True Stories: Chris Buckman – Finding the right fit

I’ve had so many jobs in my lifetime that I’ve practically lost count. It took me awhile to find the perfect career, but now I know I’m in the right place.

After high school I entered into a 12 month traineeship in accounts. It wasn’t the job for me. I didn’t really want to spend most of my time in a file room. After the traineeship was up, I struggled to get a job, so I called on the help of a disability employment service since I have cerebral palsy. They helped me out and I got to try plenty of different things, but nothing felt like the perfect fit. By chance, the person managing my case was going on holidays and he got me in to fill in for him. It was great, helping people with a disability get jobs. When the case manager came back, I spent some time working at the local council, focusing on disability issues. Before long, the disability job service started to expand and I was offered a job there, finding placements for people with disabilities. I worked there for five years before I was ready for my next challenge.

That challenge happened to be at Challenge Community Service. I applied for and succeeded in getting the role managing the open employment  arm of the organisation, where I ran a small team and continued to help find people with a disability meaningful work.

I was always keen to learn something new, so when a role came up three years later managing Challenge’s business service department where people with disabilities worked in supported employment such as a recycling operation, timber workshop and ironing service, I went for it. After three years there, I started to feel stagnant again and I wanted a change. I left Challenge and went into aged care, but during my stint there, I realised I missed disability work.

This realisation set me back on my path and I was lucky enough to get a job back at Challenge as the Day Programs Manager, where I’d coordinate day programs and activities for our service users. Now I’m the General Manager, Northern Region, Client Services. It does mean that I have less direct contact with the clients, but it also means that I get to organise systems, deliver services in the right ways and establish new service areas therefore giving even more opportunities to people with a disability at Challenge.

It’s true, I have had many different roles in the care sector, and at Challenge. In my mind, it gives you a better picture of what the whole organisation is about. And considering that one day I hope to be the CEO of Challenge, I figure the more I know and understand, the better.

General Manager, Northern Region, Client Services
Challenge Community Services

True Stories: Athena Kontonis – Best of both worlds

My introduction to people with disabilities was at high school. My home economics class ran a program where students from a school for people with disabilities would come to our class once a week and cook with us. I remember thinking how awesome an idea it was. From then I was interested in disabilities and teaching and learning, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. By chance, I was looking in the university courses guide at the end of my final year at school and discovered a Bachelor in Applied Science in Intellectual Disability Studies degree and thought it would be perfect.

Placements in the disability sector was a primary component of my degree. Within a month of starting the degree, I had a short placement. The following year I did a month-long placement. In my final year I had to do 12 hours a week for the entire year. Each year I selected a different speciality to do my placement in so I’d experience the spectrum of the sector. That final placement lead to my career at Oakleigh Centre Industries, the employment arm of Oakleigh Centre.

Straight out of uni I was offered a casual position as the Production Supervisor in the supported employee program, where I assisted and taught people with disabilities work skills. After about six years in that role, I became the Quality Coordinator for Oakleigh Centre Industries, which saw me away from the supported employees and instead working in an office developing standards, policies and procedures. These days I have the best of both worlds as the Learning and Assessment Manager. My role is complex, with my responsibilities including; assessing the skills and needs of the supported employees, employees and the business and organising appropriate training as a result; overseeing and maintaining the quality management systems; managing a team; running a viable business; ensuring customers’ needs are met and managing occupational health and safety (OH&S) concerns. My role also changes, adapts and expands as the business and the industry evolves, plus it’s busy, but that’s a good thing because I love a challenge.

The best thing about my role is seeing people with disabilities achieve. Some learn new skills, some progress to such a degree that they can obtain open employment, and some love their work at Oakleigh so much they don’t want to leave! It’s true, we have some supported employees that have been here for 40 and 50 years!

I feel lucky to be where I am today. If I hadn’t stumbled upon the course in the university guide, who knows what I would’ve done. It just goes to show that you never know how incredible your future could be if you don’t take the time to consider your education and career options.

Study and change your life – and others at the same time.

Athena Kontonis
Learning and Assessment Manager
Oakleigh Centre Industries

True Stories: Casey Grey – Listening to learn

I’ve been in the care sector for a decade now. Like many, I came into it by chance. I’d finished high school and had tried careers in both hospitality and retail, but hadn’t found the right fit for me. I then saw a traineeship advertised with the House With No Steps, which interested me. I loved the idea that every day would be different and that I’d have the chance to build some great relationships with people. I applied and was successful. I started off as a Support Worker and am now a Personal Outcomes Measures Interviewer.

Study has been an important part of my career. I’ve done a Certificate III in Community Services, a Certificate IV in Disability, Training and Assessment, and a Diploma in Community Service. All of the courses have been relevant to my job, but what I especially liked about them was that I could continue working while studying and the training focused on what I was actually doing at work. In line with my current role, I am a trained Personal Outcomes Measures (POMS) Interviewer. POMS is a collection of 21 different questions and areas of life developed by the Council of Quality Leadership [http://www.thecouncil.org/index.aspx]. They were developed to find out what people with disabilities want or need in their life.

My role means that I get to spend a lot of time with people, chatting to them and interviewing them using the POMS strategy. It is incredibly rewarding because I get to meet a range of extraordinary people and hear their amazing stories. It’s also very positive because from the person’s answers, we then work with them to bolster the areas of their life that need it and to help ensure that they continue doing the things they love. The key is listening to the people the House With No Steps supports and then acting on what has been said. When you truly listen to someone, you have to follow their lead. You can’t have any preconceived ideas – you must be present in that moment. You also need to listen beyond the words they’re saying; you need to watch their behaviour, their body language, their interactions with others and listen out for what they’re not saying. I feel like I’m privileged to be able to do this and that the House With No Steps clients are willing to let me into their lives.

Every person that I’ve supported over the last decade has shaped me in one way or another. Since I entered the industry quite young, a lot of my values have been contributed to by the people I supported. But more than anything, they’ve taught me to accept my own unique self and never to be afraid to express your own individuality.

If you’re leaving school, why not consider a career in the care sector like Casey. School leavers can find out more here.

Casey Grey
Personal Outcomes Measures Interviewer
House With No Steps 

True Stories: Nick Pascuzzi – Just be yourself

My relationship with FSG is a little different to other people’s. I am both a staff member and a client. It all started when I was a teenager. I joined one of FSG’s social groups for people with a disability. I joined the group so I could mingle with other people and make friends. I also let FSG know that one of my dreams for the future was to get a job, so they helped make that happen by enrolling me in a 12 month community literacy program. The course really made a difference to my life! It helped with my English, math and money skills. I wasn’t really good at any of that before, but now I am.

After that course, FSG asked me if I was interested in doing a traineeship with them. You bet I was! I said to them; “You don’t need to tell me anymore. I don’t have any questions – just sign me up now!” So that’s how I became a staff member and a client.

I’m the Office Administrator for the Leisure and Events team. My job involves answering the phone, computer work, filing and general office duties. I also help out at our events when I’m not attending them as a client. I love everything about my job. Every little bit and every big bit.

The study I did for the traineeship was a Certificate 3 in Business Administration. It took about a year to complete. To my surprise, the trainers nominated me for the regional traineeship awards! To my greater surprise, I was shortlisted as one of the top three trainees! I didn’t end up winning, but that didn’t bother me. I didn’t need to win an award – I was just so pleased I got to do the traineeship. It was nice to be recognised though.

The traineeship has helped me understand more aspects of my job and taught me how to do so much more, which means I am more independent and need less help from those around me. Mind you, if I need help, I’ll still ask for it!

Having a disability hasn’t ever stopped me doing anything. Well, the muscle and nerve disorder has prevented me from playing sports, but that’s it. I try hard at everything I do, including my work. The most important thing all people, but especially people with a disability, need to remember in life, and when trying to get a job is that you just need to be yourself. Just look where it’s gotten me! Who knows where it’ll take me next.

If you have a disability and are interested in a career in the care sector take our Career Quiz to find your perfect job today.

Nick Pascuzzi
Office Administrator
FSG Australia – Freedom. Social Justice. Growth

True Stories: Nerryl – Prefer to work direct to clients and help families

Nerryl-edited_Occupational-Therapist_ADHCI am an occupational therapist working with school aged children on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. I work with children with a moderate to severe intellectual disability, which is the primary diagnosis to be eligible for ADHC services.

Many of the children also have a physical disability to a greater or lesser degree. This can be as complex as severe cerebral palsy, or something like low muscle tone. Children attend schools for special needs, special classes in mainstream school or are integrated into mainstream classes, or have services provided at home. Children are treated individually or in groups.