Podcast Episode 20. REDinc offers a model worth replicating when it comes to helping young people achieve their work related dreams according to Mitch Halligan Work and Training Coordinator at REDinc.
REDinc. is based in NSW, Australia, and was originally started by 5 families who found there was nowhere for their children to progress to after secondary school. It now provides a variety of support services, including helping people with additional needs transition into work which they find rewarding and for which they are rewarded appropriately.
Mitch talks about the projects REDinc. has developed, including one with young people who enjoy gaming; most often in the confines of their own bedrooms, they now get together offline to not only to enjoy the gaming aspect but to also create other opportunities for creativity. This has included creating a YouTube channel, where games are reviewed, and publishing blogs. As Mitch says the outcome here is not the gaming but the other skills being developed in the environment and the confidence of interaction.
Mitch explains how Redinc. works hard to ensure all staff are skilled in whatever area they are teaching. They employ professionals to teach students the technical skills rather than relying on volunteers who may not be experts in a specialist topic. The experience of these professionals not only helps the students develop their skills but provides them with a real insight into the professions they may be interested in entering. In addition, having paid staff allows for accountability. That is not to say REDinc. does not value volunteers who also play an important role and provide a link with the community which is integral to success.
Mitch also offers his thoughts around the ongoing debate as to whether people with additional needs should be paid less because they may not complete the task as quickly as others. He offers a practical suggestion, at least one that could work in jobs where productivity and output can be easily measured. However, Mitch also argues that any model, and he uses the sheltered workshop model to illustrate his point, must have within it incentives so that people are motivated and aware that if they work harder they will be rewarded for it.
However, as Mitch is careful to say, it must ultimately be the individual’s choice as to what they do. As he says ‘nothing about without you’ is an important part of his role so that what he does is based on the goals and interests of the person he is supporting. He shares a couple of success stories with us, including a young woman working as a receptionist in her local community and a young man who is finding his own path (with the help of REDinc.) towards a career in nursing.
Finally, Mitch talks about the future for REDinc. and its desire to stay small enough to provide the best support it can. The model works, which begs the question why aren’t there more of these types of organizations? Mitch suggests it is in part a funding issue, but is also down to a lack of coordination, at least in Australia across state borders. He also believes that because REDinc came from families ties, this ultimately makes the organisation focused in a different way and has helped scaffold their success.
[2.15] – Who are RED Inc
[2.50] – Mitch’s role and the types of support provided
[3.45] – Why the outcome based approach is so important
[4.00] – Real work real successes
[5.15] – Building other independence skills
[5.45] – Getting gamers out of their bedrooms and giving them purpose
[6.25] – Employing the right people to provide support and teach
[7.10] – Structured classes with set goals to be achieved
[7.35] – Not forgetting the social side
[8.50] – Real jobs in the community
[9.45] – What about different pay rates for people with additional needs?
[11.10] – Nothing about you without you
[11.35] – Looking at different path to reach the same end destination
[12.30] – The future of RED Inc
[13.00] – Small does work better in this case
[14.45] – Red tape stifles coordinated support
Outcomes, progress and choice
Looking until the right path is identified
DEBRA: This week, we continue with the interviews I recorded on my recent trip home and I’m talking to Mitch Halligan from an organization called REDinc. REDinc is based in Lismore, New South Wales and among other things, provides support for young people to transition into work that they find both rewarding and are probably rewarded for.
Mitch talks about how they help people do this and the kind of support they offer but I think more importantly, it talks about making sure the full front is the idea that everything should be outcome-based. That’s not that these outcomes will necessarily be quick or easy to achieve. REDinc seems very good at finding alternative paths to success and the key there is progress.
That seems to be a theme across many of the interviews I’ve done so far in this podcast. It’s all about progress and whether you need to be patient for progress or look long-term, the aim should always be about moving forward in some way. I also talk to Mitch about something that’s been in the news, at least in the UK recently, around the idea that one reason that people with additional needs don’t find paid employment is because employers can’t justify paying them the same wage as someone else who may perform the same task a bit quicker.
And it’s been suggested that if people with additional needs could be paid less per hour, then more employers might actually give them jobs. This is obviously a controversial topic because everyone deserves to be treated equally. And it’s also true that number of people with additional needs in paid employment is actually pulling it low low. And I have to say personally, I’m not that keen on the idea of different wage range but it was interesting to hear Mitch’s views on this, particularly since he’s actually working in the area. And he actually offers a practical solution for some jobs, at least for those jobs where you can measure outputs.
Having not yet faced the situation myself, I’m open to debate on this topic. The way that REDinc works is certainly very effective and the successes that Mitch shares are very inspiring. Having this as the organization, what Mitch says about it being part of the community is clearly a key part of the reason why it’s very successful.
Coming to the stage where I need to think about my daughter’s future after school, I haven’t found that many organizations doing what REDinc does. Although in the UK, there is Shared Lives, which if you’d like more information about them, you could find it in podcast episode 1 called The Ark Project. And Shared Lives offers at least one way to progress people skills.
DEBRA: This week, we’re talking to Mitch Halligan from an organization called REDinc which is based in Lismore in New South Wales in Australia. Welcome, Mitch.
DEBRA: Can you tell us a little bit about the organization, where it started?
MITCH: Sure. REDinc began about 30 years ago. 5 families got together, their kids were coming out of high school and they realized that there was nothing there for them. Its name actually stands for Realizing Every Dream Incorporated and it’s something we strive still to do today.
We employ about 95 staff and support about 240 families with disabilities across this region. So my job here is Work and Training coordinator so anyone with a dream or a goal of getting work in education will come through me to help support that; that can mean anything from setting up studies support to ensuring that they have accessible classrooms and access to toilets and facilities and so I support them in this region to do driving, too (you can’t get a job in this area unless you’ve got a car and a license) that includes adaptive vehicles. There are some people obviously who will never get a license then have disabilities and we do an awful lot of travel training.
DEBRA: What age do they come to you if they’re looking for work?
MITCH: They begin at post school, so they come to the city in the high school and we support them right through till retirement. REDinc are predominantly known in the sector for creative arts. We don’t do a sheltered workshop stuff at REDinc. Everything that they do is outcome-based so our visual artists work with visual artists and learn real art practice.
They have resumes that reflect that; showing all their exhibitions, all their big sales and things. We have several that are even running their own businesses, selling out of retail shops. Music wise, we also do a lot of work with the musicians and they are supported by musicians. We have two bands at present. One band and a solo artist, we’ve got a band called Brotherhood of the Blues who have saved enough money through gigging to record their second album. They played the Blues Festival last year.
DEBRA: So you mentioned that the students that do the visual arts and the guys in the band, they get paid for this, do they get all the money or is it shared?
MITCH: If we put the exhibitions on, we do pretty much as a gallery. We also make printed t-shirts and other things where we’ve paid for that so they get 15 or 20 percent of the sales on that kind of item. But the musicians are paid by the people that want them to gig and they keep everything, particularly the Brotherhood of the Blues. They may have began through REDinc but they are their own independent thing now and you should definitely look them up, guys. They’ve got some great stuff.
DEBRA: The focus here sounds like it’s work, but are there any other independent skills that you work on?
MITCH: Our independent living is a big part of what we do, too. Most of our people have that goal at least long-term; that’s money skills, that’s budgeting, that’s cooking, shopping, meal planning, all of those things that form part of what we do. We have a lot of gamers now, we’re very quickly growing group of ASD people particularly young men. We have a social gaming group which has been working really well, prior to losing all our venues in a flood recently. Yes look that one up.
They get together once a week and a game actually physically together instead of just in their bedrooms at night and they sit and they come up with little projects.They run a YouTube channel and do game reviews at the moment. A few of them have created blogs and their social gaming doesn’t have a direct outcome, the outcomes come once that confidence and friendship grows with the group. And that’s I think the best way we’ve found so far for working with them.
DEBRA: Professionals that come in, do they just volunteer their time?
MITCH: We have facilitators that are gamers and coders and we do get volunteers that just come in to give their time.
DEBRA: But the coders, they come in….
MITCH: They’re paid facilitators. As I said with the music and art is that we work very hard at REDinc to make sure that our staff actually are skilled at what they do so that a real outcome can come from it.
DEBRA: You think that works better having paid professionals and just having volunteers who might have the skills?
MITCH: Absolutely because we can make sure that they do what they’re supposed to do and there’s accountability there.
DEBRA: The guys that are teaching, when they teach, do they have a structured class or do they, I guess, make it bespoke depending on who they’re teaching?
MITCH: If they’re doing it one on one, it’s very much individually tailored but if they’re working in groups, if they have their 6 or 12 week programs and yes there are programs, they have very clear objectives and goals with each week to get to that end result towards that. What we try to do is bring out their skills and their abilities, get them to be a real, integral part of community.
DEBRA: The social skills sound like they’re also really important, what else do you do to facilitate in building social skills? Do they do things outside of REDinc together?
MITCH: Almost of this is outside, yes, there are busking groups that will go out, they busk together, we do a lot of health and well-being, too. We have 3 personal trainers on the staff and use the university gym, work with Pony Pals, we’ve got several guys who really have grown in themselves and gain confidence through learning how to, you know, groom and look after horses and walk them, they don’t ride them, they look after them. We have another group that do ride, so we access a lot of the community, absolutely, that’s why we are in the community.
DEBRA: That’s also essential.
MITCH: I think that’s essential. It is certainly for our philosophy. A lot of the other services are out-of-town and they’ve got to lay on buses and things to get people there. We do drama, dance, we got a professional dancers. One of our own personal trainers and we ensure that there’s at least showcases every year.
DEBRA: Many of the students working in local businesses?
MITCH: Absolutely. We just put a young woman who’s now receptionist for an organization called Social Futures and she’s working 5 days, forth night which is all she was after but as a full-time on open employment rates. We don’t do the sheltered workshop stuff, you know. In this country they call it Australian Disability Enterprises and I worked really hard not to put any of the guys into those, unless that’s really where they are at and what they want. In Australia, you can employ any open appointments sector and still use a supported wage system. That’s my worst case scenario for me.
DEBRA: So you rather they have a real job and they’re getting the same pay as their peers?
MITCH: Absolutely, yes. Australia have an award system for all jobs and so there’s a clear and absolute pay rate for everything.
DEBRA: This is an interesting point to talk about then because what do you think about the idea that people who have disabilities would get paid less because they may work slower?
MITCH: Depending on the job, I think that’s reasonable. If your job is to processing plant or packaging things, if you can’t keep pace I suppose you probably shouldn’t get paid as much but if that’s what you really want to do, I’ll support that and I’ll get you in there but we would work out what percentage you do work at and the objective is every 12 months is that we have that reassessed and if you’re getting faster, you get paid more. You get moved up to an equivalent pay rate if you can match the quantity and quality. So I don’t have an issue with that. I just have an issue with the support of the sheltered workshop model because the wages are that they start at ridiculously low rates and they don’t seem to progress.
DEBRA: That’s the issue then that they don’t progress?
MITCH: Yes, well the system isn’t designed for them to progress back to what is even the minimum wage in this country. So there’s no real encouragement for those people that actually try any harder either. Why would you work harder if you’re not gonna get paid more than a couple dollars an hour? So I find that, yes, I tried not to go there. Obviously, there are people that that is perfect for and that’s all they want and they’re happy with that and that’s great! So basically, I don’t do anything with anyone that’s not their decision. Nothing about you without you.
DEBRA: So it’s very user-driven, so it’s up to the guys that come in about what they want to do?
MITCH: And everything I do in my role is based on their goals, their interests.They mean that they got a very high flying goal and we’ve got to take a few round about ways to get there but we work towards that goal always. An example would be, I’ve got a young man who wanted to be a nurse so we put him into the preparation for success course at the university and because of his high schooling and support units, he didn’t complete standard English or advanced English and he couldn’t manage to write at university level, despite a 3 hours a week support we put in here. But we decided at the end of that that, we were gonna tackle it different ways so we put him into a work experience at one of the local hospitals or as wards man to make sure you really want to do it because that’s important to make sure. And he loved it and so we’re putting him in through a community college and he’s going to do it to certificate level courses and work his way up. In the meantime, we keep the study going and he can still build those skills to build the right essays.
DEBRA: Do you see a time where you reached capacity?
MITCH: We know that what we are is good. Everyone that works here loves it and everyone is supported here loves it. So we know that we can’t keep growing. We can’t do that and keep what we do. We are a bit of a niche provider so we have a staff cap. We’ve decided at a 150 and once we reach that, that will be dictated by how many people we can support well, not taking on so many people that we can’t support them well.
DEBRA: So would that suggests then that you need a number of organizations and smaller sizes to be offering the same?
MITCH: Absolutely, there should be a lot of organizations like us out there but certainly there aren’t. And the big ones that go statewide or national, they just don’t have that connection with their with their people.
DEBRA: With that you mean the community, the local community?
MITCH: The people they support. There’s no connection there. So it makes it much harder job. We certainly couldn’t do what we do without that connection with our people because it’s all about them.
DEBRA: Do you think that gets lost when you become a big organization or is it because of the way it’s funded?
MITCH: I know that it would get lost here if we got too big. It’s about funding, I think it’s just about a big organization too. I just think that when you work with people, you can’t go corporate. I don’t think you can and make it work.
DEBRA: But from the government’s point of view or from the funders’ point of view, what they want is to have as many people as many as possible.
MITCH: Well it’s supposed to be about choice and control or national disability insurance game here. Choice and control that’s the key words they say.
DEBRA: Have you identified other organizations like REDinc?
MITCH: There are some. There are few and far between but there are some.
DEBRA: Why do think that is so because clearly being able to transition people into work is the objective?
MITCH: It’s my part of this organization’s objective, absolutely and if it’s the objective of the person, that’s the goal.
DEBRA: What do you think then that you don’t find as many other organizations, small ones like this because clearly it works, it works for you, guys! Do you think there’s a reason for that?
MITCH: Yes. Some of it is state-based systems, I think, too. Everything they do is done differently. New South Wales, you can’t even get a train into Queensland because as soon as you hit the board of the train tracks, there are different size. It’s been like that forever and I think a lot of it slapped. I think it’s because we came from families, I think it’s how we’re created. I think it was because the families created it.
DEBRA: Okay, Mitch, thank you very much for your insights.
MITCH: Thanks. Check out REDinc, we’re worth having look at. I think it’s a model that a lot more places should do.
DEBRA: Key takeaways this week? Outcomes and progress. Two words that Mitch used in our conversation and seem sum up to me what REDinc does so well. After listening, you’ll no doubt realize he’s not a great fan of what he calls a sheltered workshop model, and though he does say this maybe what some people might actually want, and so I guess the third important word in here is choice.
When Mitch is talking about progress, he is also talking about finding a path that works. As with the young man he talked about he wants to be a nurse, the path may not always be the first one taken but if you look hard enough, you will inevitably find another way.
One of the underlined parts of what we talked about Journey Skills is purpose. Having a purpose is so important to everyone but it seems that often young people with additional needs finish school, which does provide them with a purpose, and there is often nothing out there to replace this. Too often, they end up sitting at home or if they do go out, it really just sitting in a different place. I don’t think that this necessarily provides that sense of purpose so we not only have to think about where they go each day but what they do and what benefit it is to them.
There is no doubt that the REDinc model works and I’m hoping that I can find an organization with the same ethos to help my daughter when she finishes full-time education.
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