A fresh batch of inclusion from the fresh food people

Tuesday, 2 May 2023

At the end of a long day or work week, sometimes we just want to relax. We think of that recipe we’ve always wanted to try, the meal prep we should’ve done earlier, or a quick treat we could pick up on the way home.

All these schools of thought lead us to the same place – the supermarket. Or to be more specific, the Aussie staple Woolworths.

Whether it be scanning your products, placing out fruit and veg, or tracking down that elusive spicy mayo that you swear they keep moving, the staff of Woolies will make sure your customer experience is a smooth one.

But all that aside, Woolies serves yet another crucial purpose to our society. In 2015 Mark, the current store manager of Woolworths Hinkler in Bundaberg, was approached by EPIC Assist.

EPIC Assist (EPIC) is a local Disability Employment Services (DES) provider that connects job-ready people with disability with supportive and inclusive workplaces.

Mark heard about their mission and program and was convinced. Throughout the next eight years, Mark has continued to have a strong relationship with EPIC.

“We’ve jumped on, and since then it’s been successful”, Mark said.

We asked Mark about why he’s chosen to stick with EPIC for so long and what it meant to him and Bundaberg Woolies. His answer was straightforward: it’s all about inclusiveness, diversity, and breaking the stigma.

“To say that people with disability don’t have a place in the workplace is rubbish – of course they do! This whole program just proves that the stigma is moving away, and workplace inclusivity is the way to go and it’s the best way to approach it.”

Mark can’t give enough praise to the participants that have come through EPIC, remarking on the skills they’ve improved since starting and just how essential to the Woolies Bundaberg team they’ve become.

“It’s good communication from everyone involved. They play a pretty big part in keeping the routines in the store.

“We’re all about keeping the stock on display for the customers so they all play their little roles and have got a part to play in the routine change. What they do is really important,” Mark explained.

Mitchel and Mark posing together at Woolworths Bundaberg
Mark and Mitchel are a fresh food dream team.

Mark is also quick to level praise at EPIC themselves for how easy and reliable their support has been.

When Mark first considered hiring people with disability, he expected there to be a lot of moving parts to keep track of when it came to staff and their ideal roles. But he was pleasantly surprised at how easy EPIC made it and the consistent communication he’s received.

“You always know who’s coming and who’s going. They obviously provide great support to the team members themselves. It’s just a really transparent process. It’s really easy to communicate to the guys. It’s super convenient,” Mark said.

We asked Mark about what made him so passionate about providing employment opportunities to people living with disability. He clarified that he also believed people with disability deserved employment that was meaningful to them; a job that they can be passionate and proud of. He also remarked that it was important for people living with disability to have a job in the same way that it was important for anyone to have a job.

“Obviously everyone wants their independence, and it’s just great to see,” Mark said.

“Some of these guys you see that come to us, they might have been experiencing difficulty having conversations to start with. You see them two, three, four, five, six times again and suddenly they’re chatting away. “It’s great to see them progress and come out of their shells. I think they all have a place in the workplace for sure.”

Our hardworking participants at Woolies

It’s this progression and evolution of his participants that keeps Mark going in his role and continues to be the most rewarding part of his job. And the rewards go both ways: each employee of Woolies Bundaberg has a story of improvement and development.

Tiffany, who has anxiety and experiences panic attacks, works part-time at Woolies. At first, she started with packing groceries, but then quickly moved on to produce and then into the deli.

Tiff said that EPIC was a great help with managing her anxiety and answering the questions she couldn’t ask her superiors at Woolies.

With a goal to move to full-time in the future, Tiff has come a long way and continues to aim higher with her self-confidence growing every day.

“Confidence-wise, I was very much in the shell. I was sheltered. They made me and helped me express more and become more vocal. I could actually talk a lot more,” Tiff said.

Tiff behind the deli with a grin at Woolworths Bundaberg
Tiff manning the Woolworths deli with a grin.

Mitchel came to EPIC to get a job and improve his social life. He’d struggled with finding a job previously and requires an assistant dog, Kathy, with him at all times.

Mitchel was nervous about what a workspace would be like and how high-paced it might be, but since joining the Woolies team he’s never been happier. No longer requiring the assistance of Kathy as often, Mitchel has relaxed into his role and says the best part of his job is the coworkers and how “chilled out” it is.

Jess works at Woolies Bundaberg in the fruit and veg section. She moved into the role to get to know new people and to earn better pay. These two factors are important to Jess, as her two goals are to pay for driving lessons and to start TAFE when she’s older.

Jess has made fast friends with her fellow employees and in the few months that she’s been a part of the Woolies team, has shown considerable drive and improvement.

All three participants agree EPIC was a big help for them in kickstarting their employment experience.

“They’re very hands-on and very helpful,” Tiff said.

With its employees growing more experienced and confident by the day, and Mark’s passion driving him to continue his collaboration with EPIC in promoting inclusivity and diversity, Woolworths Bundaberg will continue to provide meaningful employment to those who need it.

“It’s very rewarding itself in seeing where people can start and where they come into their own careers. You can help put them out there! And I think it’s something that everyone should consider. It’s great,” said Mark.

If you’re thinking of hiring a person with disability, start the conversation with us today by phoning 13 EPIC (3742) or sending us a message.

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