Scheme to assist people into jobs

Southland businesses are working with central government to increase the number of disabled people joining the workforce.

Last year, the government launched the Employ Ability initiative, to provide support to employers looking to hire and retain disabled staff.  Disabilities Issues minister Nicky Wagner has been touring the country to promote the scheme, leading up to the official Southland launch which took place late last month.  The scheme grew out of a pilot programme, Project 300, which was launched in Christchurch in 2015 with the aim of bringing 300 disabled people into the workforce.

Wagner said the scheme was about supporting employers to become disability confident and consider employing disabled people and people with health conditions.  “Once someone gets a job Work and Income offers ongoing support to both the person and their employer, to help ensure it’s successful for everyone.”

Following on from the launch, Regional Commissioner for Work and Income Southern Region John Allen will meet with Koha Kai founder Janice Lee to better understand the situation for disabled workers in Southland.  In Southland, Koha Kai trains people with disabilities for successful transition into the workforce.

Lee said for people who had become isolated from the wider community, the transition could be a difficult one.  “The biggest thing for a lot of these guys is confidence, most of them have no self-confidence when they start out.  “It takes time for them to become comfortable in their work environment, but once they get there they are some of the most loyal and enthusiastic employees.

“It gives them a real sense of purpose, and they area there because they want to work.”  Lee said having people with disabilities able to participate in the workforce also helped them integrate better into the community and reduced stigma around disabled people.  “In the current system, people often take responsibility for disabled people and they can become dependent – we want them to take responsibility for themselves.  “As employees they’re great for morale in a workplace.  “They’ve lived in a world where they’ve been judged their whole life – so they don’t judge others.”

Southland Disabilities Resource Centre Manager Anita McKenzie said while there were already avenues to help people with disabilities to find work, more awareness of the issue “could only be a good thing”.  “Anything that can give people better assistance to finding work, that would be beneficial for everybody.”

McKenzie, who has a disability herself, said there were some misconceptions about disabled workers that still existed.  “Having a disability can make it difficult to find work – although just like anyone if you look long and hard enough you can find something.  It would be great to see the community as a whole embracing disabled people, and its definitely something that is possible.”