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Buy Social: When the social enterprise difference is simply good business

November 5, 2015

Through disability employment agency The Personnel Group, one disabled man’s life has changed forever. With a partner and two children with disabilities, he felt house-bound and isolated; unable to ask for help. Now his ongoing work as a postie for Australia Post has opened his eyes. Through sustainable, supported employment, he sees how others in the workforce operate day-to-day, and now accesses essential support services. This is just one of the many amazing ways this social enterprise unites with business to transform people’s lives.

The Personnel Group (TPG) is a disability employment service based in north-eastern Victoria and southern NSW. TPG finds sustainable employment for people with a disability or a mental health condition, with the social aim of creating equality through employment.

TPG addresses people’s barriers, upskills, undertakes ‘reverse marketing’ to find their jobseeker’s employment, and provides post-placement support. General Manager of Brand, People and Growth Tracey Fraser believes their difference is how they support employees for as long as they and their employer need. “We can support people anywhere from 4 weeks to 20 years. That’s our big difference. The significance of our onsite support is what we really hang our hat on,” she says.

Winning tenders with excellent business practice

One of TPG’s most successful contracts is with Australia Post. Won through a competitive tender process after a staff member noted the ad in the paper, TPG has now bid for and won seven postal contracts to deliver mail over seven years. “We specifically had two clients in mind, one with a mental health condition and the other with spina bifida,” says Tracey.

“From that first tender we won, Australia Post was very pleased with the business model we put forward, the OH&S issues we addressed, and our backup support for staff. Australia Post still sees our contracts as a business decision and a straight business model arrangement but by engaging TPG it also means they are following through on their commitment to help build more inclusive communities..”

Tracey considers these contracts to be amongst the most successful for TPG. “Australia Post is able to offer a huge range of employment opportunities for people who are keen to pursue them. It’s not used as a training ground or a flow-through model, TPG offers solid ongoing employment for people who want it. We now provide permanent employment for 14 staff.”

With a supportive and engaged Area Manager at Australia Post, TPG has found that their discretion to choose the best model, not just the lowest price, has informed their decision. Many Australia Post contracts have rolled over to a new one, with 2 or 5-year contracts now in their second rollover, a testament to their success.

“To create equality through employment”

With these social procurement contracts, Tracey has found a perfect alignment with the TPG mission, which is to create equality through employment.

“Because of their barriers, and competing in a tight labour market, our jobseekers can find it difficult to be successful when there are a lot of other people looking for work who may have greater experience or qualifications. By being the employer, contracting to Australia Post, we work through the barriers with our onsite support. They’ve been given an opportunity, and it’s been working tremendously for both organisations for over seven years.”

The Australia Post contracts currently pay for themselves. Tracey sees that while the contracts don’t yet bring added financial benefits to TPG, “as a standalone model, real people are getting real wages for real jobs. It works.”

Genuine social impact for meaningful work

TPG tracks their ‘social ROI’ for these contracts, which is shown to be significant, especially for the people with a mental health condition. “Because they are working somewhat independently from everybody else, plus getting outside in the fresh air, the joy of being productive and being autonomous has really improved their mental health.”

For the staff member mentioned above, access to support for him and his family has seen his confidence and willingness to ask for help increase enormously. Tracey believes if he were unemployed he would still be sitting at home trying to cope, and feeling isolated from the community. “Now he’s accessing respite care, he’s got his wife into counselling. It’s all because he’s working.

“Our staff consider themselves to be posties, not Personnel Group staff. And it’s good, solid, reputable work that the community absolutely values.”

Since 1986, The Personnel Group has assisted jobseekers with a disability or mental health condition. For more information, see their website.

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