Media Release

East Gippsland egg farmer lays foundation for inclusive employment

An East Gippsland egg farm forging the way in inclusive employment and reaping the benefits is urging other local businesses to follow suit by offering people with a disability a day of work experience this month.

The AccessAbility Day initiative will see businesses give people with a disability a chance to demonstrate their abilities through an obligation-free day of work experience between Monday 25 and Friday 29 November.

Deb and Peter Hahnemann of Forge Creek Free Range tapped into a unique opportunity to increase their talent pool and give their business an edge after a positive experience offering work experience for locals with disability in 2018.

“We recognised that the various farming tasks and activities could be broken down”, Ms Hahnemann said.

“Rather than having individuals as ‘all-rounders’, we realised we could open our business to a larger proportion of the workforce by creating opportunities in a number of areas, including employment for people with disability, students and retirees seeking part time work.”

The couple’s strong family and community values have played a large role in influencing how they have shaped the business, which has grown from 40 chickens and 1 customer in 2014, to now 3,350 hens producing 100,000 dozen eggs a year.

“We see that our role as a business is to create an opportunity in a safe environment for a person with disability to contribute to the success of our business, whilst providing them with meaningful employment and opportunity.”

One person benefiting from their inclusive approach to employment is Forge Creek employee, Sebastian. Sebastian, who has Down Syndrome, participated in a group work experience activity on the farm earlier this year that was facilitated by local community services organisation Noweyung.

At the time, Sebastian was receiving job search support with his Disability Employment Services provider, Workways. After thoroughly enjoying the work experience activity, he made it known to his team at Workways that he’d love to work at the farm.

Sebastian’s Recruitment Partner at Workways Bairnsdale, Karon de Vos, worked closely with him to secure two days of work a week on the farm. The 29-year-old started in his first paid job in March, he hasn’t looked back.

Ms de Vos said the work that Deb and Peter are doing to actively create opportunities for people of all abilities is to be commended.

“Thanks to their inclusivity, Sebastian is now gainfully employed and works in a great team. He is valued and important in his role and most importantly, he feels valued and important.”

Deb and Peter say their approach makes plain business sense, and that businesses who aren’t tapping into a more diverse talent pool are missing out.

“We have ready access to a much broader section of our community. Our workplace has the ability to reflect the community and its diversity.”

There are many immediate and measurable benefits to employing people with disability, both for the business’ bottom-line and culture. Widely reported benefits include higher staff engagement, productivity and morale, lower rates of employee turnover and time off, and enhanced brand reputation and customer loyalty.

AccessAbility Day is an Australian Government initiative that showcases these benefits. As part of the initiative, Workways is offering employers the opportunity to connect with job seekers with a disability for a day of work experience during the last working week of November (Monday 25 to Friday 29).