Empowerment by Employment
Author: Joan Rask
The ability to support oneself is realised through a job – even if you are physically or mentally disabled. This knowledge is shared by four institutions from Finland, the Faroe Islands, Estonia, and Lithuania, but they also share much more than just this.
“We went straight to the more concrete level in this project, and we have already implemented the new methods that we have learned through each other,” says Minna Sandberg, administrator at Validia Vocational College in Järvenpää, which is about 50 kilometres outside Helsinki.
Minna Sandberg was the coordinator of project 'Empowerment by Employment', which ran from the summer 2014 to 2016, and she is proud of the results because the effect is beginning to show itself.
“We were inspired the most by video CVs from Lithuania, and it helps us a lot in the daily work,” she says.
Video CVs – it works!
All participating countries were strongly inspired by the Lithuanian school Valakupiai Rehabilitation Centre, which uses video CVs in their work with the disabled. Natlja Markovskaja is a teacher at the Lithuanian school and participates in the project. She tells how big a success the small video CVs are.
“There is a lot of prejudice surrounding people with disabilities. Employers often tend to view them as toothless and without arms,” Natlja Markovskaja says and makes devil horns and laughs, “but a short video message can often change that impression.”
It is not hard to comprehend how difficult it must be to describe how you look in writing and, at the same time, convince the employer that you can hold a job. That is always how job searching has been, but when you are disabled, the challenge is of course even greater.
“We started because we wanted to better the image of the individual and show who the person behind it really is,” she explains.
And it helps.
“It gives the person a chance to say ‘hi’, and the employer sees that the person is really nice, can drive a car, deal with computers and looks friendly” says Natalja Markovskaja.
Want to do more
The Lithuanian school joined the project because they wanted to explore if there were possibilities which they didn’t utilise. Reality is namely that it is hard to motivate employers to hire disabled employees.
“We took away a major thing from Estonia. They are doing employer training. We adapted it slightly and now it is implemented,” says Natalja Markovskaja.
She explains how the unwillingness among employers is often rooted in ignorance because there are many companies which gladly take on more social responsibility. Often the paradox is that when Natalja Markovskaja and colleagues in Lithuania and the other participating countries ask companies what they actually do in regard to social responsibility, they mention environmental action and tell, for example, that plastic bottles are replaced by water in pitchers and the like.
“They don’t come up with the integration of vulnerable groups in their staff,” she says.
At the Valakupiai Rehabilitation Centre, the idea swiftly resulted in action and the first conference has already taken place in cooperation with Swedbank, which is a big player on the labour market in Lithuania.
“They are now using the ‘diversity concept’ as part of their social responsibility. The cooperation was very successful,” says Natalja Markovskaja.
International inspiration is important
Validia Vocational College is a key actor in Finland, and ordinary inspiration to development and new ideas typically come from small Finnish institutions, which very much look like them self.
“Finland is such a small country, and we have to take a wider look outside our borders to better our ability to find new ways of helping our students,” says Minna Sandberg.
At Validia Vocational College, almost all types of disabilities are represented among the students and this places demands on employees’ creativity, and the work in the project became a welcomed bank of ideas.
“At our school, we have done all the work with the best possible practice, trained our students in all the new examples and worked with the employers in new ways – and I have not heard any negative comments at all,” says Minna Sandberg.
All the new methods are collected in a booklet that the project participants share with all other institutions which work with the disabled.
A better world
The project participants are namely all experts in their field, and they gladly share knowledge and methods. Satu Kataja is a career counsellor and also an employee at the Validia Vocational College. She has participated in all the project meetings.
“I didn’t see any differences in attitude or any negative attitudes at all – even the employers, who were part of the project, had worked with disabled people for a long time and were experts,” she says.
On the contrary, there is little variation in the jobs offered to the disabled and the legislation regulating the area.
“In Finland, we don’t have many jobs in handicraft as e.g. in Lithuania. But we saw that every country used their resources and possibilities and made an effort to do the best,” Satu Kataja says.
Perhaps the project was so successful because of the participants’ similar core belief about how society should treat its weakest. Fact is that it was only the choice of method that was noticeably different.
Natlja Markovskaja agrees. She too will happily do another joint project.
“We think that we are doing the same across nations, that we as populations are similar, but we do totally different things. If we learn from each other – in smaller chunks – then I think we can make the world a better place,” Natalja Markovskaja says.
Invitation from the partner institutions to use their booklet:
This 'Empowerment by employment' booklet can be a fruitful source for rehabilitation institutions and education organizations when they are seeking new ideas to cultivate their worklife relevancy and especially improve their results in integrating people with special needs into real jobs.
Please find suitable ideas for your organisation and enjoy the reading!Booklet - Empowerment by employment