Tags: Goals & planning Achieving in life Real Wellbeing storytelling

“This impact goes beyond the individual. Inclusive employment brings positive benefits to families, the community and to Australian businesses.”—Rebecca Windsor, CEO Health Insurance, Australian Unity

Key points

  • Purposeful employment is important for our wellbeing, according to Australian Unity Wellbeing Index research—whether we live with disability or not.
  • Australian Unity has been partnering with social enterprise and disability advocate Jigsaw since 2017. A recent initiative has seen Australian Unity working with Jigsaw to create employment opportunities for people with disability.
  • Heather Clark has started working with Australian Unity as part of the program, demonstrating how the right training can lead to a rewarding career.

"If you've met one person with disability, you've met one person. We are different, and what you think you know may not always be right. Ask and talk to us and find out what we can do."

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Heather Clark found her work as a proofreader evaporated, forcing the small business owner to figure out her next move. But as someone with cerebral palsy, Heather faced her own challenges.

“From the hips up, I'm more or less fine. From the hips down, not so much. I have poor balance, poor coordination. I use crutches to walk," says Heather.

This is where Jigsaw fits into the puzzle. A social enterprise and Australian Unity Foundation partner, Jigsaw is helping to normalise disability in the Australian workforce and create employment opportunities for people like Heather.

"I started with Jigsaw because I saw that I needed to reset. And I thought having the time to train and to polish up on some of the skills I hadn't been using could be good," says Heather.

Connecting the employment dots

With many businesses struggling to find workers, you might think that working with people with disability would be a sure-fire way to address the skills shortage. But, apparently, that’s not the case.

Research from Jigsaw, developed in partnership with YouGov, found that 50 percent of Australian managers and HR professionals have never hired or worked with a person with disability, even though one in two organisations have a written policy for diversity and inclusion. That’s despite that fact that there are 2.1 million Australians with disability who are of working age. As a result, the unemployment rate for Australians with disability is twice that of people without.

Jigsaw aims to reverse those statistics, helping people to “work towards work,” says Chloe Perrett, Jigsaw’s State Business Manager. “We have an academy where people can learn 20 ‘soft’ workplace skills, like time management and body language, that most average Australians take for granted.”

After training with Jigsaw, people transition to a paid traineeship and then into a working environment that pays an award wage.

“That’s a huge one. The whole purpose is that people go into employment with an award wage income. Unfortunately, in Australia, people with disability haven’t been represented well in the past in terms of their work environments and what they've been paid, so Jigsaw really drives that home.”

After completing her training, Heather became a claims assessor at Australian Unity. It's a role that complements her skills in problem-solving and delivering detailed-orientated work.

"Australian Unity has been a huge advocate of Jigsaw since 2017. They have funded a few of our digital projects and, more recently, they worked closely with us on a program to employ some of our paid trainees,” says Chloe.

The arrangement—which started as a pilot—welcomes new candidates with disability into the Extra Claims Team. Due to the resounding success of the pilot, Australian Unity extended the program further.

“[The program] goes to the heart of our mutual philosophy, bringing communities together and reflecting the diversity of our communities and population in our workforce," says Rebecca Windsor, CEO of Health Insurance at Australian Unity.

The meaning of work

It’s a partnership that makes Rebecca particularly proud.

“Having a job is hugely important to our wellbeing, and that is no different for someone living with disability,” she says.

Rebecca cites research from the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index—a 20-year study into the wellbeing of Australians, developed in partnership with Deakin University—that shows that having a sense of purpose is linked to higher levels of personal wellbeing. One way people can find a sense of purpose? Employment or volunteer work.

“This impact goes beyond the individual. Inclusive employment brings positive benefits to families, the community and to Australian businesses," says Rebecca.

Joining the Australian Unity team has been important for Heather too, giving her a huge confidence boost.

"Part of the reason that I started working on my own was because previously I would walk in the door with my limp and my crutches, and people would be like ‘you’re so not what I expected’. It wouldn't be overt, it wasn't that rude, but there would be this moment where people would reassess." says Heather. "I was very lucky in that Australian Unity didn't have that moment of reassessing."

“Heather is one of us. Full stop. That's it,” agrees Paquita Pina, Heather’s manager. "She's brought humour and a different perspective to the team, and she's got amazing stories to tell.”

Finding the right fit

Jigsaw’s message to Australian businesses? Don’t put hiring people with disability into the “too-hard basket”.

While there is still much to be done to make hiring people with disability the norm, joining forces with an organisation like Jigsaw—as demonstrated by the Australian Unity program—is one of the ways employers can find the right person for a role. It just takes some thinking outside the box.

"I'm genuinely grateful that I was given the chance,“ says Heather about her new career.

“I'm genuinely impressed at how welcoming and supportive people have been while I learned my job. I'm surprised and touched that's the case. It means a lot to me, more than I can explain, that I have been made welcome here."


Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.