2020 NCSEHE Equity Fellow David Eckstein
Meaningful jobs for graduates with disability: From luck to business as usual
David Eckstein, Swinburne University of Technology
About the project
Students with disability are more likely to be unemployed after completing university than graduates without disability. Also, students with disability that are employed are more likely to end up with work that does not use their skills or education (2018 Graduate Outcomes Survey). They also make up only two per cent of students taking part in employers’ graduate programs (AAGE Graduate Survey, 2019) which are important employment pathways.
There is little argument that more Australian universities need to offer targeted careers support for students with disability to help address this inequity. However it is not necessarily a straightforward thing to provide. Resource constraints and different operational contexts affect institutional ability to follow through on their desire to provide tailored services. This Fellowship project aims to add disability to the national conversation about student employment by identifying best practice initiatives and developing open-access tools and guidelines for all universities to use. A key project deliverable will be the creation of a national community of practice and an annual summit to help universities develop institutionally-specific strategies and support programs. Doing so will also help universities prepare to meet future funding-linked student-employment targets. Both students with disability and universities stand to benefit. It’s a potential win-win!
This Fellowship represents a remarkable opportunity to collaborate at scale and interrogate different approaches to helping students with disability get meaningful work after graduation. It’s a chance to understand more about why particular approaches suit some contexts better than others, and what will realistically characterise future best practice in this fundamental aspect of student success.
I’m really looking forward to working with colleagues in the Department of Education and to learning about practical aspects of government policy development. Broadly, the Fellowship benefits from the work of generations of colleagues that created an inclusive agenda, and I value the Fellowship’s scope to contribute to this. By continuing to reduce the workforce participation barriers that people with disability experience, the whole community benefits by not denying itself access to their expertise, insight, energy, and creativity — things that society so desperately needs to better engage with the present and plan for the future. I’m also of the very firm view that inclusion is a hallmark of civilised society. It’s a choice, and one the community can welcome with open arms. I think that’s the truth of Daniel Valiente-Riedl’s (General Manger, JobAccess) remark that there is nothing inevitable about exclusion.
What I do
I coordinate Swinburne University’s AccessAbility Careers Hub. The Hub provides targeted careers support for students with disability and is the result of collaboration between the traditionally-separate areas of careers education and disability support. The Hub has already helped students with disability to get paid employment that is relevant to their studies. It’s great work and is centred on collaborative relationships with the disability employment services provider WISE Employment, the Australian Network on Disability, Job Access, and disability-confident employers. The project has been shortlisted for an Australian Financial Review Higher Education award, the international ZeroProject award, and this year’s National Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services best-practice award.
There are key learnings from this work that I’m keen to share and questions that the work has prompted. I’m really enthusiastic about the opportunity to explore matters with colleagues by connecting more with the careers education and equity professions in Australia’s universities.
The National Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services is a key source of professional expertise and support. My first equity initiative in careers education was inspired by New South Wales colleagues’ work who generously shared information and expertise. The collaborative nature of so many careers practitioner colleagues is a hallmark of this wonderful profession. It’s no surprise to find the same culture thriving in the Equity Practitioners in Higher Education in Australasia as well as the Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability.
What I love
Helping people confront imposed notions of disability and discover their own strength. Students express relief when they prove to themselves that employers are most interested in their skills, abilities and professional curiosity. Creating space for these moments is one of the most rewarding parts of working with AccessAbility Careers Hub students. People have said many enthusiastic things about the support they’ve received, but the sentiment at the heart of so much of the feedback received by the Hub was expressed by the student who remarked: “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life”.
How to get involved
We’re keen for as many people as possible to be part of the Fellowship. In 2020 we will embark on a national engagement strategy consisting of student and staff surveys, field visits, roundtable discussions and case studies with careers services, disability support services, and equity and inclusion managers.
Please express your interest now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org