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Ready, willing and capable

By Ann Bolch

Disabled workers can thrive in the right role, writes Ann Bolch.

Gone are the days when a person with a disability was "lucky to have a job". Especially if you live near one of Nova Employment's 26 outlets across NSW and Queensland.

As a disability employment service (DES), Nova's 200-plus staff are charged with placing people with disabilities into meaningful, lasting work. The chief executive of Nova, Martin Wren, says: "When I started [nearly 30 years ago], the concept that people with disabilities could work for award wages in the general community was pretty radical. But Australian employers will listen and if you come up with something reasonable they'll give you a go. That's what we did. That's what we still do."

This year Nova will assist more than 1000 job seekers into work.

Lee, for example, wanted to work with tyres, so he said to employment consultant Debbie, "We'll start to look for a job in tyres". To his surprise, the next day someone from a leading tyre chain offered him work checking pressure and pumping up tyres. This position is crucial to both the safety and economics of the business and Lee's boss couldn't be happier with his performance.

Nova understands that some employers need time to consider employing a person with a disability. The non-profit organisation's employment consultants are encouraged to listen to each employer's story to ascertain if they're ready to take on one of Nova's job seekers. They don't shy away from advising against it, if the employer seems overly wary or they don't have a client to fill the position.

Yet more than 40 per cent of Nova's job seekers are now working 30 hours to 40 hours a week; 99 per cent are placed in award-wage jobs.

Tony is one of them. As with many teenage boys, when he finished year 12 he was keen to work in the field of computer games. Through Nova's Transition to Work program he found his "dream job" at EB Games. A year later, he's happily settled into the team and is seen as a vital co-worker.

Wren says that about half the people receiving the Disability Support Pension (DSP) could and would work tomorrow, given the choice. Like any other person with barriers to employment, they need guidance, exposure to a variety of work-experience options, appropriate training and a job matched to their skills and interests.

Many similar organisations in the field of employment for people with a disability place job seekers into any job without stopping to research individual preferences or job suitability. When Nova finds someone a job, they want them to stay.

Lathon has enjoyed the fruits of this attitude. Suffering Asperger's syndrome and anxiety, Lathon came to Nova from another DES, which had him working as a car detailer for eight hours a week.

Apart from not liking car detailing, when Lathon's DSP subsidy expired his position was terminated. The DES wasn't interested in finding him another position.

After debriefing Lathon's previous experience and helping him establish employment goals, Nova found him a job working more than 30 hours a week at Shearwater Marine. This position no longer relies on a DSP subsidy.

Through genuine support lasting as long as the client needs it, more than 80 per cent of Nova-placed workers are still employed six months later. Support doesn't end with the worker. Nova provides employers with ongoing advice on disability issues.

Wren says the answer is simple. "If we can get past the visual or immediate judgments that we all make, people with disability have shed-loads to offer," he says.

"We've still got people in work that I put in jobs in 1990. They're working happily; they've had long service." 


Published: 20 October 2012

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