John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Bay bosses urged to hire more disabled people

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Workbridge employer ambassador Selwyn Cook inspired the audience at today's Tauranga launch of EmployAbility. Photo/John Borren
Workbridge employer ambassador Selwyn Cook inspired the audience at today's Tauranga launch of EmployAbility. Photo/John Borren

Inspirational stories of why employers should hire disabled people marked the Tauranga launch today of EmployAbility.

The initiative to get people with health conditions and disabilities into the workforce was being rolled out around New Zealand by the Ministry of Social Development.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller highlighted evidence that showed disabled employees performed just as well as others in the right job.

''They have fewer health and safety concerns, take less sick days, stay in jobs for longer and their dedication will increase the overall performance of your business,'' he said.

EmployAbility was based on Christchurch's hugely successful Project 300 that had the goal of getting 300 disabled people into work. Twelve months later 584 disabled had entered full time and part-time work with 420 employers.

Mr Muller said it was about employers working alongside the Ministry and Workbridge to create the conditions to employ people with disabilities.

Guest speaker and Workbridge ambassador Selwyn Cook talked about how disabled people became a vital part of the workforce during the period that he owned and operated 14 Z Service Stations in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

A significant problem with running service stations had been a high staff turnover of 50 per cent a year.

Mr Cook said he had put staff turnover into the too hard basket until the day a disabled person called Chris struggled up the staircase and knocked on his door.

''I was thinking of all these excuses to send Chris on his way. Chris smiled, asked for five minutes of my time, and five minutes turned into eight years.''

Mr Cook said Chris turned into one of his most successful sole-charge night operators. ''He was the ideal customer services person, he delighted the customers. We got so much feedback about this guy called Chris - Chris was extraordinary.''

He said Chris never let him down for the eight years he worked for Z, until he died. ''Chris opened our eyes to the possibility of considering the 24 per cent of the working age population that we had never considered before.''

Mr Cook ended up employing over 70 disabled staff over a period of three years, sparking a passion in which he now championed the employment of disabled people.

The other guest speak was Tauranga Disability and Employment Taskforce chairman Paul Curry who said disabled people did not want sympathy, they only wanted a fair shake.

Many employers were not fishing in that wider pond when recruiting staff. They were not looking at the value disabled people could add to their businesses, he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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