• Sarah Dann-Hoare (second from left), with three of the young people featured in the Project Employ web series: Damian West, Ariel Knight and Ariella Dunning.
  • Sarah Dann-Hoare (second from left), with three of the young people featured in the Project Employ web series: Damian West, Ariel Knight and Ariella Dunning.

Café for Positive Choices

Project Employ is a North Shore based initiative that believes that everyone has the right to work and to feel included as valued members of society. Its vision is to create a community where young people with intellectual or learning disabilities are engaged in meaningful, paid employment in the same way as any other member of society. It aims to do this through a web series and a three-year supported employment training programme.

Project employ was formed in 2017. As a transition teacher at Wairau Valley Special School (WVSS), Sarah Dann-Hoare became aware of the lack of employment options for people with disabilities. She began looking into potential solutions and, following an AMP Dare to Dream scholarship, produced a series of short films with director Angela Bloomfield. The films tell the stories of young adults with disabilities who have successfully gained paid employment. This Project Employ web series will serve as a teaching tool, a motivational and informative resource for young adults and their families, and as a way of showing employers that it is possible and beneficial to employ people with disabilities. It is available on YouTube from this month.

Another concept Sarah investigated is training cafés, where young adults with disabilities receive work experience in a community-based environment, followed by ongoing supported employment. There are many examples of such cafés internationally, but none to date in New Zealand. After contacting several of these organisations and visiting one in the UK, Sarah began researching the possibility of opening a training café in Auckland. She believes that a community-based training programme will prepare young adults with disabilities for the workplace, and break down some of the barriers.

In developing the project, Sarah sought guidance from Andrew Hill (Advisory Partner at BDO Takapuna) and Sonia Thursby (CEO of YES Disability). As YES Disability had also identified a need for more effective employment training programmes, Sonia was more than happy to mentor Sarah. BDO has provided work experience opportunities for WVSS students over the last couple of years, and through Sarah, Andrew had become aware of the predicament young adults with disabilities face when leaving school. He, too, immediately offered his support. Andrew also introduced Sarah to Sue Stanaway (Chair of YES Disability) who has become influential in moving the venture forward.

Project Employ now sits within the YES suite of projects and as soon as finances are secure Sarah will be employed as the Training and Development Specialist.

Project Employ’s first training café, Choices, will be based on the North Shore. The aim is to roll out the training programmes and cafés nationwide, as part of a long-term objective to see a more inclusive society, with all young adults with disabilities gaining meaningful, paid employment. As Choices will be a community-based café, local businesses will see Project Employ trainees in action. Project Employ will also hold showcase days where employers are invited to meet with trainees. Building these relationships during the course of the training programme will be an essential element in trainees gaining future employment, says Sarah.

Choices café, which will serve hot and cold drinks and a range of cabinet food items, will open in mid-2020 once suitable premises have been located. The first intake of trainees will complete an employability programme prior to the café opening to ensure they are work ready.

Project Employ trainees will be young adults with intellectual or learning disabilities who want to work but are currently lacking important interpersonal skills, says Sarah. ‘Soft skills’ such as problem solving, teamwork, organising and communication are essential to gaining and maintaining paid employment; these skills will be developed through individualised programmes and in-house training at Choices café. More specific ‘hard’ skills will be gained as trainees complete community-based work experience in line with their chosen career path.

Sarah says that Project Employ will have 30 trainees in two intakes in the first 12 months. Once trainees have completed their initial work-ready training, their week will be split between Choices café and the classroom. During their second year, trainees will learn specific skills required for their preferred career. They will also complete work experience in local businesses. In the final year of the programme Project Employ will assist trainees to find and retain paid employment through a structured internship programme and by offering ongoing support to both parties.

The training programme and supported employment service will be overseen by Yes Disability and Sarah, in her role as training and development specialist. Trainees will be guided during in-house and external work experience by job coaches who will support them to reach their personal goals.

Sarah is supported in her vision by a group of advisors, her ‘giants’, who bring with them a wealth of knowledge and connections from their work with BDO, Takapuna Business Association and Benefitz, among others. Terence Harpur (CEO of TBBA) says it is “important to encourage employment opportunities for all members of our community. The TBBA looks forward to working with Project Employ to help place interns and graduates from the project in Takapuna businesses, for the benefit of the business and employee.”

For further information contact Sarah at projectemploy@yesdisability.org.nz

Facebook and Instagram: @projectemploynz