Hamish McMurdo, General Manager at Southland DisAbility Enterprises (SdE), says there’s a group of his employees so excited about December 17th, it’s bigger than Christmas! They’ve been having sleepless nights, planning their graduation outfits for weeks. The eleven graduands have successfully completed the New Zealand Certificate in Skills for Living for Supported Learners (Level 1), and will be at the SIT Zero Fees Velodrome to receive their award at the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) Certificate Graduation on Thursday evening at 7pm.
Established as a social enterprise for people with disabilities, SdE was designed to function as a commercial business with a social purpose, providing real working careers in a supportive environment. They currently undertake the recycling contract for the Invercargill City Council.
Mr McMurdo said anyone within SdE with ability, is promoted and supported into entering the mainstream workforce. For those who stay at SdE, it’s part of the organisation’s mission statement to enrich the lives of their staff by providing them with personal development opportunities. It’s a need they grow into as they spend some time in the workforce at SdE, he said. Staff mature and develop as people, then, as a result they acquire a greater sense of reality, and it creates a thirst for knowledge.
Mr McMurdo said the development of the certificate programme came about through a conversation with Trish Lindsay from SIT.
“I was talking one day with Trish and she spoke to Penny (Simmonds), and it grew out of asking, could we make this happen?” There were others involved, Sulina Sahib Programme Manager and Development Coordinator, Andrea Walton who wrote the programme, and facilitator Shelley Clark, who’s been amazing, all credit to her”.
The New Zealand Certificate in Skills for Living for Supported Learners (Level 1) teaches living skills and some general knowledge. It’s useful for staff whether they’re living at home or in independent living, said Mr McMurdo. He said life skills are something we tend to take for granted (we just assume everybody knows these things), whereas, for his staff, living skills aren’t automatically acquired by the time they finish high school.
Mr McMurdo said for many SdE staff, mainstream schooling was a really difficult experience for them, and learning represented anxiety and fear. To overcome that obstacle, creating the right environment for the programme to be taught in, was key to succeeding with the students so they completed the course in the familiar surrounds of their workplace.
He said once his staff got into the programme they thrived. Educating them in an environment which represents comfort and safety, has been a winner. They’ve all had to juggle study with their work commitments, and have completed the certificate as part-time students through SIT2LRN, SIT’s distance learning faculty.
“And learning with their friends is a big part of it. They’re comfortable, and they’re so proud of what they’re doing. When I come in, they’re really keen to show me their work”.
The company used the power of technology, helping the course to work in practice, by accessing equipment which has enabled students of differing abilities to participate in the learning.
“We have an interactive TV so it doesn’t matter what their reading and writing skill-level is, they can verbalise their ideas and that’s sufficient”.
“For most of them this is the first time ever, they’ve achieved a qualification of any sort, at any level of their education. This graduation is amazing for them and their parents too”.
He said for the parents of graduating staff it was a huge occasion, after being told perhaps, over a child’s whole life, what they ‘can’t do’, to being told they ‘can do’, and what that must feel like for them.
“The positive outcomes are immeasurable and they all had a ball doing it”.
Mr McMurdo said the programme had been highly successful, more successful than they’d first imagined.
“We know his has been successful because they’re all saying ‘what next?’”.
“I have a number of other staff who want to do this programme now. It’s a great problem to have. It’s priceless giving them more freedom and independence by increasing their knowledge and learning”.
He commented on students who were able to converse about the recent NZ elections, because of the general knowledge teaching in the course.
“I hope we’ve changed some thinking around enabling people with disabilities to participate in learning, while they’re working, it’s just been so special with such positive outcomes” he said.