Transitional Employment

Outside the US:

International Struggles and Successes

by Kim Kerr

Our History

This is my third International Seminar on the Clubhouse model. In past Seminars I had been an interested observer of conversations about whether TEP works outside of the United States, but not in a position to offer an opinion of my own. The Seminar in 1989, in St. Louis, was the first contact I ever had with the clubhouse model. Then in 1991, when I returned for 6IS, our clubhouse was still very new--only four months old. Now, four years later, I finally feel qualified to enter the discussion on TEP.

From our experience at Bromham Place, I can say that I firmly believe that TEP is an essential aspect of the clubhouse and that it must be available to our members. TEP is a form of employment that allows for the fluctuating and episodic nature of mental illness, while at the same time giving members direct access to learn the skills and stamina needed to survive in the work place.

At Bromham Place in Australia we have had many struggles, and yes, many successes with TEP in the past four years. We were the first clubhouse to open in Australia, and this has meant that we have often have had to break new ground.

Our struggles with TEP began from the moment we decided to adopt the Fountain House clubhouse model as our program. At the time, we had a psychosocial program which received a small grant from our State government. Changing over to the clubhouse program, which included TEP, meant not only taking on an employment component to our program for the first time, but also that we would need to find additional funding sources. This was to be our first struggle.

In Australia, State governments will provide funding for psychosocial programs but will not fund any employment related programs, as funding for vocational programs is a Federal Government responsibility. To have a TEP program in our clubhouse would mean that we would need to attract Federal funding.

We officially opened our clubhouse in 1991. Initially, it seemed to be very fortunate timing, as our Federal government had just decided to spend many millions of dollars on employment programs for people with a psychiatric disability. Unfortunately though, the notion that Transition Employment placements are owned by the clubhouse and not the individual, simply did not fit their guidelines. Their guidelines insisted that the job must belong to the individual. They would consider funding us, however, if we were to propose a supported employment program project.

Initially, we faced a tremendous temptation to submit a proposal for a supported employment program and then proceed with TEP anyway. We believed that the results would support a case for TEP to be included in their guidelines for funding. However, the problem of taking this course of action was that it could risk having our

funding cut altogether. We decided to continue to work on changing the Government's view of TEP.

What followed was a "courting period" of many months, in which we tried to woo officials into being supportive of our proposal. We invited them out to the clubhouse, repeatedly, to explain how TEP and the clubhouse worked. They became familiar faces in the clubhouse, enjoying our clubhouse cuisine at lunch time. Eventually, they began to understand the clubhouse program and TEP. Finally, there was a shift in their stance on TEP. We were told that if we could show that TEP could work effectively in Australia, then they would fund the program.

The initial struggle of getting the Federal Government to consider TEP as a viable proposal was over, but a new problem had emerged. How could we show them that TEP was effective when we didn'thave any funding to run the program in the first place? The State Government officials were adamant that we should not use any staff funded by the State sources to start up our TE program.

We eventually overcame this hurdle by successfully seeking funds from private sources. Two philanthropic trusts agreed to fund a joint pilot TEP project for a year. Unfortunately, we were only given enough funding to employ one staff, but we had finally gotten started on TEP. The results of this first year were promising. However, when we still hadn't managed to convince the Federal Government to give us funds, both trusts agreed to extend the project for a further year.

Finally, after some successful outcomes in the TEP pilot and two years of constant lobbying, which included a trip to our National Capital where members spoke to politicians, we were successful in getting some Federal funding. We were given a grant renewal, so that we could extend the project for a third year. The new Federal money gave us enough to employ a second TEP worker.

Having two workers made a huge difference to our TEP program. During this third year we were able to publish the results of our evaluation of the program. It was these results, published in the "Clubhouse Report," that eventually resulted in our clubhouse receiving recurrent funding from the Federal government. In March, 1995, we were informed that not only would we receive recurrent funding but that it would be enough to employ five staff.

The struggle for funds is now over. We have a TEP program that will receive ongoing funding. We will however, continue to struggle with the issue of which staff can be involved in employment placements. It is pleasing, however, to note that all our unit staff still manage to pay a regular friendly "social" visit to those members on TEP. In spite of this, the fact that funding sources dictate which staff are permitted to be involved in the TEP program continues to put us in conflict with a number of the Standards. In addition to this, we also face the struggles that all clubhouses experience with placement development, management, and support.

Our Ongoing Struggles

There are many dramatic market influences on employment in Australia at the moment. Businesses are being restructured. We now regularly hear such terms as "downsizing" and "multi-shilling."

It is common practice now for businesses to contract work out rather than employ their own workers to do the job. There has also been rapid advances in information technology. Australia is coming out of a long recession and all these measures have been taken by businesses to maintain efficiency. In Australia, award wages are fairly high and it is illegal to pay less than award wages, with the possible exception of Government Subsidy schemes. Competition is fierce and employers can afford to be selective.

Many of the familiar clerical and cleaning jobs which were the backbone of original TE programs just don't exist any more. Cleaning is done at night by contract teams and clerical work has been radically transformed by the advent of information technology and electronic mail.

Corporatization and Privatization: The shift from private to commercial models of operation and ownership has resulted in a contract approach to staff. Increasingly, key staff remain constant while casuals are hired as demands fluctuates. While this has been difficult for TE placements, it has actually been a benefit for our enclave program. We have been able to respond quickly to short term projects requiring a small team of workers.

Bureaucratic Complexity: Human Resources departments often express reluctance to take on the high rotation of employees involved in a TEP.

Competition with other Agencies: There are approximately forty other employment agencies supporting people with disabilities operating in Melbourne alone. It is not unusual to find employers have already been approached by a number of other agencies. This means it is harder to get a foot in the door.

Catchment Area: An influence that has affected us is our Catchment Area: 7,800 square kilometers. Believe it or not, members travel to Bromham Place from every part of this vast area. Some members travel up to two hours in each direction on public transport, which restricts their ability to get in for a local TE.

Getting a TEP program up and running in any part of the world is likely to be difficult task. Finding employers willing to consider hiring people with a psychiatric disability is always going to be a major challenge. Then there are the employers who are mainly interested in government subsidies and any other financial incentives before they will consider employing one of our members.

In the early days of our TEP program we did make some compromises. TE placement development was slow and we had a growing number of members eager for employment. There was an increasing sense of frustration and impatience among our members who had joined our clubhouse with a promise of new employment opportunities. The increasing dissatisfaction meant that we had to get some employment happening for members. There were a few compromises, but we believe they were necessary ones. Our primary goal was and has always been to develop TEP. However, we will always pass on any other employment opportunities for the consideration of our members.

Our Victories

Not all the factors influencing our employment program have been negative. At our recent Employer Dinner, where we acknowledge our TEP employers, we asked two of our employers to speak. They both strongly recommended TEP to other employers present. We also have two employers (the House of Fundraising and Telecom) who are currently seeking to establish a national network supporting clubhouse TEP programs.

Other positive things that have helped our employment program include :

Community-Minded Companies: The 90's has seen a strong trend towards commercial support for community projects. (Sensitive "New-age Capitalism" seems to be here.) Many business have adopted admirable affirmative action policies in regard to hiring people with disabilities.

Federal Government Support: Legislation such as the Australian Disability Reform Package, for example, means that people on a pension are able to join the work force without losing all of their benefits. Subsidies are available that have successfully facilitated some members' long-term return to work.

We must be careful not to have knee-jerk reactions to changing circumstances. We can make some modifications, if they don't compromise us. However, if prevailing conditions are clearly detrimental to us in the Australian Clubhouse community, we will need to present ourselves as a consolidated force to influence change and better meet our members' needs. Similarly we can also influence the employment industry. But major changes will take time, persistence, and the documented results we are continuing to show with TEP.

It takes a good product (Clubhouse Transitional Employment), time, and a good relationship with the employer to negotiate restructuring other company positions as TEPs. We can also ask our employers to talk to other employers - the best marketing tool one can use.

So despite some uncertainty in the early days, it would seem that TEP is here to stay in Australia! Confidence is the first casualty of mental illness, and an environment that welcomes you, involves you, doesn't just need you but values you, and allows you all the time in the world to replace insecurity with dignity, is a valuable resource indeed.

Kim Kerr is the director of Bromham Place in Melbourne, Australia.