Project Employ has a new strategy to reach employers

November 25, 2022

Sarah Dann-Hoare is out to convince employers that young disabled people make great employees.

She has set up a training café to give young people a start in the workforce. Flourish Café opened in Takapuna in August – an initiative by Project Employ with support from the IHC Foundation.

Sarah is one of the founders of Project Employ, an organisation committed to finding jobs for young people. In 2017 she won an AMP Dare to Dream award and used the money to make 10 short films featuring interviews with disabled young people working in New Zealand workplaces and with their families and employers to show that employing young disabled people does work.

Sarah used to be a special education teacher at Wairau Valley Special School on Auckland’s North Shore. She worked with a transition class of 17- to 21-year-olds on a work-ready programme.

“We created a range of work experience opportunities. It was all about the work ethic and employability skills.” She says the programme was getting to be well known in the area. But she found it was getting harder to reach out to businesses. There was resistance to taking on disabled young people and concerns from employers about health and safety.

So Sarah started researching training cafés operating in the United States and the United Kingdom and in August set up her own training café. Flourish Café opened with five trainees, who each work four shifts of four hours a week. 

There are two trainees on each shift working with a café manager, a barista and job coaches. Sarah is one of the job coaches. Trainees rotate through the various tasks, including running the dishwasher, operating the till, clearing tables, warming food, doing coffee runs and helping prepare catering orders.

She says even though the trainees are working in a café, most of the skills – timekeeping, teamwork and customer service – are transferable.

“One of the things we focus on more than anything is anxiety. As much as you practise, there are some things you can’t prepare them for, such as if something goes wrong or a customer leaves without ordering and the trainee thinks it’s something that they have done and gets upset.”

The training lasts six months, although Sarah says there is no set finish date. In December, Sarah will be working on interview skills with the trainees. “During January they will start leaving us and starting with their new employers.”

Project Employ partners with employment advisory service PolyEmp and Autism New Zealand to find jobs for the trainees.

Project Employ takes trainees who live in Auckland, are aged between 18 and 28, identify as having an intellectual disability and want to gain future paid employment.

There is growing demand, Sarah says, and schools are showing interest. Applications have already closed for the January 2023 intake of trainees. Sarah is planning to increase the number of trainees to eight.

Caption: The Flourish Café team, from left, Achinna Medis (café manager); Zahira Champion (barista); Hannah Sykes (job coach); Terence Harpur (Project Employ board member); Quinn Simpson (trainee); Sarah Dann-Hoare (Project Employ director/job coach); Ariel Knight (trainee); Billy Lupton (trainee); Alexandrea Heels (job coach) and Jonathan Squirrell (trainee).


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.