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Rethinking work to embrace diversity

  • 09 April 2018


Last week ABC TV aired the first episode in the series Employable Me. The series follows a group of neuro-diverse young people as they search for meaningful work. The blurb describes the series as 'uplifting, warm and insightful'. I couldn't agree more.

Indeed, the insights the program offers are a call to think carefully about the world of work and the role of employment as a social good rather than a purely economic one — and how we make employment more inclusive.

Much of the contemporary focus on the future of employment grapples with the challenge of engaging with a world overtaken by technologies. Digital futures raise the frequently posed question of whether a robot will take our jobs. The consensus seems to be that where a machine can do a job, it will. On the up side, there are many ways in which machines cannot (yet) replace humans. The service sector, for example, is touted to grow as we rely more heavily on employees to do our caring work.

As a consequence, there are calls for education to emphasise so-called 'soft skills' including emotional intelligence and creativity. Meanwhile, work is becoming more precarious, with a rise in part time work and a rapidly growing 'gig economy'. This growth in freelancing requires entrepreneurial skill.

Jobs that continue to exist in the traditional paradigm follow a well-established formula. In a highly competitive market, to gain the attention of employers, applicants require qualifications, prior experience, including internships, and a range of extra-curricular activities. Hiring is increasingly automated, so that applications are vetted by computers. Targeting an application to attract the attention of a computer program is a skill in itself. Where an interview takes place, it is frequently performed in groups.

For the neuro-divergent jobseekers on Employable Me, contemporary discourse surrounding employment and the processes of recruitment are unlikely to resonate. Questions about the future of work ring hollow where the young people featured on the program have not ever been employed. Recruitment focusing on prior experience, or extra-curricular activities, will necessarily present a barrier to those already excluded from the workforce for reasons other than opportunity alone.

The three stories featured in the first episode highlight the narrow confines of qualification for employment. The outcomes illustrate the possibilities that would exist if only recruitment and employment looked different.


"If ever there was any doubt about the importance of shifting thinking to open up possibilities of employment, it can