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Connect50 internships for regional students with disability

The Australian Network on Disability’s Connect50 project will be extended to mid-2021. The extension means students with disability in regional Victoria will continue to have access to valuable internship opportunities.

Connect50–which is funded by the Victorian Government–is an internship program for students with disability at university and TAFE in regional Victoria. The program offers students with disability the opportunity to gain work experience and build their self-confidence. In addition, it helps students on that all important pathway from education to employment.

Emma Henningsen, Connect50 project manager at the Australian Network on Disability said that the program was about providing opportunities for students with disability as well as driving disability inclusion in regional areas.

“We see a lot of that disability inclusion and disability confidence in organisations does tend to be in the kind of larger scale businesses that have that focus on diversity and inclusion goals and disability action plans and such.,” Emma said.

“Whereas this is taking it out to organisations who aren’t necessarily thinking about, they haven’t necessarily got that kind of diversity on their radar. So, we’re really just wanting to develop and to support those regional organisations to be able to support people with disabilities as employees and as customers.”

“Providing those opportunities for people with disabilities is what this program is about.”

The program places students with regional Victorian organisations and businesses in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley. Importantly, Connect 50 is a paid internship program.

“It’s really important that people with disability are paid for the work that they do. So, the pay is commensurate to the level of the role that the student would be undertaking. So, it’s fair work wages for the duration of the internship,” Emma said.

Connect 50 opening doors

Emma says that the Connect 50 program–which is an offshoot of The Australian Network on Disability’s Stepping Into Internship program–has provided some wonderful success stories.

“We’ve had a couple of really wonderful legal roles happening out in Geelong… and the students that went into those spaces, they both kind of flagged that they were unsure whether or not they would be looking into actually moving into the law field. Just based on the kind of concerns about not potentially being able to live up to their expectations of it.”

“I think there’s an expectation to be able to do long hours. Or to do X, Y, Z, that they didn’t know if they could maintain. But having had really great positive experiences with both of those law firms, both [students] have decided very firmly that this is something that they want to do moving forward.”

“One of those students said that they realised that, yes, they get tired, and they have trouble standing so they require a seat during meetings and yes, that’s an adjustment. But that’s not the biggest end of the world in the law firm to not be able to stand for long periods. So, just kind of realising that they can actually ask for adjustments to do the job has also been a really great outcome.”

Fostering inclusion

Part of The Australian Network on Disability’s role in managing Connect 50 is the support they offer both to the student and the organisation or business they’re interning with.

“So, during the internship, we touch base with the student and the supervisor pretty much weekly for the duration. Just to make sure that things are tracking okay. The [Australian Network on Disability’s] team are there the whole time if they have any kind of questions or queries, or if anything comes up for them that needs an additional set of support, we provide that conduit between the student and the organisation as well,” Emma said.

The support The Australian Network on Disability provides begins before the internship even starts.

“Before the student goes in, we provide the organisation with some disability confidence and awareness training. And some support information about what it is to support an intern with disability in their space.  We talk to the organisation and really kind of try to bolster their skills so that they can have those conversations around workplace adjustments and the things that students with disability might need to do the job to the best of their ability.”

“So, it’s kind of very much around fostering the businesses skills, and their disability confidence. And then providing that kind of ongoing support throughout with the student and supervisor.”

While Connect 50 doesn’t arrange workplace modifications, they can and do put business in touch with JobAccess and the Employment Assistance Fund. However, Emma says that most adjustments students ask for are free.

“The top three adjustments that students tend to ask for are free. They’re not large-scale works, they tend to be around alterations to communication style or additional supervision or flexible work. It’s something that I’ve come across a number of times with organisations where they say I can’t afford to do X, Y, Z. But ultimately, the adjustments that people need tend to not be bigger pieces.”

For more information about the Connect50 Internship program, including eligibility requirements and information on how to apply, visit the Connect50 website.

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