Dominion Post, Wellington, 4 July 2009
New Workbridge boss Grant Cleland’s mission is to help people with a disability find employment and encourage employers to give them a go.
Grant Cleland is a man on a mission to encourage employers to offer jobs to people with a disability, injury or illness.
As the new chief executive of the national disability employment organisation Workbridge, Mr Cleland is in the perfect position to achieve that goal.
“My hope is that through my work with workbridge and other people we can provide more employment opportunities to the disability and deaf community.”
Workbridge is a professional employment service for people with all types of disability, injury or illness or skill level.
With 138 staff in 28 offices throughout the country, Workbridge places about 4000 people into employment each year.
Mr Cleland himself was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair for mobility.
He therefore knows only two well how difficult it is for disabled and deaf people to find work.
He backs that up with statistics New Zealand figures that show disabled people are less likely to be employed than any other minority group.
“It is harder for disabled and deaf people to get jobs – the statistics tell that tale. That’s why we need to work with employers and government to try to figure out ways to create more job opportunities.
“Some employers are fearful around employing disabled people and that’s a real shame,” Mr Cleland says.
“Some have concerns that people might need a lot of support or might require additional equipment, or more flexible hours.”
But Mr Cleland says Statistics New Zealand figures (2006) found that 75 percent of disabled people did not require additional equipment or other modifications or support to work.
Of those who did require support, the need for modified hours was the most commonly reported requirement and relatively small numbers needed equipment, building modifications, a job coach, personal assistant or communication services.
Workbridge and other agencies can help with these workplace supports, he says.
“We need to look at ways to overcome the sorts of issues that prevent employers from employing more people. That’s one of my first challenges and it is achievable.”
As chief executive of Workbridge Mr Cleland is answerable to both a board and a council, made up of advocacy groups in the disability community and organisations such as Business New Zealand.
Based in the national office in Wellington, his role is to oversee the organisation and to work with the senior management team to implement board and council strategies.
He has always been interested in and passionate about developing services that give the disability community more opportunities in education and employment.
He has spent 22 years working in the sector, the last 12 developing his own company, Creative Solutions, providing a range of services to help organisations become more responsive to the needs of the disability community.
His company also provides training for the disability community and employers around disclosure and other issues relating to the employment of disabled people.
Mr Cleland sees his role at Workbridge as a natural progression to his career.
“Even though I’ve had my own business I have always been open to looking into the right opportunity if it came along, particularly a leadership role, and this was it.
“I bring to Workbridge live and professional experience. A lot of my work in the last 22 years has been around employment, helping students to transition from school, managing disability support services in tertiary education and even social work in the early part of my career.”
“Mr Cleland has successfully climbed the corporate ladder because he’s had employers who have seen that he has the skills to do the job.
“I hope we can encourage many more employers to do the same for other people.
“I was also really fortunate I had parents who, from an early age, encouraged me to have hopes and dreams and then really helped me to identify the work through the challenges that I faced in terms of education and employment.
“My parents really encouraged me to have a can-do attitude.
“I hope, through this job, we can help more people discover their aspirations and then work with them and employers to overcome any challenges.”