Every person with disability has a right to meaningful employment. Melissa White, the Director of Earles Paint Place in Maryborough, is one employer making this a reality.
With humble beginnings as a sign shop in 1936, Earles Paint Place is a family-run business founded by Melissa’s grandparents, George and Ruby Earle.
“All my siblings worked with me in the business. My oldest brother, Ken, was in the automotive section and my next brother down was Wayne. He passed away ten years ago but he was really into the running of the business. So, it has been very hard for me to follow in his steps because he was so good at it,” said Melissa.
“Now I run the business and I’m also teaching my niece Belinda how to run the store. I love doing colours and colour schemes. My main focus is to make every house and business in Maryborough as beautiful as it possibly can.”
Over the years, Earles Paint Place has operated several stores across Queensland, from Rockhampton and Yeppoon in the north, all the way down to Slacks Creek in Brisbane. This has opened up a number of employment opportunities, and it wasn’t long before a good friend at EPIC Assist approached Melissa to ask if she’d ever considered hiring someone with a disability.
EPIC Assist is a local disability employment service that supports people with a disability, injury, mental health condition, or health condition to find a keep a job they love.
As a family-run business, Earles Paint Place always puts its staff first, so it was only natural to connect with a Disability Employment Services (DES) provider to make inclusion a priority.
“We think of ourselves as a big family business. So, everyone that comes in here we treat as family. We’re all mates,” said Melissa.
“So, working with EPIC worked out really well. It made us feel good because we were helping people with disability and it made the guys and girls feel good that we hired.”
Although she had some initial reservations about hiring staff with disability, her worries were swept away as soon as she learnt how EPIC could support her and her staff through wage subsidies, ongoing support workers, and staff management.
“It’s always a worry at first because you don’t know what’s going to happen. But it turned out there was no problem at all because the people that needed it, they always had a support worker working next to them.
“Everyone we’ve had has picked it up so well. They’ve been awesome to work with.”
Since connecting with EPIC Assist, Melissa has supported seven people with disability to gain employment at Earles Paint Place.
She still remembers fondly their first hire through EPIC Assist, a young lady with Asperger’s syndrome who was a cleaner for their Maryborough store.
“She was great because whatever she did, she did well. So, she’d clean the floors and it had to be perfect, no marks on them whatsoever.”
“We also had a couple of Down syndrome guys in our Hervey Bay store. They were quite fun to work with as well. All the tradies loved them.”
“Then we had some people with bipolar and other mental health conditions in our Slack’s Creek store. And now of course we have Aaron and Jimmy.”
Aaron and Jimmy work at Earles Paint Place’s current store in Maryborough. They’ve both had a tough haul over the last few years, and being given this job opportunity by Melissa has completely changed their lives.
Their commitment to their job and quality of work is what really stands out to Melissa.
“They’re picking up everything very well and they both want to be here, which is important.
“I live by you learn from your mistakes. So, I encourage that if there’s a mistake you get on with it, we’ll fix it, and we’ll do what we need to do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I make mistakes still so I can’t really say anything.”
A workplace for the long-haul
After just four months at Earles Paint Place, Aaron is certain this is a workplace he’d like to stick around at.
As a family man, Aaron proudly tells anyone who will stop to listen about his four beautiful children. For him, his job at Earles Paint Place is more than just a career, it’s a way to care for his family.
“My career goals are basically to stay here so I can look after my family. That’s important to me,” said Aaron.
“I’m a big family person, so whenever I’m not here I’m doing school runs, homework, picking kids up dropping kids off, taking kids to sport.”
Since starting his job at Earles, his entire life has changed and been given a new lick of paint.
Seven years ago, Aaron was in a motorcycle accident that left him with metal plates through both of his arms. After battling with his mental health and spending some time in jail, he got in touch with EPIC Assist in Maryborough to help him get back on his feet.
EPIC Assist helped him land an interview at Earles Paint Place, purchase work clothes, and get started on the job.
“I’ve come a fair way, to be honest. Before here it wasn’t all Christmas bells and twinkle toes, it was up and down,” said Aaron.
“But Don and Rod from EPIC have been there for that. They’ve helped me through this, helped me with my interview process because I really have no idea what to say when it comes to that sort of thing. Without them, I wouldn’t be here at Earles. So, they were a great help with that.”
His job as a Sales Assistant at Earles Paint Place includes everything from colour-matching paints, to taking care of stock, automotive and boat paints, and even an upcoming management course.
“The team here is wonderful to work with. It always makes it better if you like working at your workplace. If you don’t like going to your job, it just sucks. No one likes going to work when they don’t like it.”
Aaron’s partner in action, Jimmy, has big career aspirations. He’s been working at Earles Paint Place for three years now and is considered part of the family. His ultimate goal is to not only be a rep but to help run the business.
“I want to stay with this business. I’m family now. I want to be running the place. I know I can do it,” said Jimmy.
“But I also want to be a rep. I want to be out on the road 100 per cent. That’s driving. We do Tin Can Bay, Rainbow Beach, Hervey Bay, Bundaberg. Doing deliveries, picking up stock.
“It’s just being out in the open and dealing with more customers. I love that. That’s probably my favourite part: getting out on the road. I like being face-to-face with people.”
Jimmy’s disability has been a big part of his life, and it has made it challenging to find an employer that understands his needs and skills.
“My disability is osteogenesis imperfecta. It’s a problem with my right knee where in a second it can break or dislocate. I could be walking across the street and it could dislocate. It hurts a lot. It is a big thing. It affects me a lot, but I just work through it.”
As Jimmy brushes off his past and looks towards the future, it’s fair to say that stable employment has completely changed Jimmy’s life. It has given him the freedom to start saving up for a knee replacement and helped him improve his mental health.
Without EPIC Assist’s support in getting him his work hours and the backing of his wonderful team at Earles Paint Place, Jimmy says he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“If it wasn’t for work, I would be still depressed. Without work, I wouldn’t be paying for my medication for one. But if I wasn’t here, I would be where I was before, and it wasn’t a good place.”
Want to create an inclusive workplace, but don’t know where to start?
It can be difficult to know where to start when hiring someone with a disability for the first time.
Here at EPIC Assist, we’ve been helping businesses to hire quality staff with disability for over 30 years. If you are an employer looking to open more diverse and inclusive opportunities in your business, we can connect you with job-ready candidates with disability and break down barriers to hiring people with disability.
Melissa has a clear message for any employer considering hiring people with disability.
“I’d definitely do it. It’s a great team-building experience for the rest of the team to get used to working in a diverse team environment. And also it just makes you feel good inside,” said Melissa.
“My experience with EPIC has been very good. Right through I haven’t had any problems whatsoever. If I’ve been worried about something, I just say so and they always work something out.”
If your business is looking for long-term and passionate staff members to join your team, get in touch with EPIC Assist today.