Thursday, November 2, 2017

How the Victorian Public Service discriminates against autistic graduates

Spekkio has sent in an essay on How the Victorian Public Service discriminates against autistic graduates

How the Victorian Public Service indirectly discriminates against autistic graduates

Trigger warnings for linked essay: unemployment, depression, discrimination, ableism, swearing (bullshit, piss, crap).
Trigger warnings for here: unemployment, discrimination, ableism, swearing (hell).

In honour of Autistics Speaking Day, I’m sharing my complaint about how the Victorian Public Service mishandled my application for their Graduate Recruitment and Development Scheme. The complaint takes the form of a long-winded essay posted on a popular graduate forum. If you ignore the swearing and some of the pompous phrases, which the forum won’t let me edit out, it’s probably the best thing I’ve written all year. 

I don’t know how graduate schemes work in other countries, so I’ll explain what I mean when I use the term. A graduate scheme bridges university and a professional career, lasts around two years and may rotate the graduate through several sections of a large organisation. They’re offered by large businesses and government departments, and can focus on anything from IT to marketing. Usually the recruitment process is an obstacle course consisting of an application form, online psychometric testing, an assessment centre and interviews. It’s common for recruitment processes to be contracted out to agencies like Chandler Macleod, DFP Recruitment, or if you’re very unlucky, Hoban Recruitment, who mismanaged the hiring for the GRADS scheme.

My problem is that the behavioural questions on the scheme’s application form require previous work experience to answer satisfactorily, discriminating against autistic candidates and any other group with limited career opportunities. See for yourself.

Sometimes we can add considerable value by going beyond what we are requested to do. Please describe a time when you did something that went beyond expectations or your assigned responsibilities. Please detail the situation, how you went above and beyond and what you achieved as a result. (Please limit your response to 250 words or less) 

Working within the Victorian Public Service requires a flexible and adaptable approach. Please describe a time when you had to adapt your approach to completing a project or a task. Include a detailed description of the situation, the actions or approach you took and identify how you succeeded in adapting. (Please limit your response to 250 words or less)

Even if you did have academic anecdotes that could answer these badly-written questions, it’s clear that neurotypicals will always have the advantage due to their greater access to jobs, volunteer roles and community participation. Hoban Recruitment’s insistence that I could only receive feedback over the phone confirmed my suspicion that the agency isn’t competent to handle the complexities of disability. 

It’s not all bad news though. Next year, all future rejectees from the scheme can receive their feedback by email – you can thank me for that. And according to page 54 of the state disability plan, there's interest in “exploring the development of entry level opportunities and other pathways into the public service for people with a disability who may struggle to secure existing roles.” Assuming this interest is genuine, I expect the recruitment process for the GRADS scheme will be redesigned to give disabled candidates an actual chance of getting a position, perhaps by offering a simplified pathway managed by non-ableist recruiters. It’s more likely that the VPS will congratulate themselves for offering some autistic-only roles that assume we’re only good for tedious computer work.

Speaking more broadly about employment, disability, and what governments should be doing about it; someone needs to invent a Disability Employment Ombudsman. This would be an independent office that reviews job rejections received by disabled jobseekers to determine whether they are discriminatory. All disabled jobseekers would be entitled to refer their rejections to the DEO, free of charge. If the DEO finds a rejection to be unfair, it will offer the jobseeker the choice between a settlement or having their application reconsidered under fair conditions. Any large organisation shown to have discriminated three times in three months will face legal consequences. They may be obliged to apologise in a national newspaper, undergo sensitivity training, pay a heavy fine or establish a quota for hiring disabled applicants. The DEO will respect the jobseeker’s anonymity while shaming offending organisations to the full extent of the law.

Speaking even broader, I want a wiki where disabled jobseekers can share their requests for accommodation and how potential employers responded to them. This resource would show jobseekers which request strategies are most effective, the best accommodations they can get and who to email to get them. This transparency may allow all jobseekers with similar disabilities to receive similar accommodations, regardless of ethnicity, gender, assertiveness etc. Obviously I’m interested in the intersection between autism and graduate recruitment, but this wiki could be relevant for any disability in any education or employment setting. Not that I’m currently planning to create it or anything, I’m just describing here in the hopes that someone smarter than me will steal the idea. 

And finally, here’s a question for all those virtuous neurotypicals who were dutifully shocked when Pauline Hanson suggested that autistic students should be removed from classrooms. Unfair recruitment practices like interviews prevent autistic adults from even being in workplaces to begin with – why the hell aren’t you outraged by that?

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