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Workbridge, Where abilities equal employment

Workbridge - Dedicated to turning lives around

Taranaki Daily News, October 2006

 

Workbridge is a name familiar to many of us, but few can say what the organisation does. In simple terms, it is dedicated to helping people with disabilities find a job. In Taranaki, a small team of three is pretty good at doing just that.

It is headed by Steve Ander, who manages much of the central region through to Palmerston North, along with employment consultants Michelle Coronno and Cherry Williams, who manage around 300 clients in Taranaki.

"The Key is finding suitable sustainable work for our clients," says Steve. "We're not a quick fix, we're looking at the long term."

Significantly, Steve points out there is no cost to either clients or employers.

"We're contracted to Work and Income, and predominately work with their clients on Sickness and Invalids Benefits. We can access Support Funds which will help provide for their needs in the workplace or in training."

That can include paying for specialised equipment or a productivity allowance to compensate the employers in those cases where the client can do the job, but maybe at a slower rate.

"The key thing is to make sure the employer is not disadvantaged. We're evening up the playing field."

It is soon evident that all three Workbridge team members have a passion for their work.

"I really enjoy playing a part in helping people turn their lives around," says Steve.

"Don't look at a person's disability, look at their abilities," "As a person," chimes in Cherry. "It's getting better with employers out there," she adds, "but there is still a stigma." Michelle agrees. "In particular towards people with an intellectual disability." She says.

Michelle and Cherry find jobs for their clients. "That involves helping with CVs, interview skills, job searching. We do it with them, we don't do it for them. We also approach employers and provide both sides with support after a placement." Explains Cherry.

All three agree the mainstream placement scheme, which the Government funds, is an excellent example of what can be done.

In the first year of employment, a Workbridge client placed under the scheme is eligible for a 100% subsidy in the first 12 months, and 50% in the second year. After that the hope is the client is so well established and proven his or her ability that the employer keeps the client on.

A perfect example of that happening is Donna Harridge. She has hip problems and works at Taranaki Base Hospital - a great supporter of Workbridge - as a typist-receptionist in the occupational therapy department. She was originally placed there under the mainstream scheme. Recently the two-year subsided period finished but she became such a valued member of the team she now has a permanent position.

Occupational therapy advisor co-ordinator Mary Bird explains how Workbridge made it all possible.

"They gave us the opportunity to develop Donna's skills and we ironed out any problems as they arose. The scheme certainly proved its worth. She's got a very good approach and she really is a delight to have around."

Donna (21) says it was her mum who convinced her to go to Workbridge.

"She heard about them and made me go and see what it was all about. I thought it would only get me into factory work or something like that - I now wished I'd listened to her sooner! I'd spent months searching for a job myself with no luck, but a week-and-a-half after talking to Workbridge I got a job here. I really enjoy it."

Hawera baker Dean Kira tells a similar story. Health problems led to a leg amputation and he says he had to ignore a lot of negative feedback from other amputees at the national limbs centre in Wellington.

"Some of the people there were saying don't do this and don't do that, I'll affect your benefit etc, but going to Workbridge was the best think I could have done. They were absolutely awesome!

"They got me back into the work force and I really can't speak highly enough about Cherry, who put herself out to help me."

Dean has just been promoted to managing the bakery department at the busy write price supermarket in Hawera. Soon, the store will be even busier, when owner Tony Kovaleski, who has been incredibly supportive of Dean, takes over the new Pak' N Save store. Dean can't wait.

The story of New Plymouth man Laurie Hill shows a totally different way in which Workbridge can help. He has been teaching for 15 years but an accident more than a decade ago affected his mobility and out his career in jeopardy, until Workbridge was contacted.

"There was quite a bit of nerve damage and it was deteriorating, but the school contacted Workbridge and they were able to come up with the funding for a support person to work with me," he says.

Between 9am and 3pm on school days, Laurie has someone who makes the physical side of the job achievable.

"Its pretty basic stuff, whether it is shifting the furniture around, or getting the pupils from A to B in good time, with me looking after the stragglers at the rear. It works well," says Laurie.

"I knew Workbridge existed, but didn't really know what they did. They're fabulous. Anything I needed wasn't a problem. I just wonder how many people there are out there who don't use them, but would benefit so much if they did."

These three stories are random examples of how Workbridge can help people with disabilities successfully move back into the job market. There are many enlightened employers only too willing to work with Workbridge, which ensures everybody wins.

Workbridge would like to acknowledge that the support and commitment they receive from other disability agencies like CCS, Atawahi and Te Rau Pani is instrumental in the successful outcome they obtain for their clients. "It's about us all working together in collaboration to obtain the best possible result for our clients." Steve adds, "We also work in partnership with training organisations like WITT and VLS to ensure that the training needs of our clients in relation to their disabilities are met."

Support and services are available for disabled student studying at WITT. To find out if you're eligible, contact Zanetta Hinton, Disability co-ordinator.

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