Our mission is to give every disabled person we work with the opportunity to get into work — and one of the best times to do that is often when they are still at school.

If you look at the numbers, 43.3% of disabled people aged 18-24 are not in education, employment or training. And we know that if they don’t go into training or work straight from school, the chances of ever getting employment are significantly diminished.

Some young people with disabilities come out of a school where they may have been in a special unit, go onto a benefit and sadly don’t come off the benefit until they retire. That has to change.

At Workbridge we wanted to intervene to give more young people with disabilities a pathway from school to work.

So, in 2017, working with Anton Hutton, the local Z Energy retailer in Christchurch, Riccarton and Papanui High School’s also in Christchurch, we launched a pilot programme to give students industry specific qualifications and work experience.

 The programme includes online learning modules that can be completed in the classroom and at home, followed by an internship comprising one day a week for 10 weeks. The students are supported by learning support staff from their school for the first few weeks of their work experience, before being 100 per cent integrated into the site team.

 Two years in, we’ve now run Workbridge in Schools programmes with three Z Retailers, and six schools, in Christchurch, Auckland and Dunedin. 9 students have completed the programme, 5 achieving a Level 2 NZQA qualification — and 2 have continued into paid part time or full-time roles with Z retailers as a result. For others it has been a stepping stone to further employment training and/or internships.

Building on the programme’s success, we are now working with Service IQ to open up opportunities for pathways into different kinds of work in more places around New Zealand. Having the partnership with Z retailers has been a fantastic starting point, but we recognise that not all young people are going to work on the forecourt so we want to offer opportunities to gain skills and experience in different industries as well.

 The feedback from the Z retailers involved in the programme so far has been incredibly positive — they support our mission, enjoy engaging with the young people, and are benefiting from a potential pipeline of future employees.

The schools are excited that we are coming to them with a structured employment-focused programme and with employers who are willing to give their kids experience, and they are seeing positive changes in students who have been through the programme. Teachers say their attitudes are different, and they are looking at the world in a new way. 

And the students love that they’re getting to do something that gives them skills and experience that they can feel proud of — take for example one Christchurch student who wore his Z uniform back to school because he was so proud of the work he had done.

The programme has had the result of opening students eyes up to what is possible for them — giving them a sense of where they could be and what they could do in terms of their careers, their lives, and their contribution to society. It is meeting a fundamental need.

Workbridge in Schools means students can walk a little prouder. And I think that means everyone involved in the programme can walk a little prouder too. 

Blog published April 2019.

Written by Nick Ruane, New Business Specialist at Workbridge.