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Jigsaw is “ahead of the game”: CEO, Paul Brown, speaks with Vision Australia

May 13, 2021 | General, Media

Last week, Jigsaw’s CEO, Paul Brown, spoke with Vision Australia. Paul provides his take on the critical issues faced by people with disability, including the insights to come out of the Disability Royal Commission. He explains how Jigsaw is working to overcome these issues by supporting people with disability to secure and maintain long-term employment.

You can also listen to this interview on Podbean.

Transcript

Peter:

Well employment is such an important topic. And we can never talk about it enough. We can never have enough employment. It’s probably a better way to put it. Let’s chat about it with Paul Brown. Paul is the CEO for an organization called Jigsaw. Paul, thanks for your time.

Paul Brown:

Thanks Peter. Thanks for having me.

Peter:

Now, with Jigsaw, I think it’s the first time we’ve spoken to you. So for those that might be unfamiliar, talk about what Jigsaw is and what you do.

Paul Brown:

Sure. So, Jigsaw is a social enterprise that trains and transitions people with disability into award wage employment. That’s kind of top line. That’s what our goal is. But underneath that is a three-tiered model that trains employees and then transitions people with disability into employment. And I might just spend a bit of time talking about that. So, the first stage of the Jigsaw model is a training program where we train people with disability against 20 employment capabilities, which have been mapped to corporate and government entry-level roles. And we train people in a working environment. So we provide group, one to one, and work experience opportunities within our hubs that we have operating across the country. The second stage is an award wage job, which Jigsaw provides that first job experience and to tackle some of the challenges that people might have with regards to working for the first time or having not worked for a period of time. And then once our candidates are job ready, we then connect them with mainstream employers and start that transition process.

Peter:

Is it just people with disabilities that you’re talking about as far as getting inventory department goes?

Paul Brown:

Yeah, exactly. We focus on providing this service to people with disability. Probably different to other services. We don’t specialize in a type of disability. We work with anyone from various ages or with various disabilities. So it’s quite a diverse group, but where we actually see massive benefit in that, in terms of giving people the experiences for the workforce, which is also quite a diverse place. So, yeah.

Peter:

Well, the workforce is diverse. So what about the sort of areas that, do you specialize in certain areas in terms of industries or…?

Paul Brown:

We have kind of clients in the kind of state, local government, finance areas. But the real thing with the Jigsaw model, and this is I guess where we’re really playing is, we want to provide people the opportunity to train, get some experience either for the first time or having spent a long time out of work, get that experience back under their belt. And then we really focus on the individual and their goal and what they want to do in terms of either their industry or indeed their role.

So we don’t train people in technical skills. We’re not here going, we’re going to train you up as this role or in this type of industry. We’ve really focused on what we call the transferable employment skills. So the skills that a lot of us take for granted but are really, really important in terms of like communication, reliability, punctuality, workplace etiquette, understanding processes and procedures. The kind of transferable employment skills which on top of that technical skill are really important then to hold a mainstream job. And so that’s where we really focus our attention. And so the output or the outcome is quite diverse in industry and role. And we really work with the individual to understand what they want.

Peter:

I guess if I ask you this question, obviously for the fact that we’ve had a pandemic, but maybe we’re still in the pandemic to be frank. But, what about your success rate then? Maybe that’s to say not necessarily the last 12 or 15 months, but just in general terms.

Paul Brown:

Yeah. So we’re currently training about 300 people with disability and that’s in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. We have created a hundred award wage jobs. And 40 of those, given that our transitions program is quite new in the last 18 months, have gone on to work in mainstream employment. And those 40, what’s really interesting is, they’re all still in their roles. And we’ve heard particularly out of the Disability Royal Commission recently that up to 70% of people with disability are losing their job within the first three months through employment services. With the people that we placed into mainstream employment, on top of the hundred people that we’ve employed in our business, they’re actively still working and still engaged at an award wage in the workforce.

And I think that’s where our model has real opportunity to scale and create real impact here because, what we’re seeing with a small cohort at the moment is, early intervention training, work experience, and that’d be work experience paid at a fair wage, is creating really exciting outcomes for people that look to be sustainable and long-term and not just a numbers game. And I suppose that’s really important for us.

Peter:

We talked about the Royal Commission. I mean, a lot of the evidence, a lot of the presentations that we’re hearing if you like have been very, very upsetting, distressing. They haven’t made for pleasant listening or reading. And as you say there, for employment wise it’s also not a good picture, is it?

Paul Brown:

No, it’s not. And to some extent for us that have been working on this for close to 10 years now, we knew that the underlying issues and the three issues that really came out of the commission of a good job match, don’t just place people into roles just for the sake of it. It’s got to be right for the individual and it’s got to be right for the employer. Ongoing support for employers and employees and good training and work experience also came out.

So for us, whilst it was sad to hear the report because we know what’s going on and we know it hasn’t changed significantly in the last seven years, it was good that it has been brought to the public’s kind of awareness. And hopefully organizations like us and others can start to really focus on those areas of concern around job matching, around good support programs and around preparing people for work. And thankfully our model was kind of set up with those areas in mind. And we hope that many more organisations come to the table with those kinds of supports.

Peter:

Ahead of the game in a sense. Paul, it’s a whole of society commitment, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not just governments who should do more. Not just employers should do more. Not just service providers and people with disabilities should do more. We should all be doing more together, I guess.

Paul Brown:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think for a lot of the time it was the employers’ problem. You know, you need to be employing more people with disability, you need to be opening your doors, you need to be more accessible. And yes, it’s not perfect in the corporate and government world, but I must admit, I’ve seen in the last seven years employers take this a lot more seriously and want to do better. So, I think we also need to look at our sector. We need to look at the disability sector in terms of, okay, if employers are starting to change and starting to want to create more outcomes for people with disability in the workforce, how are we preparing people, creating the connections, providing the good support programs.

And we must not just finger point at the employers. We’ve also got to look at ourselves and make sure that we’re providing the right supports and structures to provide sustainable pathways into employment. Do I think we’re there yet? No. Do I think that there is a shift in organisations trying to do better in different types of services? Yes. And I think that’s thanks to the NDIS and hopefully that continues and we start seeing more services like Jigsaw and others who can create different pathways to employment.

Peter:

Paul, we talked about obviously the commitment from the service providers and organisations such as yourself. What about for employers? But obviously bottom line is very, very important for them. But you talked earlier about punctuality, reliability. We’ve heard about less than six days, they stay in the job a lot longer than perhaps a person without a disability. I mean, these are all things that can make it more attractive if they got their business head on as it were when you go to an employer?

Paul Brown:

Yeah, absolutely. I think, and I was talking with an employer yesterday, the underlying reason for doing this is that diversity creates advantage for businesses. Sure bottom line, but a whole range more kind of improvements for businesses. And there’s a whole range of statistics and stories that shed a light on businesses that are more diverse and inclusive perform better. And that’s the reason for doing this and it’s not, it shouldn’t be a numbers game. It shouldn’t be okay, we’ve got to create X amount of jobs to tick a box. We actually want to engage people from diverse backgrounds who can bring something different to our workforce. And it was actually music to my ears yesterday when I was sitting down with that employer, who wasn’t about ‘I need to create X amount of jobs.’ It was actually, I’ve got these types of roles and I’ve got this type of work on, what’s the kind of talent that you can bring to the table for us to do it better? And that’s a really exciting kind of shift and something that we will continue to drive.

Peter:

So can people contact you sort of off the street? If I’m a person with a disability and I think oh I heard Paul on the radio, I like the cut of his jib as it were. Can I sort of contact you independently or do I need a referral? How does that work?

Paul Brown:

Nah, contact us independently. All our information is on our website, which is jigsawaustralia.com.au. You’ll learn more about the model there. There’s a fantastic little short video that talks us through how it works and a whole range of information on the website, which can provide information and show if it’s for you or not. And then reach out. And there’s obviously links there and buttons there to get in touch. And the first conversation for us is, what’s your goal? Is employment your goal? If it is and you have some challenges or you’ve had challenges in the past then, you’re welcome to join Jigsaw. There’s not a certain age or a certain disability type or a certain situation that we support. It’s anyone who’s looking for that either first entry into the workforce or re-entry into the workforce, that we would love to work with.

Peter:

Terrific. Paul, it’s a very positive message. Thank you for sharing it with us. And certainly just the opportunity to speak together this afternoon gives us the impression that you’re very much committed to the cause and very passionate about it. Just give us your details again. Now, the website is the best point of contact the first time?

Paul Brown:

Yeah. Website is jigsawaustralia.com.au. So that’s got all the information on to get in touch

Peter:

All right. We’ll put that up on our email list and Facebook page as well so if people miss it they can go there as well. Paul, good to catch up and hope to speak to you again in the future. I don’t think this lack of employment it’s going to go away in a hurry so I’m sure there’ll always be something to talk about.

Paul Brown:

Absolutely. Peter, it’s been a pleasure and thank you for having me.

Peter:

That’s Paul Brown there. Paul is the CEO for Jigsaw.

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.