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Diversity and inclusion at work: SMCT’s collaborative partnership with disability employment provider Wallara

30 November 2023
Woman standing behind cafe counter.
Courtney serving up new possibilities at Bunurong Memorial Park.

Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (SMCT) has sought new avenues to extend our workforce to represent the diverse communities we serve. Earlier this year, SMCT collaborated with disability employment provider Wallara to trial their new open employment program.

Wallara is best known for operating supported employment cafes, warehouse production lines, and land management services. They recently started an open employment program with a mission to place candidates externally with employing organisations.

Wallara's inclusive approach to placing people with disabilities into meaningful and useful work opportunities aligned with SMCT’s priorities to foster diversity within our team and serve the community holistically.

“At SMCT, we recognise the importance of mirroring the diversity of the Victorian community within our own workforce,” says SMCT’s People Services and Experience Manager Ashleen Butters.

SMCT has adopted new ways to extend beyond traditional recruitment methods and work with other alternative employment strategies and models. This approach not only reflects SMCT’s commitment to strengthening a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, but also enhances the breadth of talent and perspectives within our organisation.

Earlier this year, SMCT connected with Wallara to understand and receive training on how our team members could work with people with a range of disabilities and chronic conditions. The strategic collaboration resulted in a series of trial work placements within SMCT’s hospitality team at Springvale Botanical Cemetery and Bunurong Memorial Park.

“It’s not just about integrating people into the workforce, but about really understanding their potential, ensuring they receive appropriate training, and most importantly, providing a supportive community for them,” says Ashleen.

Wallara's role extends beyond the placement, offering invaluable advice to organisations about understanding people's unique abilities and customising job roles.

Although the hospitality work environment at SMCT was new and challenging for some of Wallara's open employment participants, the overall feedback was one of gratitude for the opportunity to learn professionally from each other in a supportive workplace – for both the participant and the employer.


Two women outdoors smiling at the camera.
From Wallara to welcoming smiles at SMCT, Carolyn is proud of Courtney’s growth in the hospitality sector.

A smooth pathway for Courtney

One of the Wallara work placements has resulted in ongoing employment at SMCT for Courtney Whalley. Courtney's transition into her role as Food and Beverage Attendant at Bunurong Memorial Park was smooth due to her skills and interest in working at a café, and the support system in place at both Wallara and SMCT.

A key player in this successful transition was Wallara’s Open Employment Advisor, Carolyn Bloch, who connected Courtney to SMCT.

"It was evident that Courtney had the skills and would be an ideal candidate for the position offered by SMCT," says Carolyn.

After working in the Disability Employment sector for many years, Carolyn carefully considers and screens potential employers with a focus on finding safe and supportive environments for her participants.

“The hospitality team was just the right fit for us. I could sense the team was supportive immediately. Challenges in Courtney's transition into her new role were minimal because there was clear communication and ongoing support from Courtney’s mother, SMCT and our team at Wallara,” says Carolyn.

Wallara will continue their support to Courtney in the placement by identifying upskilling opportunities and maintaining regular contact between Courtney and SMCT’s hospitality team for progress updates.

"Courtney is keen to help others and I believe with time that she may be able to assist new staff coming into the café team by explaining some of the regular tasks – as she does with her peers in the Wallara café,” says Carolyn.

The open employment pathway and support from Wallara have been instrumental in helping Courtney and others find fulfilling work that aligns with their skills and preferences.

When Carolyn approached her about the new open employment program, Courtney was eager to explore other employment opportunities beyond Wallara’s supported employment café.

"It's different to working at the Wallara café [supported employment] because I am serving people at Bunurong who I don’t know. So, I am always making new friends here," says Courtney.

SMCT’s Bunurong Memorial Park Venue Manager Bree Clarke says that Courtney has become an essential part of their team.

“Courtney has grown in confidence since starting this year. She enjoys learning every little detail of the job and is a dedicated member of our team. She has a great sense of humour as well,” says Bree.

Courtney's ability to work comfortably at the café reflects her growth and the success of trialling new inclusive employment strategies at SMCT.

Three people standing together in front of a cafe wall.
Courtney (centre) and SMCT Hospitality team members, Giovanni (left) and Tiger (right).

The road ahead for SMCT

The individualised support from Wallara helps many people successfully transition into the open employment pathway. Courtney’s story shows that positive outcomes can be achieved when people are given and matched with the right opportunities.

SMCT acknowledges the important value of team members who bring a unique focus to perform daily tasks with consistency and precision. Studies have highlighted that people with disabilities excel in roles that offer routine and stability. They find comfort and confidence in job tasks they have mastered in a safe and supportive environment.

By making our recruitment strategies more inclusive, particularly towards people with disabilities, SMCT can strengthen its dedicated workforce for our hospitality team and other areas such as horticulture and administration.

“Diversifying our recruitment methods allows us to not only give back to the community but also broaden our efforts in finding and attracting talent from all backgrounds,” says Ashleen.

SMCT’s collaboration with Wallara is an example of our commitment in this area. Recruiting and welcoming people of all abilities, ages and backgrounds helps us build a better organisation and a stronger community—one where everyone, irrespective of their capabilities, is treated with respect, dignity, and equality.

SMCT’s commitment is not limited to this partnership alone. We have collaborated with Diversity Council Australia, and are exploring avenues like The Field, a job board, as well as being proudly endorsed by Work 180, a platform promoting roles for women.

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