Workplace discrimination and Covid has meant Bay jobseekers with a disability are struggling to get employment - despite their skillsets.
Research shows people living with a disability are three times less likely to be employed and experts in the field want businesses to give people with disabilities a chance to prove themselves.
The Government has introduced a Working Matters Action Plan to ensure disabled people and those with health conditions have an equal opportunity to access employment.
The plan said 74 per cent of disabled people not in paid work would like to work if a job was available and that this was an untapped talent pool.
Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said the plan would provide critical guidance for all agencies and industries working on employment initiatives.
However, Workbridge chief executive Jonathan Mosen said discrimination was a"huge problem".
Workbridge aimed to make New Zealand more inclusive by removing barriers to disabled people working.
"It's important to emphasise that discrimination can occur even when it is not motivated by ill will.
"It can be incredibly demoralising when you feel that you have so much to give - that there is so much you want to contribute - but you're being held back because of misconceptions."
Sometimes an employer finds it hard to imagine how someone with a particular impairment would fit into their workplace, he said.
"The unfamiliar can be a bit daunting.
"So we spend a lot of time on disability confidence, inviting employers to take someone on merit. Look at what someone has to offer rather than spend time imagining how you would do the job in their situation."
Workbridge, a free employment service, was established 90 years ago and is a nationwide organisation with offices in Tauranga and Rotorua.
In the past three years, it has worked with about 9000 people and Mosen estimates about 5000 of those were placed into jobs.
The impact of getting a job was huge, he said.
"The sense that you have value, the mana that comes with being able to proudly answer the question: What do you do for a living? The economic empowerment of having some money to spend and the pride you take in the fact that it's money you earned.
"The idea that someone believes in you, values you, understands you can make a contribution. All these things can impact other parts of your life, such as having the confidence to start a relationship."
Mosen, who is blind and hearing impaired, said he had worked in a range of industries including broadcasting, IT and government relations.
CCS Disability Action Bay of Plenty service manager Paula Young said the organisation worked with 350 people with disabilities and their families.
That also includes specifically supporting about 50 to be meaningfully engaged in their community and/or to find paid employment.
"Employment for disabled people is often limited by opportunity, understanding and people's attitudes towards disability rather than the person not having the skills, qualities or qualifications required for the role.
"In fact, disabled people make great employees and bring many benefits to employers and the workplace. They just need the opportunity to do so."
IDEA Services and Choices NZ chief operating officer Joan Cowan said it was truly concerning that in New Zealand, people living with a disability are three times less likely to be employed.
"This is as hard as ever with the current job market because of Covid. However, through the work we do, we are making a lot of headway in changing some of those misconceptions that employers may have about hiring someone with a disability."
There are myths that providing accommodations for people with disabilities is expensive, that there is a higher health and safety risk, or a higher absentee rate, she said.
"In fact, people with disabilities have an 85 per cent less absenteeism rate than people without a disability. And, often, there are government subsidies to help with any extra costs.
"We just want businesses to give people a chance to prove themselves. A quarter of New Zealanders have a disability, and so hiring people with a disability better represents the society in which we live."
Choices NZ supports people through the entire employment process – from how to look for a job and prepare for an interview through to on-the-job coaching.
Across the country, it was working with about 200 jobseekers and although it did not have any contracts in the region, Cowan said Choices NZ was keen for Bay people to have access to the support in the future.
Figures from the Ministry for Social Development show in Tauranga City over the same timeframes there were 2760 jobseekers with health conditions and a disability compared to 2295 in 2020. In the Rotorua District, over the same timeframes, there were 1581 compared to 1230.
Client Service Delivery acting group general manager Graham Allpress said its work could improve clients' lives and give them independence.
"It can be hard to get a job if you have a health condition or disability and we want those people to know that we are here to help and support them in achieving their employment goals."
There are many programmes to support disabled people and people with health conditions to prepare for, find and stay in work, he said.
Allpress acknowledged employers might be reluctant to employ a person with a disability.
Many of the specialist employment service providers it contracts successfully work with employers to educate them and overcome these and other barriers, he said.
In 2020, there were 954 cancellations in the Bay of Plenty from Jobseeker Support (Health Condition and Disability) and the reason was "obtained work".
Sepuloni who is also the Minister for Disability Issues said the Government recognised the importance of disabled people being able to participate fully in all areas of society on an equal basis with others and without discrimination.
"I would absolutely encourage employers to take on disabled people. I believe they're an untapped talent pool of loyal, resilient and committed people.
"They bring a perspective that can help transform an organisation's culture. The contribution they can make to a workplace should not be underestimated."
Sepuloni was focused on preventing and removing barriers to accessibility through a new legislative framework and proposal which she would seek agreement on from Cabinet in May 2021.
Government Action Plan
* In August the Government launched Working Matters: The Disability Employment Action Plan.
* The all-of-government Action Plan aims to help ensure an inclusive economic recovery from Covid where disabled people and people with health conditions can participate in employment as they want to, on an equal basis to others.
* Some of the initiatives include supporting young people who live with significant disabilities to access work experience while still at school and apprenticeships.
* Look at offering more paid internships to assist with transitions from
tertiary education and training in diverse sectors.