Continuing our series profiling a range of Whanganui leaders about what they do, what's important to them and what leadership means, Liz Wylie speaks with Workbridge Whanganui lead employment consultant Jan Lawton.
Good stewardship is about leading from the side rather than the front, according to Jan Lawton.
Lawton is most often heard singing the praises of workers with disabilities and the Whanganui businesspeople providing employment opportunities.
During her 12 years working for Workbridge Whanganui, Lawton has fostered many lasting relationships between workers and employers.
Although not entirely comfortable having the spotlight turned in her direction, Lawton is not prone to false modesty and has no problem identifying the strengths that make her good at her job.
"I love hearing people's stories and I have the ability to encourage them to open up and share them with me," she said.
"It is always the starting point for conversations so I can get to know their strengths and what they need from me."
According to workers who have found employment with Lawton's help, she also has a knack for applying gentle pressure that encourages them not to give up.
"Jan Lawton at Workbridge has stuck with me all the way," said one client who underwent several surgeries while seeking work.
"Jan kept calling to say I had a job interview and I was so happy when I was offered a job," said another.
Lawton previously worked as a vocational guidance officer with the Labour Department in the 1970s, and working at Tait Electronics for several years provided her with good knowledge on the perspective of employers.
Whanganui businesses that have employees referred by Lawton know they get more than thanks and a handshake from Workbridge and many have received framed and gift-wrapped recognition.
Every year Lawton acknowledges the support with Above and Beyond awards and she has nominated four local companies for the national Attitude ACC Employer Award.
Whanganui-based company GPSOS brought the award home this year while Pacific Helmets, Horticultural Services, and Axiam Plastics have all been previous finalists.
"I think it is very important to celebrate and acknowledge those employers," Lawton said.
"They know they have great employees but it is important to applaud them when they take that step because they are leading by example."
Lawton said a lot of research had been conducted on employees with disabilities since Workbridge was established, from the previous organisation known as the Rehabilitation League, 30 years ago.
"The research has shown that workers with disabilities have tendencies to be loyal, reliable, and take fewer sick days than the non-disabled workforce," Lawton said.
"One in four New Zealanders has some form of disability so it is a big proportion of the population."
Lawton knows the challenges of living and working with a disability first hand and has multiple sclerosis.
"I was fortunate to be diagnosed at a time when effective medications had been developed for treating MS and being stubborn and determined, I joined the lobby to have them made available in New Zealand.
"They became available under the Helen Clark government in 2007.
"I do have bad phases occasionally, but for the most part having MS doesn't prevent me from working full time."
Lawton said it also helps to have a great team at Workbridge and her fellow consultants, Jo Rowan and James Metekingi, are "wonderfully supportive" colleagues.
Amanda Crossan formerly worked as a consultant with Lawton in the old post office building in Victoria Ave before Workbridge moved to its present location opposite Trafalgar Square on Taupo Quay.
Crossan is now the regional service manager for the area, which covers Ruapehu and Rangitikei regions, Ohakune, Taihape, and Marton as well as Whanganui.
"Jan has always been a whiz at breaking down attitudinal barriers," she said.
"A lot of employers want to embrace diversity but they sometimes need reassurance that their workplaces are suitable.
"Jan is really good at providing that peace of mind and making sure the relationships have the best possible start."
When not working, Lawton is an avid reader, enjoys walking with husband Chris and their much-loved labrador, and the couple enjoy spending time with their three grandchildren.