On a quest to employ people with disabilities

Nathan Farrugia Nathan Farrugia, TEDxBinnenhof speaker from Malta, writes about his personal journey and his inspiration for Empower Cooperative:

After my university degree in physiotherapy I set up my own business, but longed to be involved in organisations. After a few short steps, I became CEO of a leading therapy centre for persons with a disability, helping turn it into one of my country’s most successful non-profits. In order to create a wider impact, we merged with another leading educational organisation to form Inspire, becoming our country’s largest non-profit service provider. Our aim was to enable persons with all types of disabilities to find their rightful place in society through education, therapy, social inclusion, lobbying for change and supporting advocacy.

Despite all our efforts to educate and support from both school to end, a very small fraction actually found gainful employment. Even with an investment of millions of € the rate of employment of disabled persons hovered around 5%. These were mostly those with higher function. The vast majority of those with more complex needs ended up in institutions or unfulfilled at home. Something was going terribly wrong.

Our aims for inclusion were to create sustainable employment that did not exclude them from mainstream workforce. However business were concerned about the poor productive outputs of the individuals when they took on complex tasks. We needed to find a better way. Sheltered employment is not inclusive and we wanted to be within the enterprises.

IdeasfromEurope NathanWe set up a cooperative of persons with complex needs and partnered with a couple of open-minded businesses to set up a ‘hybrid’
supported ‘team’ environment that took over the responsibility of a part of the business.  We worked on assembly, packaging, back office administration and document management and found that if we dissected the work processes up and matched these micro-processes to the skills of the individual, and actually ‘removed’ any tasks that mis-matched, productivity shot up. The individuals enjoyed the tasks they felt they were good at, and their motivation soared. We then matched the ‘removed’ tasks to the strengths of other people from our database, motivating them too. With this matching, we created a ‘specialist’ work team that performed well enough to make their jobs sustainable. We played a business process to the strengths of the individuals, rather than the usual way of recruiting the skill set to meet the business needs, and it worked. We are now acting on a national level with a range of different ‘options’ for businesses to take on vulnerable people. It really is working…

I hope TEDxBinnenhof will help us raise awareness that we need a paradigm shift for us to be able to maximise human capital. The advancement in technology is leaving too many behind, and over the next decade many jobs will become redundant if we continue to use the current model of job-creation. The first to suffer will be those who are more vulnerable, but the next in line will be the less qualified or those without specialised competencies. We need to rethink job definitions and pay more attention to the specific abilities people have, rather than their inabilities (or disabilities). Only then can we draw out the maximum potential of an individual.

If we are to get this idea further, we need people to have open ears and open minds. Anyone interested in exploring ways to bring out the potential of persons with a disability through job-carving, skills matching and policy making, please do get in touch.Ideas from Europe logo

By Diana Kool in Meet our speakers

For more information about TEDxBinnenhof | Ideas from Europe and the speakers, please contact Diana Kool or Michiel Stol.

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