Reducing barriers for the future workforce, Hanga-Aro-Rau and Waihanga Ara Rau join forces with All is for All

“Employment outcomes haven’t substantially improved for disabled people in at least 30 years,” says Grace Stratton, Founder and Director of All is for All.  “Our communities constantly face immense barriers to obtaining meaningful work.”

As part of the ongoing commitment to reducing workforce inequities, address labour shortages and improve business productivity, Hanga-Aro-Rau and Waihanga Ara Rau Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) have engaged All is for All to be the research partner for a project seeking to better understand the obstacles and challenges faced by disabled people. “Understanding how to improve employment outcomes for disabled people within our industries, for different regions across New Zealand, is a key point of difference for this research. By taking a regional approach, this research will ensure we acknowledge the challenges and opportunities differ across the country,” says Samantha McNaughton Deputy CE (Hanga-Aro-Rau). 

“The trades are for everyone, regardless of age, background, ethnicity, disability or gender. With the right support and understanding from employers Disabled people can thrive in our sectors. This research will help us identify and build those skills for our employers.” adds Philip Aldridge, CEO of Waihanga Ara Rau. 

“We are excited about this project because it presents an opportunity to communicate about disability with groups who might not have considered it before.” says Grace. “Manufacturing, engineering, logistics, construction and infrastructure are not necessarily sectors that disabled people see ourselves in or perceive as welcoming spaces, even though these are some of the biggest industries in the world,” says Rebecca McDonald, All is for All Lead Consultant.  “If the outcome of this project is to better engage and support the inclusion of disabled people in these industries, we’ll have done our job really well.

“Our approach is one of counselling, not cancelling.  We’re not afraid to work with businesses or industries that don’t have the best track record with disability because we believe that this often comes from a lack of education and support.  This project will provide us with another channel to meet employers where they’re at, find common ground and work with them to help their businesses grow.  On the employee side, we see the potential for this research to help raise the bar for disabled people – who are often treated with a lack of expectation.”  “Disability has long been perceived as a deficit,” Grace adds, “even though it is part of every community.  Our goal is to change the way New Zealand sees disability, not as a problem to be solved but as something to be celebrated.”

This ‘industry-first’ project’s data could have far-reaching benefits beyond the industries served by the WDCs.  “There just isn’t a lot of data on disability,” Rebecca says, “which leaves us inherently on the back foot.  Funding decisions and the ways that we allocate resources are decided by data.  With the specific dataset analysis provided by this research, we’ll be able to make a case for prioritisation, which could have a profound effect on New Zealand’s whole workforce.”   

All is for All brings an abundance of passion and a wealth of expertise and lived experience to the project. “We are working in collaboration with Donald Beasley Institute, who have been doing disability-led research for over 30 years,” Grace says. “Our diverse team includes tāngata whaikaha māori and tagata sa’ilimalo; we have a lifetime of lived experience that informs everything we do. We recognise the huge importance of including a range of perspectives and we understand that identifying and celebrating disability is a privilege not afforded to everyone.  Some of our community have had these labels imposed upon them and many are just trying to navigate their daily lives.  While acknowledging those challenges, we’re setting an aspiration to transition disability from deficit to culture and leading with that aspiration to help our community get there.”

Grace and Rebecca agree that employment is and has always been one of the most significant issues facing the disabled community, and not only because of the barriers it presents to workforce entry.  “One thing we’re already addressing in our research with this Project is the unique employment challenges presented by the Hanga-Aro-Rau and Waihanga Ara Rau industries,” Rebecca says.  “We had been fundamentally approaching the work with a lens of supporting disabled people entering the workforce, but there are additional layers we’ve had to consider.  Because of the risks associated with these industries, some employees are inevitably involved in workplace accidents that cause disabilities.  When that happens, there needs to be a safe environment for them to ask for reasonable accommodations to find their way back and continue doing the job they loved.”

All is for All is approaching the research by creating as much space as possible for meaningful inclusion of both employee and employer voice, and ensuring that the unique perspectives of our regions are coming through clearly.  “We’ve designed data collection pages, focus groups and wānanga,” Grace says, “to enable us to hear from as many people as possible.  We recognise the complexity and diversity of the industries, geographic areas and variables at play, and we’re aware that this can’t be a disability-led communications piece.  It’s our job to bring that out in the analysis after we’ve made people comfortable enough to engage with us.  It’s also really important to oversample and ensure that we are hearing from underrepresented groups including tāngata whaikaha māori, tagata sa’ilimalo, wāhine whaikaha and young people.

“Our industries, their workforces and their workplaces should reflect the communities we exist in.  To do that in a meaningful way, we have to destigmatize disability and let people rest in who they are, not try to fit them into another mould.  This research project could empower the industries supported by Hanga-Aro-Rau and Waihanga Ara Rau to take the lead in being an example of how to do exactly that.”

If you or someone you work with would like to be involved in this project, please contact Rebecca at All is for All [email protected]