franchise brands take the lead in workplace diversity

By Nick Hall | 18 Dec 2018 View comments

Small business is often seen as a barometer for the economic status of a local community, but it seems the sector still has work to do when it comes to workplace diversity.

New research from the Australian government shows that while 77 per cent of small businesses are open to employing people with a disability, only 45 per cent of business in the retail, accommodation and food service industries currently employ someone with a disability.

Forming the base of the national Employ Their Ability campaign, a JobAccess initiative aimed at raising awareness for disability employment, the research demonstrated that while many businesses support the cause, further action is needed to bridge the gap.

Employers within the key industries of retail, accommodation and food service agreed that it was important that their workforce reflected the diversity seen in the community.

Furthermore, 65 per cent of employers surveyed said that equal work opportunities for people with disabilities was personally important to them.

Daniel Valiente Riedl, general manager of JobAccess said the campaign shed new light on the importance of promoting diversity within the sector.

“The unemployment rate for Australians with disability is double that of people without disability. Only 53 per cent of Australians with disability are participating in work compared with 83 per cent of Australians without disability,” Valiente Riedl said.

“Research shows that many employers lack the confidence to employ people with disability and are unaware of the Australian government support and programs available to help them.”

James McCulloch, owner of Banjo’s Bakery Claremont is one of the business-owners making sure that statistic changes.

“As a new business owner, I’m learning how important it is to give everyone a chance. I believe everyone deserves a chance and believe that having an inclusive workplace is so important,” McCulloch said.

“As an owner I have a responsibility to hire the right person for the job, and as long as that person has the right qualifications, it doesn’t matter whether they have a disability, or what their background is, everyone deserves a chance.”

One of the employees at McCulloch’s Claremont franchise, Tom, has an intellectual impairment, but that hasn’t stopped the budding baker from rising through the ranks of the business.

“Tom is a baker’s assistant and has just signed up to do a traineeship with us,” McCulloch said. “Everyone’s happy to get into work to see Tom. He’s got a great attitude, he’s a hard worker and he’s reliable.”

While the latest research revealed that many Australian businesses did not believe they were equipped to employ a person with a disability, McCulloch stressed that it was the responsibility of small business owners to create that opportunity.

“You don’t have to be a big business to be willing and able to be an inclusive workplace. With Tom, we took our time to train him up and everything, but we didn’t have to make any additional adjustments,” McCulloch said.

“If you do need to make adjustments, you can reach out to JobAccess or your DES provider and they’ll get it sorted for you. My advice is you’re more equipped than you think, and any time spent making adjustments, I believe, would be well worth it.”

McCulloch’s sentiments were echoed by Kathy Scott, communications manager for food and support services provider Compass Group Australia, who suggested the benefits of a diverse workforce were widespread.

“In the past year, we’ve employed 77 people that identify as having disability, and over that time we’ve had a 94 per cent retention rate, which is a real sign of the success,” Scott said.

“Everyone is individual and unique, and they bring their own capabilities and skills to the role, but it’s not just the individual that benefits from disability employment, often it’s the whole family.”

Employers interested in furthering their commitment to equal opportunity employment are being encouraged to sign up for JobAccess’ Employ Their Ability campaign and hear more real-life stores of workforce diversity.