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Tariana Turia: Launch of the Elevator Group

Hon Tariana Turia
Minister for Disability Issues

6 June 2012; 9am Speech


Launch of the Elevator Group

Mangere, Auckland

[delivered by Neil Porteous on behalf of the Minister]

I firstly want to acknowledge Neil Porteous, your Chief Executive; Tricia Fitzgerald, your Chair; Paul Stoneman – the Manager of Workforce Industries – and most of all the Workforce team members; the Elevator Group Board and staff and friends of whānau of all of the employees.

I am delighted to have been invited to launch two new brands – changing the name of Workforce Auckland to the Elevator Group and changing the name of Workforce Industries to Altus Enterprises.

Anyone with teenagers in the house would know that you can tell a lot about a person by the brand they wear – whether it’s the tick on your socks; or the stripes on your shoes is apparently a very significant investment in success.

And so I’ve done a little bit of research into the logic behind the brand we’re launching today.

The rebranding of Workforce Auckland to the Elevator Group is a significant step forward to an inclusive society The Elevator Group is the next step for Workforce Auckland – an organisation which next year celebrates fifty years of existence.

For over half a century Workforce Auckland has supported thousands of people into employment. Currently there are 800 people in the Elevator Group in supported employment, transition services and the very high needs programme. Meanwhile Altus employs 210 people at this site, and a similar site in Henderson.

But back to the brand. Why an elevator?

Well if you think of an elevator, whether by coincidence or design, anyone can get in the lift, travel down one flight or up ten; and arrive at the destination of your choice. And of course the very meaning of the word –elevate – is to uplift – to aim high – and isn’t that something worthy of our support!

Then there’s the change of name from Workforce Industries to Altus Enterprises. I had to look up the meaning of Altus in the dictionary –it’s a wonderful word - a Latin adjective meaning "high, deep, noble or profound".

Both these new names have been chosen deliberately to signal an exciting new direction –the movement forward to an inclusive society, where impairments are simply an accepted part of life and disabled people are valued members of our community and our economy.

We know that the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people will not be reduced unless we do something different. And we realise too that the benefits of being in work are not only about adding to the economy but it is also about improving people’s wellbeing and resilience.

We need new approaches, different models to be developed – a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work for everyone.

We have come a long way since the days of sheltered workshops where sometimes it was hard to see the value of the work being done, and there was only a limited focus on developing any of the team for a life outside the workshop.

The repeals of the Disabled Persons Employment Protection Act five years ago, laid the foundation for significant change.

Now, every employee at Altus is on an individual employment contract, has a development plan, does real work, and feels the thrill of being part of a thriving team.

We are also talking about some amazing generational change.

The mainstreaming of disabled children into schools has contributed to all younger people not having the black-and-white distinction between disabled and non-disabled people that previous generations had. Our young people leave school equipped with an attitude that disabled children and adults should have the same rights, opportunities, and responsibilities as others.

Having said this, we all know there is much more that can be done to ensure that disabled persons are truly part of the employment market.

In 2006 only 59% of working age disabled people were employed compared with 76% of non-disabled people. So it’s my challenge as Minister; your challenge at Elevator and Altus; and our collective challenge as a community to do something about this.

Our reason for being here today is to celebrate and consider all that we can do to promote employment opportunities for disabled people.

Despite the strong incentive to be in work, disabled people face a range of barriers. Things that we know make a huge difference in enabling more disabled people get into work include:

• a more welcoming attitude of the workplace and employers;
• greater job flexibility;
• support for specific restrictions on a disabled person working, for example the number of hours worked, equipment, or supervision; and a
• greater emphasis on skills development and qualifications.

It’s all very well thinking about ideas for change – but let’s hear some real-life evidence about thinking differently and what works.

There are three key ideas I want to share in this regard.

The Elevator Group is committed towards a sustainable social, or business, enterprise – that is one that has social benefits and is also commercially competitive. They believe this will lead to a greater number and variety of work opportunities. They are also committed towards increasing reverse integration – that is employing non-disabled persons alongside disabled persons in a typical work environment.

This is an example of true social enterprise – a business with a social purpose reinvesting any surplus in their social aims– which in the case of the Elevator group is to “assist disabled Aucklanders to work in careers of their choice“.

The second idea is the success that Altus Enterprise are having in helping to provide easier access to a first real job especially for school leavers, young disabled people and those who have been out of work for a significant period of time.

One of the big issues for disabled persons is having relevant and real work experience to show a future employer their grasp of essential work skills. Once candidates have developed the skills through Altus Enterprises, they work with the Elevator team to transition into open employment.

This is an idea that was also reflected in the findings of the Enabling Good lives project, that basically, we should be aiming to enable disabled people to participate in a range of mainstream activities each week, including part-time or full-time employment if appropriate.

And thirdly, I believe what we are seeing today, is evidence of high, deep, noble or profound commitment towards employing disabled persons from Altus and from Elevator – but it is commitment that all of us can express.

Last year, I called together an Employment Summit involving employers, disability sector organisations and government agencies. One action out of the Summit was Work and Income announcing a $500,000 Disability Employment Innovation Fund. The fund targeted three innovative projects in three areas, from:

• employers to retain current employees in employment who either have an existing disability or who have acquired a disability including chronic health condition or mental health condition.

• employers to get disabled people into employment.

• and from the NGO sector or disabled people organisations to support disabled people into self-employment.

Seventeen projects have been funded across a range of different initiatives to model a new way of working. Just one example is Diversityworks, here in Auckland. As part of their plan they intend to coach ten people to develop themselves and support each other to be sustainably self-employed.

One of the great things about this project is that it normalises a way of life which enables disabled people to have a good life on an equal basis with others.

This is very much the focus of the Employers Disability Network, which promotes the value of employing disabled people. Much of the approach is driven by an emphasis on attitude; a concept given life by the Think Differently campaign which has commissioned Attitude Pictures to develop a DVD for the Employers Disability Network to highlight the value of employing disabled people.

The DVD in itself will become a tool of social change; to shift beliefs and perceptions about disabled people’s capacity and capability.

Another support for employers is the work of Be. Accessible. I can’t speak highly enough of this initiative, which encourages us all to consider the value to our businesses; to our economy; to our towns and cities of being accessible to disabled persons.

There is a lot going on – but what I want to say most, is to congratulate everyone at Elevator and Altus for taking up the shared responsibility for making a difference. Through your courage to take up a new way; your creativity and passion, we know that there will be many more disabled people able to participate and contribute in their communities and in work.

I thank you for the models you are providing – the new ways you are demonstrating to support disabled people have more choice and control over their lives.

Tēnā koutou katoa


ends

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