Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lessons from Down Under

I am writing this post after providing a week's worth of training to the staff of NOVA Employment, just outside of Sydney, Australia. This is my second visit to support the work of this agency "down under," and I have a number of impressions to share.

The organization does not run congregated services; it focuses on job placement. And because placements matter, it does something few American agencies do. NOVA requires staff to make a certain number of employer contacts per week, month, and year. It also sets goals for resulting hires. And it actually keeps track. If you exceed your target, there are financial incentives. If you keep missing your goal, you will be provided more intensive training. And if this isn't productive, you will likely either be assigned to some other capacity, or ultimately, let go.

If this sounds harsh to US providers, it's because we still haven't largely linked job development outcomes, and hence work outcomes, to provider funding in a serious way. It's been an unfortunate reality that some US disability agencies have been funded year after year, despite poor outcomes and little improvement.

But it's not like the job developers at NOVA are on their own. There is a significant commitment to staff development and training. Regular and demanding seminars are offered in networking and job development. In addition, (and the reason I am here) is that the management of the agency took a self-critical look at the quality of their post-placement support, and decided it needed to invest in new strategies. The message to staff is clear – it's not just the number of placements you produce, but the quality of the job match as well.

The result of all this, in addition to valuing staff in other ways, is a productive agency that continually finds well-matched jobs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, and psychiatric disabilities.

Those of you who know me know that I'm not easily impressed. And NOVA will readily concede their services are not beyond improvement, but these folks are refreshing in how they are going about their business. The focus is on quality jobs, and self-criticism that leads to self-improvement is welcome. We can learn from this attitude. I certainly have. Despite 20-hour plane rides, jet lag, and a very full schedule, I go home energized.

Congratulations Martin Wren, Anne Goyer, and the staff at NOVA. And thanks for not making me eat that vegemite (phew). Well done, mates. Keep at it.


Ending Disability Segregation