Reflections on a Stepping Into internship – eight years on

Sun 22 February 2015

The Stepping Into internship program leads to great outcomes, and offers a learning experience for both the intern and the supervisor.

AND’s Senior Relationship Manager Jason Barker was formerly a manager at Westpac, where he first took a Stepping Into intern into his team in 2007.

“It was a great introduction for me, as I had not had much experience of managing people with disability,” says Jason. “Like many others, I had questions about whether I needed to do anything differently, and about the abilities of the candidate.”

Jason found the interview process of short listed candidates somewhat challenging because he was quite focused on each person’s disability.  “As I talked through the internship with each of the shortlisted candidates, I found I was trying to second guess the challenges that each candidate would face.  I wondered whether some candidates had a disability, because I couldn’t see it.  I worried about how the organisation would accommodate any particular needs the person might have.  I wondered how my team would welcome and work with the person that I choose.  Quite unintentionally, and despite being briefed otherwise, I managed to do almost everything wrong!” 

Jason chose business student Joseph Abi-Khattar to undertake the internship with an operational risk and compliance team at Westpac, as he felt Joseph could do the role well and fit into the team. 

Joseph Abi-Kattar

Joseph says he was like many students – lacking in practical experience and unsure what industry to target. “Having a physical disability, it’s more challenging to enter the workforce without assistance, support and adjustments,” says Joseph. “They invested the time to teach me, and provided me with equal opportunities and adequate adjustments including access, with regular mentoring and follow-up.”

Looking back, Jason says that the process enabled him to increase his skills around diversity and inclusion. “We needed to make a couple of adjustments. At the time, I didn't know what a “reasonable adjustment” was, and didn’t realise that my business unit didn't have to pay! It was organised very seamlessly, and involved a desk and chair adjustment and a parking space.”

Jason introduced Joseph to the team, and Joseph’s workmates took a little time to work out the best way to work together.  “Once they’d done that, they were then off and running,” says Jason. “Joseph contributed really well to the team by doing a great job on a useful project. The whole experience really brought out an aspect of team work and diversity understanding that you can’t get from a lecture or an e-learning course.”

Joseph not only gained specific skills, but also gained the clarification about this future career path.  “I gained good analytical, technical and reporting skills,” he says. “I realized the banking industry is where I want to be.”

Joseph then gained a job at National Australia Bank, where he’s been working for six years. “I receive all the support I need and I successfully participate. The Stepping Into… Programme provided me with the required skills to go into the workforce. I’m happy that I’m productive. Work is fun, and grants you self-confidence and the affirmation that you are an asset and productive member of society.” 

For Jason, the experience was transformative. “For me, there was a fundamental change as I realised that including people with disability in the team was actually pretty easy and enormously worthwhile for everyone.  I ended up as Westpac’s sponsor for their Disability Action Plan, and eventually as a relationship manager at AND!”

For more information on Stepping Into, please contact Program Manager Stephanie Littlewood at stephanie.littlewood@and.org.au or 02 8270 9200.

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