AHEAD of an APM breakfast for businesses in Rockhampton, The Morning Bulletin has spoken to employer Bert Rybarczyk about how his work with apprentices is dispelling myths around employees with disabilities.
LET'S be clear from the outset.
Caleb Jaenke had an OP 3 and he excels at TAFE.
He may be eligible for a full disability pension, but that was never going to be.
Caleb is disadvantaged in some ways, but he's not disabled.
His parents know it, his boss knows it and most important, Caleb knows it.
The 19-year-old third-year apprentice diesel fitter works with Bert Rybarczyk at Capricorn Total Repairs in Rockhampton.
"He wanted to work and not be on the pension, and that excites me," Bert said.
The two first met after a conversation between Bert and "a lovely grandmother who was deeply concerned about her grandson".
"I said 'you'd better come over and have a cup of coffee then'," Bert said.
"In that first interview we probably got three words out of him, other than that his mother and grandmother did all his talking, but I saw potential in the boy."
At 64, Bert has trained about 20 apprentices in his time, five of them classed as having disabilities.
It's a sticking point with Bert who says it's past time to move away from the stigma. "Yes, he's at a disadvantage, but Caleb is very able," Bert says.
"He's very good at what he does and as a third year, he's about where a third year should be."
It's third time lucky for Caleb, whose first two jobs fell over after struggles with his mental health and bullying.
It's not something he's ever likely to encounter working with Bert Rybarczyk who has no tolerance for bullies.
"I won't tolerate any maliciousness," he said.
"Caleb can sometimes be the brunt of a practical joke, like anyone else.
"If he doesn't put my tools away we'll hide his, but I won't tolerate bullying or name-calling.
"When he's finished, I want to take him back there so he can give them the bird and say 'look, I'm a fully qualified mechanic', but we won't do that. I'm not that sort of person."
The organisation that supports Bert and Caleb in their journey together is APM Disability Employment Services and Bert says they've been "very, very good".
Next Wednesday he will be a guest speaker at an APM breakfast event designed to explain what support and financial subsidies are there for businesses wanting to employ a disadvantaged staff member.
He says while there's funding there, you don't do it for money, there just isn't enough of it. It's a love job and he does what he does for two selfish reasons.
"It's a commitment and the time involved makes it difficult, but the satisfaction of seeing him achieve...
"But also, I'm going to have an employee that will still be here when I'm in a box.
"When my sons take over, Caleb will still be here.
"I'm very passionate about training. The youth are our future and if we don't train them, what have we got? We've got nothing.
"The next time I do this, I'll have a young man who is trained up and can help ... yes, I'll do it again and I'll keep doing it.
"It's time consuming and frustrating, but the loyalty, devotion and dedication you get back, there's nothing like it."
FINDING ANSWERS WHEN IT SEEMS NO-ONE IS LISTENING
IT'S a big vision and a local initiative to generate 30 jobs for people with a disability, but APM Disability Services is committed to doing what it can.
Bert Rybarczyk believes it can and should happen, but it's going to take political change.
"This is something that can be managed with dedication from the employer, if they're prepared to put the time in - it's a commitment and there ain't no money in it," he said.
"The big thing here is that we've got young men and women who are being categorised as disabled and they're not.
"The way I see it, is that they do things differently and it's all about how we manage that.
"But the economy in Rockhampton is poor right now, we haven't got much happening... we've got some very forward-thinking people here, but no-one's listening."
Bert isn't the kind of bloke to look at why something can't be done but he says it's time politicians start making some decisions.
"We had Turnbull here the other day, but nothing's going to happen from it... we've got politicians who are being dictated to, but there's no decisions.
"We've got people who are pushing hard. They're quoting on jobs, but they're being beaten by southern companies who are prepared to do it for nothing.
"Or they're winning jobs but not making enough money to expand and put people on.
"There's not the extra time and resources needed to spend with people who are going to take that extra time," he said.
That, he believes, is unless there's big political change and incentives to put on three or four people, along with someone to specifically manage those people.
"That would work, you can't do it any other way.
"It's a commitment and the work here in Rocky is just too sporadic.
"We need a real and positive approach."
- Wednesday, May 24
- Dreamtime Cultural Centre, Parkhurst
- 7.15am for 7.30am start
- Cooked breakfast
- RSVP email@example.com
- Info 0428 244 113
Pictured: Brendan Rybarczyk, Caleb Jaenke and Bert Rybarczyk. Photo: The Morning Bulletin