More than 210 not-for-profit organisations operate over 400 Australian Disability Enterprises (ADE) nationally, employing approximately 20,000 supported employees.
These supported employees have considerable disabilities – mostly learning or intellectual disabilities – that would impact their ability to be employed in the open labour market.
ADEs build their business activities around the skills and capacity of their supported workforce, and produce a wide range of quality products and services, some of which are well known. In fact most Australians would have recently purchased a good or service that was produced, packed or distributed by an ADE, probably without even realising it.
Operating in this sector with significant need, ADEs are now educating corporate Australia about their capabilities, in order to secure contracts to guarantee stable and consistent work for employees.
One such contract was signed recently between ADE Packforce and STAEDTLER in Australia for packaging work.
Paul Cashmore, managing director of STAEDTLER, says when the decision was made to close its Australian production facility after 40 years, it needed to outsource a considerable volume of blister card work and other specialised packaging projects.
"We chose to outsource our requirements to a reliable and efficient local organisation," he said.
"The transition from our in-house manufacturing to the Packforce operation has been very successful, contributing to a seamless transfer of operations in the eyes of our customers. From day one, Packforce has been extremely conscious of the need for our high level of quality to be maintained, and has been nothing but professional in all of our dealings."
While Packforce specialises in packaging solutions, ADEs vary substantially in both size and type of business activities they engage in. Most ADEs operate from factory outlets, while others provide work and training in the community or at the work sites of mainstream employers.
ADEs provide a wide range of work and training options for their supported employees including accredited courses and traineeships.
CEO of the National Disability Service, Ken Baker, explains many supported employees are also able to make the transition to mainstream employment due to the training and skills they obtain working in an ADE.
"Importantly, people with disability working in ADEs enjoy many other benefits besides the satisfaction of being gainfully employed. They make new friends, experience integration into the wider community, and become more socially adept through activities such as using public transport.
"We know without the benefit of gainful employment, many people with disability become socially isolated and live unfulfilled lives. Studies have shown that the general health and well being of people with disability in employment is significantly better than those without."
Amy Lockyer is one such supported employee. A mother with a preschool age son and an employee at the Thorndale ADE since February 2009, Lockyer has found her job satisfying and extremely beneficial.
"With the variety of jobs I do, I look forward to coming to work," she said.
"And I feel proud when I see jobs I do on TV or in the shops."
She also loves the social side of work, including staff BBQs and recognition of employees’ birthdays.
"I enjoy spending time with colleagues. I have achieved lots of things by coming to work. Work has also given me skills I can pass on."
Thorndale has been supportive of Amy’s personal life, ensuring her part-time role has enabled her to have a routine at home with her son, and has also taught her son about the value of work.
In addition to the social benefits, the activities of ADEs have significant commercial benefits for both local communities and the economy as a whole. Many mainstream businesses have commercial agreements in place with ADEs. Doing business with ADEs not only enhances an organisation’s corporate social responsibility indicators, it makes sound commercial sense as well.
"These are professional businesses offering quality services and meaningful employment – not the sheltered workshops of the past," Ken Baker said.
Paul Cashmore concurs: "We are looking forward to continuing a long and successful business relationship with Packforce in the future."
For further information, please visit www.nds.org.au or www.australiandisabilityenterprises.com.au.
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