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New creative ways need to be found to support people to work

LAC Chair, Allyson Hamblett, makes a welcome return to talk about creating new ways of supporting people to work. LACs are advisory committees for CCS Disability Action that help provide governance for our regions. Allyson makes a huge contribution to our organisation and the disability community.

Employment is a big issue for the disability community.  Most of us would like to have secure work so that we can earn money to help us lead a good life.  Finding work, however, is becoming increasing more complicated for people; long term careers don’t seem to exist anymore.  Low paid, short term contracts seem to be the way jobs are going these days.  The cost of living, however, increases at regular intervals, and owning a house seems to be just for the wealthy, especially in Auckland.  There seems to me to be a direct contradiction between less job security and the increasing cost of living. 

There has to be a new way of working; of creating opportunities where everyone who wants to work and contribute to society in meaningful ways can be allowed to do so. It shouldn’t be this difficult to find good, meaningful work.

Work gives meaning to ones life, whether it is paid or not. I’ve started writing a book that I hope will be ready for publication at the end of next year.  My committee work in the non-profit sector is a feature of my book.  When I started working on the LAC, we were asked what motivates us to do this work.  I remember answering that question by saying that it is a substitute for a paid career.  I think it’s actually more than that; it’s about making a difference in people lives,  and having influence in shaping the organisation, knowing that I’ve had a role in that.

I love my paid role at Spark Centre, updating their website, because I think having an online presence is important for any organisation.  I love pay day at the end of each fortnight, but I also love working on the LAC for CCS Disability Action, despite the fact that it’s a voluntary, elected position.  I’ve also enjoyed my other committee involvements over the years.  They’ve certainly kept me busy.  I often get frustrated that it’s all about money these days; that the task and social contribution is secondary. I get frustrated with the idea that if it doesn’t pay, it’s not a real job. 

I remember clearly the day that I discovered the unbreakable barrier between me and a good paid career path.  Society was happy to train me for work, but seemed to have no place for me in paid employment.  I was at one of those agencies that were supposed to help me find work; the employment consultant had my CV in his hand. The CV had my degree and Diploma in Library and Information Studies on it.  The employment consultant asked me what I wanted to do.  I told him I wanted to work in a library.  He then said that I needed training for that type of work.  I gave him a chance, and referred the consultant to my CV, but still the training mantra emerged.

I complained, but that didn’t get me very far.  I went back to the same organisation a few years later and saw a different employment consultant who could not understand why I wanted to work in a library and was trying to get me to think outside the square.  She sent me to a different employment consultant; she took one look at my qualifications and said they were so good that I had to work in a library.  I just thought thank god someone intelligent to talk to at last.

I was able to get two and a half years work out of this.  Thanks to a range of taskforce green subsidies.  Unfortunately, the work dried up when the subsidies stopped.

Another difficulty, I had in gaining employment in the library system was that I was either seen as overqualified or lacking experience.  I wasn’t allowed to gain experience by working my way through the library system.  About two years ago I met up with a colleague who had no library qualifications who just walked in, asked for a job and got the job in a library.  He was able bodied.

I am frustrated with how the western world is currently constructed. There seems to be more concern with supporting and maintaining economic stability than valuing people contribution.  The economy demands highly experienced people, but has created a system that often stops people getting that experience.

I think that there needs to be more connection between school and the workforce.  For me, at the end of my university studies, it felt like a life jacket was removed and then I was thrown in the deep end.  Mechanisms need to be put in place to fix up the “too qualified, no experience” trap that many people get stuck with.  We need something stronger than our current Equal Employment Opportunities Policy. Maybe we need a quota system that encourages organisations to employ disabled people.

New creative ways need to be found to support people to work, not just to support economic structures, but to support people.  Economics is supposed to help support people, not the other way round. What do you think needs to change?