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More men in the disability workforce

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Return to Disability Workforce Innovation Project

Shepparton’s Connect GV has a significant number of male staff, some of whom recently attended a workshop to share their stories their journey into the sector and why disability work is the career for them. Their stories are diverse and their histories varied, with a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and abattoir worker amongst the cohort of men finding career opportunities along with true professional fulfilment and satisfaction working in disability.

Increasing male uptake of work in disability is a must if the sector is to thrive and truly reflect the needs of the community they serve. In areas where layoffs in manufacturing, coal fire power stations and other industries have caused enormous turmoil, upheaval and financial strain for families, could disability work be a stabilising force within these communities, delivering the jobs and career opportunities that are so needed?

Interested in innovating your approach? Read the stories of these inspiring men combining their talents with community commitment to help others and build satisfying careers in disability.

From the Sporting Fields to Disability

dean pritchard

This is Dean’s second go at working in the disability field, having formerly worked for Shepparton Access.  When the opportunity to work at Valley Sport came up after Dean had completed a Diploma in Sport and Recreation, he saw it as a chance to use his skills and qualification.  He was encouraged to put in an application for what, at the time, was a part time position in supported employment.

He initially knocked it back, as part time work was not an option for his family.  However, when they came back to him and indicated that it would be part time for only a short period of a few months and then guaranteed to go full time, he took the chance to return to working in the disability sector.

Dean works in the supported employment area of ConnectGV with a crew of seven employees, four of whom he works with at any given.  The work includes garden maintenance at GV Connects residential homes and a few private properties, as well as other jobs that come up from time to time such as switching the labels on jars at the SPC Ardmona factory, unloading containers for local companies and repacking their products.  Dean said the work is regular, consistent, full of variety and enjoyable.

His crew are high functioning adults who are based out of the Billabong Sweets & Treats site.  Monday is rag day where the whole team comes together to cut up rags and package them for sale. The rags are purchased by local businesses and the community.

Dean gave an example of how rewarding his work is when just recently he had to change the blades on the mower.  He had one of the guys do it for him.  This man had never held a screwdriver, let alone used one and was absolutely thrilled to get the chance to take on a more challenging task, something he’d never done before.  Dean said the reward of watching one of ‘his guys’ achieve something he’d never considered possible before was a remarkably fulfilling experience.

Investment Banking Across the Globe to ConnectGV

manjith r

Manjith moved to Australia from India in 2015, after having worked as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs in the United States and Hong Kong.  Although rewarding in monetary terms, he felt his position lacked value and knew he was seeking something more.  After arriving in Victoria he struggled to find work in the banking sector and other sectors due to not having Australian-based experience. He ended up working in an abattoir in Tatura where he stayed for two years.  

His brother-in-law, who was working in the mental health sector, encouraged Manjith to move across to disability work.  With the need to continue earning a living to support his family and no local training options available that could accommodate his work schedule, he committed to travelling to Melbourne every Saturday for a period of 9 months to complete his Certificate IV in Disability.

He initially had trouble finding a placement to fulfil his Certificate IV requirements until ConnectGV entered the picture and offered him a spot in their day program.

In the 18 months he’s been with the business, he has learned a tremendous amount which has brought real life experience to the training he undertook in Melbourne.  Through the support of mentors he has learned how to write up notes and outcome measures and deal with difficult behaviours.

With both his wife and mother working as nurses, and his father who is a social worker, it’s not surprising that Manjith wanted a career that fulfilled his desire to help people and provided a sense of achievement that comes from making a difference in the lives of others.  Manjith is interested in using his experience and knowledge in his current and past roles to contribute further and progress his career in Disability by taking on leadership and management roles in the future.

Entering the Disability sector with a Bang

Andy Alker case story

Andy has been working in disability for 15 years, with his entry to the field quite literally starting with a bang. He was driving a large truck while working as a courier, and was just preparing to back out of the warehouse he was delivering to when he noticed two men behind him giving him conflicting directions for reversing out.
Grateful for their assistance, albeit a little confused by their directions, he kept inching backward all the way into a wall, damaging the truck and creating a very loud bang.
Another man appeared at the sound of commotion from the building Andy had reversed into and explained to him that it was a work centre for people with a disability. It had been two of his clients that had been ‘helping’ him reverse out.

It helped explain why one guy had been pointing in one direction, the other pointing in the opposite and his truck eventually came to an abrupt halt care of the building wall.
Andy was invited in for a cup of tea and got to talking about the disability sector with the manager, who told Andy that there was a job going in the gardening centre and he should try it out. Soon after Andy was working in disability.

He quickly moved into a management role and continued to enjoy his work. However another passion was calling to him and he eventually decided to train as a light vehicle mechanic. After completing his training, he was offered the role of teacher to young people with behaviour problems wanting to learn mechanics.
Seven months ago Andy moved to Australia with his wife, a GP. He started working with ConnectGV four months ago in the Day Options facility teaching photography, which he’d previously studied; light vehicle mechanics; and music and theatre production, building on his 30 years of rock band experience in performance. Andy is also coordinating a work skills program for participants, who are learning about the roles and responsibilities and necessary skills required for employment. The participants are provided with work experience and support to put theory into practice.

Andy thoroughly enjoys his work and gets a great deal of satisfaction from making a positive difference in others’ lives. He is constantly challenged by the dynamic environment that he is engaged in and the ongoing test of how to best communicate with clients to help them achieve their best.

A Rich History that Led to the Disability Sector

Chris Giblin

Chris was the functions and duty manager at a local RSL for 3 years but was made redundant in 2003.  He went to work for QBE in the WorkCover area for 8 months, but didn’t enjoy that area of work. He then transitioned into an Employment Consultant role for Worktrainers and this was where he was introduced to the Disability Employment Network and ultimately the sector.

After 5 years he was approached to become Operations Manager of Ganbina, an Aboriginal not-for-profit organisation focussing on school to work transition for 15-25 year old people.

After 2 years in this role, Chris was approached to head a pilot program funded by Wesfarmers with the aim of increasing the percentage of Indigenous employees across their stores in the Goulburn Valley region in line with their Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).  This was highly successful, but after 3 years Chris decided he was keen to travel.  The world beckoned and Chris spent 6 months travelling and studying in Asia.

Prior to travelling, Chris and his dad Tony, along with the support of their cricket club Shepparton/Youth Club United CC, approached ConnectGV with the idea of starting an All Abilities cricket team.  ConnectGV were very supportive and it has grown over the last 5 years, going from one team to encompassing an annual tournament that includes teams from organisations throughout the Goulburn Valley.

Upon returning from overseas, ConnectGV CEO Carolynne Frost, who Chris had been friends with since high school, approached him to undertake a 7 month contract to prepare plans for their supported employees prior to the transition to NDIS.

Upon completing this contract, both Chris and Caz were keen to continue the working relationship and with a vacancy available in the Outreach team, Chris progressed into this role and has now been with ConnectGV for nearly 2 years.

Chris finds bringing happiness to people’s lives through his work very rewarding.

From Nursing in Aged Care to the Disability Sector

James started working as a disability support worker in a high care needs house, and was immediately identified for his potential and recommended to take on a nursing qualification.

He became a registered nurse 31 years ago and has spent 18 years of that in management, mainly in aged care at Violet Town, where he was the Clinical Care Coordinator, Deputy CEO and Director of Nursing.

He also worked as the After Hours Nursing Coordinator at Shepparton Villages.

A health scare saw him take a few years’ break from work to spend time on his own health and wellbeing.

However, in December 2018 he was headhunted by ConnectGV for one of their residential houses. Management was soon to come calling again though, with a role becoming available in March when James took on the acting House Supervisor role alongside being the Nurse Manager.

He credits a great team behind him for his enjoyment of his job

James is also a palliative care specialist with experience and skills in advanced care plans and finds his aged care knowledge helps him ensure his focus on the best outcomes for his clients.

From Taxi Driver to Disability Care

In 2001, Mal moved from New Zealand to Stawell, a small town in Victoria’s Wimmera region.  With his wife working as a midwife, he stayed home to look after their three boys. 

As the boys got older Mal started to look for work and it was through his sons’ love of football that he encountered the opportunity to become a taxi driver.

A significant proportion of his clients were people with a disability as Stawell had a high number of institutions for people with disability at the time.  He spent 5 years driving taxis, getting to know his clients and sharing banter with them, ensuring he was more engaged with them than just driving them to their destinations.

In 2006 the family moved to Shepparton.  Again he couldn’t find work. After 2 years of unemployment his wife suggested Aged Care and he undertook his Certificate 3 in Aged Care but still couldn’t get work.

He then approached a disability service who recommended undertaking his Certificate 4 in Disability, assuring him there was plenty of work.  He finished in 6 months, given credits from his Aged Care qualification, and he went door knocking to see if he could get a placement somewhere.

The first door he knocked on was ConnectGV.  He was invited in and ended up being asked if he could start work that day.  That was 6 years ago and Mal has been working in Residential Care ever since with permanent shifts to secure his employment at the facility

He loves building relationships with the clients and knowing them so well, although he gets quite emotional that there is no magic wand to fix their afflictions

As Mal says, this is not a job you could do if you just need a job. You must have a passion for it and a commitment to it.

Key Findings

Connect GV Management are well connected in the Shepparton community.  The ‘secret’ to their success in recruiting and retaining so many men in their workforce appears to be based on the fact that they:

  • Have an acute eye for spotting talent and are not afraid to look ‘outside the box’ for the right fit in their employees
  • Recruit on values and knowledge of local community and local people
  • Encourage and support student placements, opening up a talent pool from which to employ
  • Are an inclusive service with supportive and respectful managers who openly show their appreciation for their staff's work efforts and support work-life balance
  • Acknowledge the personal value that employees are looking to attain through their work and provide opportunities for this to happen
  • Have a knack for identifying the right role for the right person leading to strong employee satisfaction.

Tips for CEOs and HR Managers

This section provides a summary for managers and other sector leaders wanting to tap into a broader labour pool and increase the gender diversity of their workforce to better reflect their client group.

The men who shared their stories with us were impressive people but also very different from each other.  However, there were some very useful common themes that emerged that could help with recruitment and retention of more men in Disability workforce in Regional Victoria.  These include:

  1. The value proposition for men working in Disability in Regional Victoria appears to be:
  • Real relationships and being able to make positive differences in people’s lives
  • Lots of variety and challenges
  • Flexible work hours helping workers manage family and personal work-life balance
  • Getting out, working outside the office and moving around
  1. Sourcing and attraction information

The majority of the men had wives who were working in health (nurses and a GP) and had come to Shepparton for their wives’ work.  So advertising opportunities in nurse, GP or other journals and communications could be an effective approach to attracting more men into Disability jobs in Regional Victoria.

A number of the men were involved in local sporting clubs and activities.  They learned more about job opportunities in Disability through people they met through these activities including between towns as teams came together to play each other.

A clear pattern of managers recognising the importance of their role in actively identifying and recruiting workers was evident.  Common themes were managers welcoming them in, recognising their potential, minimising barriers and encouraging and facilitating their move to work within Connect GV. 

Availability of work in their local area was important for a number of men who had had trouble finding work in their area of Regional Victoria

3. Retention

Key themes relating to why the men stayed working in Disability included: the positive culture at Connect GV, supporting and respectful management, job security, flexible work arrangements, variety and nature of the work and above all their ability to realise their passion to help people in need.

Key Questions

  • Do you provide your employees with flexible hours?
  • Is there scope for variety and challenge in the role?
  • Physical activity
Contact information

For more information contact Dianne Hardy, Disability Workforce Innovation Project Lead, 0436 820 088, submit enquiry/feedback