‘I’ve become more confident,’ ABC interviews Jigsaw trainee

Apr 20, 2021 | Academy, Media

Our Jigsaw CEO Co-Founder, Paul Brown, and one of our Jigsaw trainees, Alex, did a wonderful job speaking with ABC Radio Brisbane on recently.

Paul and Alex discuss how Jigsaw’s innovative model is transforming the way people with disability enter the workforce. Jigsaw’s structured training and work program is moving the dial for people with disability, fostering sustainable employment outcomes in a career path that they are passionate about. Alex also shares his story of the immense impact that being a trainee at Jigsaw has had in enabling him to build upon his skills and gain confidence in the workforce.

Take a listen to their radio interview or check out the transcript below:

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (00:00):

Did you know that working age people with a disability are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to people without a disability? It’s a pretty full-on statistic, and it’s one that Jigsaw, a social enterprise here in Brisbane is trying to change. Jigsaw trains and transitions people with a disability into award wage employment, and they’re celebrating a year of providing those opportunities to people across Brisbane. Paul Brown is the Jigsaw CEO and co-founder, and Alex is a Jigsaw Trainee from Mount Gravatt, and both are here in the studio, well, Alex is here in the studio and Paul is joining us on the line to speak to us today. Good day, gentlemen.

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (00:42):

Hi Kate, how are you?

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (00:43):

I’m really well. Tell me first of all, Paul, what is it that Jigsaw does?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (00:48):

So exactly like you said. Jigsaw is a social enterprise that trains and transitions people with disability into award wage employment. We started the business back in 2014 in New South Wales and identified a real challenge with preparing people with disability for the workforce, and then placing them into sustainable roles. So Jigsaw’s business is set up to do three things. Firstly, train people with disability, and that’s typically school leavers, in a whole range of employment competencies and capabilities. We provide award wage employment as that first job experience within a document and data management business we run. And then we transition job ready candidates into the mainstream workforce, and really hoping for those candidates to sustain a role way longer than the kind of current statistics at the moment, which is failure rates around the three month mark and succeeding that with the model that we’ve got in play.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (01:45):

I was wondering because you started Jigsaw at Mount Gravatt a year ago, I was wondering about how it would have felt starting that in the middle of the sort of first thrust of the pandemic and whether that seemed like a sensible business decision in that moment. Was that a concern?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (02:04):

Yeah, so a sensible business decision, possibly not. We obviously had plans in place for a Brisbane hub for some time, and that happened to fall around a March opening date, and so really a challenging time. But you know what we thought, Jigsaw is set up to ensure that people with disability have the best chance of getting and training for employment and during a pandemic and during the time that we were about to go through as a whole society, it was even more important for us to ensure that people with disability had the opportunities to prepare and to transition into employment. And so we had to do some pivoting, we’d launched an online program as well as an in-house program to allow service delivery to continue, but we’ve been overwhelmed, I guess, with the amount of response. We’ve had from the Jigsaw model starting a year ago, close to 100 people we now support in the Jigsaw Mount Gravatt site, and up to 10 employment opportunities created. So it’s really, really exciting in only 12 months time.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (03:08):

Well, let’s hear from one of those people who’s been at that Mount Gravatt site. Alex is a Trainee there and he’s in the studio now. Good day, Alex.

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (03:17):

Good day. How are you?

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (03:18):

I’m really well. So tell me, Alex, what has your experience been like in the last year or so? How have you been involved with Jigsaw and what have they done for you?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (03:29):

Well, in the last year at Jigsaw, I’ve been an unpaid Trainee and they’re training me with the 20 workforce values, which has been awesome and it’s been really good and I’ve really enjoyed every moment of it.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (03:50):

Okay. And you’re living with autism spectrum disorder, is that correct?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (03:53):

Yes, that’s correct.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (03:54):

Okay. So how does that change things for you? What difficulties does that present?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (03:57):

Well, I find some employment a bit more difficult than most people because I’d had trouble with social cues and different things and different situations, but with perseverance, which I have been, I’ve been able to overcome these adversities.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (04:18):

And what do you feel has been the biggest change for you in the last 12 months?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (04:28):

Definitely at Jigsaw making friends and learning new social skills, which has been very difficult, the most challenging one yet.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (04:39):

And what sorts of social skills have you been able to learn?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (04:43):

Like learn basically conversation skills, how to make a conversation and body language and all of the other basic cues for a good conversation.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (04:56):

So this conversation that we’re having now, before sort of 12 months ago, would that have been more difficult?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (05:02):

Definitely, as we were in the middle of a pandemic.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (05:06):

Yeah, as well. But I was wondering if some of the things that you’ve learned have helped you in this situation right now with you and me.

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (05:14):

Definitely, they have helped me become more confident and able to speak with confidence.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (05:20):

Is there anything else that you’ve done in the last 12 months with this new confidence that you’re proud of?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (05:27):

Well, I’ve definitely been able to perform a speech in front of 150 people last year, which is something I definitely would not have been able to do in the last 12 months. I mean, two years.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (05:46):

Yeah. Wow. 120 people?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (05:48):


Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (05:48):

  1. Was that scary?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (05:51):

At first it was, but I got into the speech and I did it and I felt awesome.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (05:57):

So what do you learn about yourself when you do something like that, that you didn’t think you’d do?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (06:03):

I learned that it’s good to step out of your comfort zone because you never know if you’re going to be good at something unless you try, which is what I’ve learned and the attitude of never giving up and perseverance.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (06:16):

What would you like to do in the future for a job?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (06:19):

Definitely I would like to work at JB Hi-Fi, and I would like to work stacking shelves and rearranging things in the back, maybe stock order and certain things like that.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (06:32):

Have you always had that goal or did you learn about that possibility?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (06:37):

I learnt about that possibility through watching TV and news on the media and different newspaper articles.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (06:46):

Do you have more confidence to try to move towards a job like that now than you did before?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (06:50):

Definitely. A lot more confidence than I did before as I’ve practiced well and I haven’t given up. I’ve been positive, and thinking positive has always helped me.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (07:01):

Paul Brown is the CEO of Jigsaw. Paul, you must be proud of Alex hearing him speak like that.

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (07:06):

I am incredibly proud, Kate. I had the pleasure of speaking alongside Alex as well at our opening event last year in front of 150 people. And hearing Alex’s challenges with employment at the very beginning, and then seeing him do that and his kind of clarity of where he wants to pursue his career, it’s just incredible. And we hope to provide that opportunity to a hell of a lot more people in Queensland.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (07:32):

Paul, does it make your job harder when the unemployment levels go up?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (07:39):

It does. I mean, there’s a huge number of people with disability at the moment in Australia, close to a million people of working age who are currently out of the workforce. So what we’re seeing with the Jigsaw hubs and operations that we’re opening is the demand is overwhelming, but we feel that we’ve got a program, which is really based on a springboard into employment and a proper platform to create sustainable employment. So whilst it takes some time for people to go through the Jigsaw program and the model, the outcomes are much more sustainable and that’s really going to help us reach more people, get to more people and allow these hubs to create more impact.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (08:16):

How does Australia do generally compared to other places around the world when it comes to employment for people with a disability?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (08:24):

So we’re currently ranked 21 out of 29 OECD countries-

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (08:28):

So it’s 21 out of 29?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (08:31):

Correct. Labour participation amongst people with disability. So we’re very low-

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (08:38):

In the bottom third. Yeah.

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (08:38):

Correct. And it doesn’t really surprise me. I think the structural challenges with the disability sector at the moment are really challenging. People like Alex would jump from service provider to service provider to try and find the right pathway into employment. There’s a real lack of preparation for work, and we’ve coined a term, we believe people prepare best for work through work. So Jigsaw really targets creating experiences, creating training environments to give people the right exposure to the workforce. So there’s a real lack of structure and what Jigsaw is really trying to do is bring that structure to this space. It’s to say from post school here’s a really clear pathway for you to understand, to get the right skills, the right experiences to then go and have a successful career.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (09:24):

And are you doing that with creating partnerships with organisations and with companies, or is this just about creating the potential in the candidate and then they’re on the open market for future jobs?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (09:40):

Yeah, no, so at the very beginning of Jigsaw’s development, we wanted to do both sides. We felt that there was a real challenge with job ready candidates and talent pools. And so we’ve really focused on that, but we have an incredible group of businesses and Jigsaw has worked with over a hundred corporate and government businesses since we started. But firstly in our document and data management business, that creates those first job experiences for our Trainees. But secondly, in terms of our Connect program, which actually connects employers with our incredible talent pool. So we play on both sides and we feel that’s really important in trying to move the dial in this area.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (10:17):

So your goal is to have more than a thousand people through your Trainee program and to create 600 award wage jobs. In what timeframe is that?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (10:29):

So we’re looking to do that over the next three to five years as we start to open new facilities across the country, but also scale our services online and through partnerships within states. So we’re only based in Mount Gravatt at the moment, but we’re already starting to see demand from areas outside of our catchment in Mount Gravatt. So we’ve got a whole range of plans to scale that up in the next three to five years, both through physical infrastructure and through online training and work experience.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (10:58):

And how does your business model work? So I assume that it’s paid with NDIS funding, but how does it work?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (11:07):

Yeah, correct. So our training program is funded by NDIS. So as Alex mentioned, he’s a Trainee in our Academy program, and so Alex has NDIS funding to support with that. And NDIS has been an incredible structure that has enabled us to do this great work and we’re very, very thankful of that. We have commercial clients, both in our document and data management business and through our transitions business that actually support us to create the jobs by us delivering high quality document and data management services. But secondly, open their doors as employers and employ our incredible talent. So we have those three key areas that generates the revenue for us to be able to do this work.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (11:53):

Mm-hmm. So interesting. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as you grow. Alex is here in the studio, one of your Trainees that we’ve been speaking to too. Alex, I understand that before this, before you started this program, you had a very different job. What was your job before Jigsaw?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (12:08):

My job was working at the back of a restaurant washing dishes and I also was scrubbing tiles.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (12:19):

And how did you feel about that work?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (12:21):

Well, the washing dishes was good for a while, but after a few months of it, it got a bit tiring because of the long hours of the night time, as I’m not normally listed for the night time, because I don’t like night times. And I worked long hours, to like three in the morning, which was very hard. But-

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (12:42):

Did your disability make it harder to do that? Or perhaps-

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (12:45):

Definitely. Yeah. It was a lot harder to keep up and it was very fast pace, which was hard because I’m a slower learner and I like to take things slowly so I can get the hang of things and it was quite rushing.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (13:00):

Yeah. Yeah. A lot of activity and very busy.

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (13:02):

Definitely. And scrubbing tiles was not very enjoyable, but I’m hoping within the future, I’ll have some enjoyable employment.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (13:13):

Do you feel optimistic about that now?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (13:14):

Absolutely. I feel a hundred percent positive and happy that I’m working towards a great future.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (13:21):

Do you know how long that’s going to take? How much longer you stay as a Trainee before you might start applying for other jobs?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (13:27):

It could be two to four years or something like that.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (13:32):

Yeah. Paul, do you have any further insight on that?

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (13:35):

Yes. So our Trainee training program normally lasts between 12 and 18 months, that’s what NDIS has funded, and we really focus on those 20 employment competencies that we’ve spoken about. And the next step is that paid employment opportunity within our scanning business, and we offer 12 months contracts there. So about two years having done some Traineeship and also paid employment is when we look to transition into open employment. So yeah, Alex is about right on the two year goal.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (14:04):

And he said that he was pretty keen on a job at JB Hi-Fi.

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (14:09):

Yes. And that’s great to know. So our Connect program will get straight on that and no doubt give JB Hi-Fi a call and see what we can do. But yeah, there’s a whole range of people that we support, now close to 300 people across the country who have incredible goals and dreams around employment. So we’re hoping to connect the dots.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (14:28):

Paul Brown, thank you so much.

Paul Brown, CEO Jigsaw (14:31):

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (14:32):

Paul Brown is the Jigsaw CEO and founder, just talking about 12 months in that business in Mount Gravatt. And you’re also hearing from Alex, who’s a Jigsaw Trainee at that Mount Gravatt site as well, who is looking differently at his employment future than you were 12 months ago, Alex?

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (14:50):

Yes. That’s good.

Kate O’Toole, ABC journalist (14:51):

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today.

Alex Ford, Jigsaw Trainee (14:53):

You’re welcome.

About Jigsaw

Jigsaw is a social enterprise that provides an innovative pathway to open employment for people with disability. By embedding a comprehensive skill-based training program within our commercial document and data management business, Jigsaw enables people with disability to achieve their employment goals at their own pace. Jigsaw’s holistic approach starts from the very basics of core work skills and supports trainees, all the way through to transition to open employment with ongoing support and coaching once they have transitioned. 

Jigsaw is located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, with Canberra and Perth locations coming soon.