Inclusivity pays dividends at JAC’s Learning World

Hiring someone with big dreams has made a world of difference at one Queensland childcare centre.

When JAC’s Learning World had an opportunity to employ a person with a disability a little over a year ago, Centre Director Alyce Plane was excited – she had been looking for a chance to make their business more inclusive.

“We really felt that all people bring new skills and perspectives to the workplace, regardless of disability or other characteristics, but we hadn’t found the right fit until we met Elizabeth,” Ms Plane said.

Elizabeth is a Yeppoon local with Down Syndrome, whose ultimate goal is to complete a Certificate III in childcare and work in a full-time daycare role. Ms Plane saw Elizabeth’s potential and brought her on for an internship, eventually employing her as a Support Worker – the first step for any aspiring childcare professional.

Since Elizabeth joined the team, Ms Plane and the other JAC’s Learning World staff have noticed an improvement in workplace culture and staff morale – which, in turn, has positive flow-on effects for the learning environment and productivity. These excellent results, both professional and interpersonal, have come about by taking a well-planned but responsive approach to becoming Inclusion Ready.

Planning for success

Choosing to see challenges rather than obstacles on the road to Elizabeth settling in at work, the team saw an opportunity to educate themselves, developing the skills and mindset needed to create an inclusive environment.

Ms Plane said the community of families who use the Centre welcomed Elizabeth as they would any other new employee, and that the majority of these inclusion processes were internal.

“Our main concern at the beginning of the employment process was to ensure the workplace, and Elizabeth’s co-workers, had the understanding and education they needed to support, communicate and work effectively alongside her,” Ms Plane said. 

“To increase our awareness and understanding, we accessed local support networks for more advice. We also consulted with other professionals and learned about any potential limitations within their current work environment, as well as how to make alterations to create a more inclusive work environment.”

As a result of this research, they developed a framework that focused on:

  • Believing all individuals are intelligent, capable and will progress and achieve their potential at their own pace.
  • Identifying and removing barriers to equitable participation.
  • Recognising and responding respectfully and inclusively to diversity.
  • Valuing each individual’s right to express ideas and opinions and share in decision-making.
  • Providing individual, modified or additional support when applicable.
  • Ensuring access to flexible working arrangements, such as part-time work and flexible hours.
  • Providing Disability Awareness and Confidence training to support managers, staff and team members.
  • Celebrating diversity days and events to promote awareness and inclusion.
  • Creating diversity-specific employee networks designed for staff to connect, express their views and experiences and share information.

“We created a foundation for learning and development and what it could look like in the future for everyone, not just Elizabeth. We focused on existing strengths and capabilities, and implementing workplace expectations and responsibilities for employment so we could grow together,” Ms Plane said.

“The team actively considers what an individual with a disability can already do, what they can do with support, and what they will one day be able to do.”

Watching Elizabeth work through the challenges that sometimes come with her disability has broadened the team’s horizons, encouraging them to face their challenges with good humour, and always to try to exceed expectations.

An Inclusive Future

Having overcome initial challenges, JAC’s Learning World is now enjoying the benefits of becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Ms Plane says she has felt the change.

“The team are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to share Elizabeth’s employment journey and value her contribution to their team. We have noticed an improvement in workplace culture and staff morale, and it’s helped the children have a greater understanding of diversity.”

“Elizabeth has been a valued member of the team our almost 15 months now,” Ms Plane said.

“In that time, we have had the opportunity for engagement in cultural and social environments which have helped shape her success.”

Elizabeth is still a Support Worker, building on her strengths and interests and working towards her long-term plan to complete a Certificate III in childcare.

Ms Plane encourages other businesses to stay on the lookout for candidates to join their business.

“On one hand, having a job improves the quality of life of people with a disability, and on the other, the diversity in the workplace improves the health of the business,” Ms Plane said.

“In sharing our story, we hope to encourage other businesses to embrace inclusion to create employment opportunities for people with a disability and a happier workplace for everyone.”

Learn more about employment of people with disability and how simples steps could transform your business here.