Having a job is more than just about earning an income and having the ability to support ourselves and our family. What we do for a living is intrinsically bound up in our sense of identity and dignity and how we contribute back to the community.
For many people with disability, getting and maintaining stable employment remains a challenge. Traditional job placement and training programs are not always adapted to the needs of this group or focused on building the skills and capacity of people within a supportive framework. While many private sector employers may be keen to offer employment to people with disability, they may lack the knowledge or resources to adapt their business models to cater for this group. Sheltered employment schemes have traditionally tended to focus on lowly remunerated menial work.
This is an area ripe for the intervention of the worker co-operative model to meet some of the underlying issues of both the private job market and traditional disability employment service provision. One such example is Nundah Community Enterprise Cooperative (NCEC). It was formed as a majority employee-owned co-operative in 1998 to create sustainable employment and training opportunities for a group of long-term unemployed people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness (referred to in this case study as people with learning difficulties). These individuals had made successive attempts to find employment in the north-east Brisbane area only to experience frustration and failure.
Today NCEC provides its worker members with opportunities to work in garden maintenance and catering with the support of local businesses, community and government. From humble beginnings as a jobs club, it has grown to over 20 worker members, generating more than 7,000 hours of work annually and a small profit which is re-invest in the business to benefit members. It has established two successful social enterprises delivering maintenance to the Brisbane City Council for 22 public parks and a café and catering business.
A sign of its success is its high member retention rate, with 80 per cent of its original worker members remaining part of NCEC today. NCEC delivers shared value to its members by enabling people with disability to participate in decision making, undertake meaningful work and produce tangible results which make them feel proud and part of society.
“For the majority of our members who were long-term unemployed, they had been in the role of a receiver of services, not ever a participant or a producer. So to move into that space is very empowering for people. Seeing someone before they start work in the coop, you can see the body language is saying ‘I’m not valuable, I’m not worthwhile’, and then after they’ve done some shifts in the café or in the parks, they’re walking around and feeling a sense of pride about themselves because they’ve given something back, they’ve contributed, they’ve earned their pay.”
Richard Warner, Coordinator, Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative