How two different organisations providing employment services for persons with disabilities are designing new solutions to address skills shortages in Melbourne.
“Being a social enterprise is liberating. It allows you to put people in the centre of your decisions. Otherwise, you just purely go for the dollar, and you will be ruthless about conserving money for the company.”
We’re speaking with Sue Boyce, CEO of Ability Works. Alongside Disability Employment Services provider atWork Australia, Sue’s organisation is creating inventive, human-centered ways to achieve better outcomes.
Supporting people with significant and complex barriers to employment is no small task.
For Sue, there are parallels with the intractable social problems she addressed working at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan.
A registered NDIS provider and a social enterprise, Ability Works delivers inventive, design-led solutions while supporting people from all walks of life with significant barriers to employment.
Abiilty Works identifies those who struggle to find employment in what is considered a ‘traditional’ workplace. And, instead of turning ‘difficult’ cases away, it engineers accessible systems to help candidates on their own terms.
In their wire fabrication facility, the Ability Works team created special machinery for blind workers to safely operate, and a former welder post a motorcycle accident now with paraplegia has a giant turntable that continues to allow him to weld.
However, the pandemic disrupted their model. “During the lockdowns it became evident that people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds were left behind even more,” explains Sue. “We employ people with disabilities, and half of our workforce couldn’t come to work. They either lived in an aged care facility or group homes, and restrictions wouldn’t allow it”.
Overnight, the social enterprise became an employer with skill shortages.
“When Ability Works got in touch with an urgent request for immediate hires, we were ready,” says Tyron Bravo, Jobsbank Industry Partnership & Inclusion Advisor. “We have established relationships with trusted supplier partners and pre-screened jobseekers ready to work. Our goal is to meet the employer where they are, with what they need. In this instance, we were confident that atWork Australia would be a great fit,” he explains. “So, we created the space to facilitate the connection.”
atWork Australia – one of Australia’s leaders in assisting people living with disability, injury or health condition to find employment – met with Ability Works to understand the job openings and required skills. The atWork Australia team began sourcing candidates immediately and were able to arrange interviews within 24 hours of the original request.
Just like Ability Works, the atWork Australia team do things differently.
“We focus on connecting our clients with the right job not just any job,” says Kylie Olsen, an Employment Engagement Manager at atWork Australia. “Our model is based on empowerment. Our clients get to decide whether our proposal is the right one for them at that moment in time.”
All candidates started working a few days later and all remain in their jobs today. But then again, everyone was set up for success.
“Our system is more than sourcing candidates,” explains Kylie. “It’s also about helping everyone through recruitment and placement processes. The team that supports the clients monitors the working hours, understands the workplace, discusses challenges, and points out what is working well. But there is also a team supporting the employer, providing information about available wage subsidies and other assistance. We want both parties to be able to provide an accessible and inclusive workplace. We want both parties to be able to benefit from Government programs and contracts.”
From Job Coaches to its management team, atWork Australia has created a system that puts the individual in the centre. This people-first principle is the basis of the interaction between both organisations.
As Sue Boyce describes it, it can become a competitive advantage. She attributes Ability Works people-first principle as the reason her organisation survived the pandemic: in a time of profound isolation, an inclusive company structure made all the difference to its performance.
“One person doesn’t have the answer,” Sue says. “The only reason we survived the last two years in the uncertainty of COVID was by gathering the entire team together every day, for at least the time needed to figure things out, and got collaborative input to make a decision. We survived incredibly well because of that diversity of thought.”
About Ability Works
Ability Works is an award-winning social enterprise and an accredited NDIS service provider, operating four business units: Wire & Metal Fabrication, Records Management, Packing & Rework and Inclusive Design services. Ability Works produces goods and services for government, business and non-profits and has a track record of delivering contract values up to $1m per annum. They manufacture in Melbourne providing local jobs and distribute nationally.
atWork Australia has been delivering employment services on behalf of the Australian Government since 2003. From more than 340 locations around the nation, atWork Australia delivers Disability Employment Services (DES), Indigenous Connections, jobactive, and ParentsNext, connecting people and business so both can thrive. atWork Australia improves the terms of participation in society for people living with disability or disadvantage. atWork Australia identifies goals and aspirations, builds skills and job-readiness and supports people looking for work throughout their journey, from interview to employment and beyond.
At Jobsbank we are passionate about inclusion and the difference it makes – not just to one person, but to teams and whole organisations. We believe in an Australia where everybody belongs. That’s why we’re helping to build more inclusive workplaces one business at time. Whether you have specific focus areas or you’re looking to achieve transformational change – our services are tailored to meet your specific needs and provides you with the insights and tools to deliver sustainable solutions.
Photo: Paoli Smith
Jobsbank is working with two Disability Service Providers, atWork and Ability Works, to help them find new ways to help people with disability find jobs.