Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability

Pathways15: Findings from the NSW Disability, Disadvantage and VET study

Jennifer Smith-Merry, University of Sydney

The New South Wales Government provides funding through its Smart and Skilled program to support people with disability and other forms of disadvantage to complete vocational education and training through loadings and fee subsidies. The aim is to boost skills through vocational education and training with the outcome being increased employability for people who are disadvantaged.

Our research, which was funded by the NSW Government, sought to understand the experience of people with disability as they moved through VET and into employment through talking to people with disability, their supporters, services, vocational education providers and employers. We also looked at available education and employment data to compare outcomes for people with disability and other forms of disadvantage.

This presentation reflects on the experiences and views expressed in the 71 interviews we conducted. Our research found that people with disability generally have positive experiences of undertaking VET in NSW but that the employment market that they enter into, while showing some good examples of disability employment, is marked by a lack of confidence and knowledge around disability and disability employment. We also found that a broader lack of disability inclusion in society, which creates stigma and discrimination, places limits on the expectations that people with disability themselves have about their employment prospects.


Dr Jennifer Smith-Merry is Associate Professor in the Sydney School of Health Sciences within the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney. Jen is lead Chief Investigator on multiple grants which aim to evaluate or develop policy and services in disability and mental health. She has skills in evaluation and qualitative methods and works closely with people with lived experience of disability. She has a strong interest in the value of lived experience in informing policy and service design.

Dr Smith-Merry has strong connections to academic, policy and service audiences in Australia and internationally. She has published over 65 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters alongside a large number of reports for national and international governments. Jen led the development of the Mind the Gap report into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and psychosocial disability which drew attention to the significant problems faced in delivering NDIS in the context of mental health.

Commencing 2018 the NSW Disability, Disadvantage and VET Study focussed on looking at interventions that might improve the completion and employment outcomes for disadvantaged students, in particular those with a disability in order to develop effective policy responses in this area. The intention is to support these student groups through to completion and good post-training outcomes by providing additional resources to help overcome problems arising from being disadvantaged in general, and disability in particular. Jen will be discussing findings from the NSW Disability, Disadvantage and VET study at the Pathways15 Online Conference.