Disability Works Australia

Rewarding experience for workmates

The Coles Group took out the National Employer of the Year Award at the Prime Ministers Employer of the Year Awards at Parliament House in Canberra on August 9, 2007 .

Accepting the award from the Minister for Workforce Participation Dr Sharman Stone was The Coles Group diversity manager Katie Spearitt, who thanked Disability Works Australia (DWA) for its contribution.

“Without the close partnership Coles has formed with DWA we would not have been able to take a national approach to employing people with a disability,” Ms Spearitt said.

The award is presented annually to an organisation operating in two or more Australian States or territories for its valuable contribution in providing employment opportunities for people with a disability.

More than half of all Australians start their careers working in retail so it makes sense that many people with a disability also secure their first job in the retail field.

The close relationship between The Coles Group and Disability Works Australia (DWA has seen more than 1200 people with a disability secure jobs with the retail giant in the past three years.

The shelves in the Coles Supermarket in the Melbourne suburb of Chirnside Park have been kept spick and span, thanks to a face up team which includes two people with a disability employed with the assistance of DWA.

The early starts of 6am have not deterred the workers from embracing their first jobs and maintaining excellent attendance records at the store.

Ben Ryan has been working at the store for about four months and enjoys the disposable income the job gives him to invest in his hobby of playing his computer games console.

Ben, who lives at home, said his parents were impressed that he was getting himself to work every day, particularly as it was so early in the morning.

“My dad works in Melbourne city so he has to get up at around the same time as me to go to work,” Ben said.

The 19-year-old, who has autism, has been saving up to attend an upcoming computer convention.

Working alongside Ben in the store is car and truck enthusiast Andrew McKenzie, who has made excellent progress in his four months as part of the team.

Andrew has been using his income to pay for truck driving lessons and has already secured his medium rigid truck license.

“The important thing is that I can do this job and I am going to upgrade my truck license to a semi-trailer license with the money I am earning,” Andrew said.

The 20-year-old, who has Asperger syndrome, said the early starts did not bother him and he often got up before the alarm went off.

“The anticipation of having to get up is usually worse than actually getting up and I don't like the sound of the alarm going off so I often get up at about 4:30am ,” Andrew said.

Both Andrew and Ben were initially provided with intensive on-the-job support by Disability Employment Network provider Working Arrangements.

One of the key elements to the success of the small team is the support provided by team overseer Bernie Holden, who said the progress made by Andrew and Ben was “astounding”.

“Customers comment on a daily basis about how nice it is to see Coles employing people with a disability to work on the shop floor,” Bernie said.

She said working with the pair was both challenging and rewarding, with the rewards “far outweighing” the challenges.

“Ben is proud to be able to take a customer all the way to an item they are looking for and Andrew's social interaction has come ahead in leaps and bounds since he started working with us,” Bernie said.

She praised the management of Coles Supermarkets for committing to opportunities for people with disabilities and increasing general acceptance in the community.



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