Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Approximately 8% of the total population in Austria is considered to have a severe disability. 13% of that population lives in conditions of poverty, compared to 6% of the national population. In Austria, as in many societies, the welfare system has created separate spaces for people with disabilities. These individuals are placed into separate schools from early on in their lives (with very poor educational outcomes) and to special workplaces later in their lives, which are typically subsidized and separated from the regular labor market. As a result, people with disabilities only associate with other disabled people and have far fewer chances to realize their full potential as active members of Austrian society.
Austrian law creates categories of disability that supports entry into the workforce for people who are deemed disabled but still employable. A significant number of people with disabilities fall into this category and, thus, are employable under special terms in the open labor market. Though technically able to work, only two thirds of this employable group actually holds a job, with many working instead at designated work centers (80,000-100,000 people), opting into invalidity pension (around 440,000 people) or another form of social transfer (like a guaranteed minimum income). The hostile culture of social exclusion towards people with disabilities in Austria means that many disabled people do not want to be categorized as only “half able” to work under these special terms, until recently. There is a stigma inherent in the categorization process, something the process was originally designed to try to avoid, and many choose to remain unemployed to avoid being labeled in these terms.
Considering the expected demographic transition towards an older society, with less people at an employable age, companies will face increasing difficulties in finding skilled employees. At the moment, they are missing out on the achievement potential and human capital of up to 8% of the population: people with disabilities. Unfortunately, employers are given the message that hiring disabled people involves more complications and costs than benefits. For instance, employers are obliged to grant people with disabilities special dismissal protections rights, leading to an over-protection of disabled workers that employers were not willing to accept. Furthermore, employers fear higher costs and problems at the workplace (for example, the mobbing of disabled employees). On the one hand, the problem is the lack of awareness and information about disabled people’s abilities (for example, if a blind person could work as an accountant) and about the efforts a company would have to face when hiring people with disabilities (for example, providing special technical equipment). On the other hand, the problem is attitudinal: disability and ability are considered to be contradictory alternatives and not a possible combination. The public focuses on the disabilities and restrictions of these individuals, thereby ignoring the capabilities and competencies of disabled people. In reality, people with disabilities often have the same types and quality of skills as those without.
Regardless of these misperceptions, companies are still legally obliged to employ disabled individuals under a national quota system. However, only 22% of these companies meet this obligation, resulting in annual penalties of up to $75 million (EUR) total for the companies that do not. Even dramatic financial incentives are not enough to change cultural attitudes of exclusion. There is demand for people with disabilities in the labor market and yet people with disabilities are often afraid to apply for “normal” jobs, as they are not sure whether the employer is open to accepting disabled people or at which point of the application process they should indicate their disability to avoid embarrassing situations. Job offers often do not state clearly if the tasks are suitable for a disabled person.
The current system of employment assistance adds to the environment of chronic exclusion. Work integration support for people with disabilities is highly fragmented, localized and constrained by a subsidized and paternalistic logic that prevents the market forces of supply and demand from meeting for disabled people in the open labor market. Although a large number of organizations in Austria provide placement services for people with disabilities, their strategies are inefficient and lack coordination. There are a multitude of different services for different target groups and this confuses both potential employers and job seekers alike. From public institutions to welfare organizations to private associations, everyone offers a slightly different service. Placement agencies, moreover, often only address a fixed “pool” of companies with whom they cooperate with over a long period of time. This leads to an imbalance between the number of job offers and the number of disabled persons seeking jobs from agency to agency. Placement agencies compete for the most qualified disabled persons, as the government pays them by the number of successful placements. Therefore, despite allowing for the hiring of disabled people, this system continues to exclude those with disabilities who have not displayed top performance in certain fields.
Gregor recognizes that the overall problem is simple: the lack of transparent and clear communication and coordination between the different actors involved. In addition, a paradigm shift needs to be cultivated that re-defines the understanding of “disability” and “ability” in the labor market. Far too often, people are disabled by society rather than by their bodies. Social participation can only happen by tearing down these barriers and creating an ecosystem of acknowledgment, access, support and trust. Gregor developed Career Moves, a model that enables such an ecosystem to grow, in order to contribute towards the realization of an inclusive Austrian society.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Gregor Demblin started Career Moves with the goal of creating an inclusive Austrian job market. Gregor has designed Europe’s first online career platform that provides a simple and efficient way to include people with disabilities in all types of jobs. Career Moves tightly integrates the needs of disabled workers into a normal online job platform, providing a centralized virtual space for all Austrian job seekers, irrespective of disabilities they might have. Gregor’s initiative transforms traditional business culture and attitudes of distrust about hiring disabled people by combatting the prevailing lack of knowledge regarding their abilities. He is working to promote this awareness about abilities to show that disabled people can also be top performers.
Career Moves is the first employment initiative in Austria successfully penetrating the business sector and establishing corporate trust in the abilities, performance and added-value of people with disabilities. It is also the first employment initiative in Austria successfully positioning persons with disabilities as top performers in the general public. A persistent lack of information in Austria’s current labor market has led to biases and social exclusion against those who are traditionally seen as less desirable employees. By bringing together important stakeholders - companies, placement agencies, social service institutions and job seekers - Career Moves helps companies and business support organizations to deeply understand the potential of individuals with disabilities for business interests. It also connects the formerly isolated services of job agencies and social welfare organizations in Austria, thereby increasing the effectiveness of their placement processes and working to prevent stigmatization and exclusion. Thus, Career Moves reorganizes a fragmented landscape of support and potential work opportunities, facilitating an unprecedented approach hinging on a full integration of services for disabled people entering the workforce.
Career Moves’ partnership with companies and placement agencies extends beyond the end goal of attaining more hires to changing societal attitudes about disabled people in the workplace on a national level. Gregor has partnered with large corporations to help them become leaders in diversity management and with a multitude of media outlets to transform public awareness. He works closely with placement agencies, welfare organizations and the Public Employment Service in Austria to fundamentally change the system’s inclusion of people with disabilities in the open labor market. Additionally, he has created relationships with the Chamber of Commerce to mobilize the private sector and with the Ministry of Social Affairs to promote broader institutional reforms. Career Moves thus acts as a radically new way to reverse the chronic culture of exclusion against people with disabilities and to embed a new paradigm of inclusion into the Austrian society.