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27 years on the job

Irene Wallace

12 Jun | 2014

Irene Wallace spent 27 years in the job of helping people get jobs through The Salvation Army’s Education and Employment (E&E, formerly Employment Plus). She officially retired from her full-time role on 23 May, and used the opportunity to reflect on the many changes to the service—which has been at the cutting edge of employment since The Salvation Army opened New Zealand’s first Labour Bureau in 1892.

Irene first began working at Employment Plus in 1986 teaching literacy and numeracy skills, which is still a core component of E&E services. Helping learners achieve their goals is what kept Irene motivated for almost three decades.
‘Positive feedback from learners was perhaps the most rewarding experience that kept me working in this field. Sometimes this feedback didn’t occur until much later when they would call to thank me for teaching them to read and write, set goals, get their first job, assist them into further training and so on, and delightfully report what they were doing now.’

In working with refugees, who had been through horrific experiences, and in teaching literacy, Irene found poetry was a powerful tool, ‘At the end of the course each trainee selected a writing piece to be published,’ she said. ‘The issues they wrote about are still the same today, such as self-harming and suicide.’  

In 1988, Irene was at the forefront of developing the first literacy and numeracy course using computers as an aid in the training—a revolutionary new technology. It was a controversial move at the time, with many feeling that no one would enrol, and there were a couple of false starts. The first students complained the course was simply too hard. So Irene came up with the idea of individual learning plans ‘with small goals that the trainees could select and achieve in the initial short time frame’. Irene delivered this course for over 10 years, and individual learning goals became a foundation of The Salvation Army’s programmes.

Irene also recognised the importance of having fun as part of the students’ learning. ‘I became confident at rock climbing, abseiling and canoeing, learning alongside my trainees,’ she recalled.

Among her many achievements, Irene was instrumental in leading The Salvation Army to gain the first Literacy and Numeracy Draft Quality Standard, and setting up a programme for teen parents called Step Ahead.

In her final role, Irene became National Academic Manager. At her retirement celebration, Irene left her colleagues with these words: ‘I have always felt a real pride in working for The Salvation Army, as a Christian organisation making a difference to the lives of the disadvantaged … [and] I felt blessed to be part of a great team who work so hard to assist learners to achieve their goals.’

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