This month, The Salvation Army celebrates 40 years of its Education and Employment programme. But it’s about more than just getting a job, it’s about giving people a ‘sense of somebody-ness’, says National Director Gregory Fortuin.
Everyone who has been part of shaping Education and Employment (E&E) has their favourite story to tell.
Something as seemingly simple as getting a driver’s licence can change a person’s life. National Director Gregory Fortuin was recently at a graduation for a drivers’ programme, held in conjunction with local police—who were on stage as part of celebrations.
‘There was a 50-something woman graduating who got up and said, “I’ve driven without a licence all my life”,’ laughs Gregory. ‘T en she turned to the police, and said, “Youse fellas caught me three times and said I either engage with the justice system or the Army. I didn’t really want to go to church, but I didn’t want to go to jail, so I chose the Army. “But, today, I stand here for the first time in my life, with a driver’s licence, and with the mentor who has been amazing—not just in helping me with the driving, but who helped me get out of a violent relationship”.
‘We will never properly be able to measure the impact E&E has on people’s lives,’ reflects Gregory. ‘I get up in the morning because we are transforming lives. Employment is, of course, a fi scal issue—it helps people out of poverty and helps people to put food on the table—but it’s also an emotional and spiritual issue which has to do with people’s sense of self-worth and their sense of somebody-ness.’
Another stand-out memory for Gregory was another graduation—this time of an innovative Dunedin programme for teen parents who had been forced to leave school when they got pregnant. The programme wrapped support around both the babies and their parents. ‘At the graduation, one of the student’s dads came to me and said, “Mr Salvation Army”—as he called me—“we were so disappointed when our daughter got pregnant and we didn’t know what to do. But here she stands today, with all of us being proud of her, because of the Army.” It’s not just about academic achievement, it’s about catering for the whole person, including the baby, the mother and the wider whānau,’ reflects Gregory.
The teen parent programme was the brainchild of Irene Wallace, an E&E tutor for almost 30 years—arguably its longest serving employee. She ‘got sick of being forced to turn away young mums’, just because they did not meet the government funding criteria. So, with the help of the Army, she came up with another solution—and the programme became an E&E success story.
But her own favourite memory is surprisingly bitter-sweet: ‘There was a young man who I had worked with for over a year. He finally gained employment and I never heard from him until two years later, when he phoned to say he had lost his job. I commiserated with him, but he said, “No, that’s not what I’m ringing about. When I re-enrolled at WINZ they started filling out the forms because it was noted I was illiterate. I wanted to thank you, because I felt so good when I told them that I was capable of filling out my own forms now”.’
In its 40 years, E&E has trained over 80,000 people. Last year alone, ‘we helped transform 2047 lives,’ says Gregory.
But the social issue of employment has always been part of The Salvation Army’s DNA. In his seminal work, In Darkest England and The Way Out, William Booth detailed a comprehensive plan to assist the poor, homeless and unemployed. In 1890, The Salvation Army’s first Labour Bureau was set up in the UK. Part of the Army’s employment plan included sending unemployed people to the burgeoning colony of New Zealand to find gainful work.
Over here, the Army’s Labour Bureau was set up in 1893. But it was not until 1978 that the programme, now known as E&E, was formally constituted.
Its first centre was in Tauranga—which in 1978 had New Zealand’s highest unemployment rate. The Salvation Army partnered with government to provide a wage for unemployed people to help out the ‘elderly, sick and the housebound’ with maintenance work, gardening and other helpful activities.
It proved to be a win-win scheme. On its one year anniversary, War Cry reported: ‘One senior citizen expressed the general feeling of all those helped by the workers when she said, “We couldn’t have managed without them”’.
The programme quickly spread throughout the country and evolved to provide training as well as work experience. By 1997, the Army had become the largest private training provider in New Zealand.
From the beginning, innovation was woven into the fabric of E&E—it was one of the earliest adopters of computers for learning. When Irene began working for E&E in 1986, she travelled with two large ‘poly computers’ used to teach reading and writing. ‘Using computers was a “carrot” to assist learners to develop their literacy skills,’ she recalls—no one could have guessed that computer literacy would become almost as essential as written literacy.
Another innovation resulted in a visit from then-Prime Minister Helen Clark. Carpet Court, in Dunedin, was struggling to find suitable employees, even after advertising extensively.
‘So we developed a programme to recruit suitable young people and offer the required support. Carpet Court would provide four months’ work experience and offer an apprenticeship, if suitable, at the end,’ explains Irene. ‘The manager said he wouldn’t have employed any of them from their initial interview, but was extremely impressed with how they had developed. This demonstrated how many young people need support and to be taught what is expected of them in the workplace.’ In the end, all five trainees were offered apprenticeships. So successful was the scheme that news of it reached the ears of Helen Clark, who asked if she could present the certificates. ‘Helen was delightful, congratulating the boys and chatting away with their proud parents,’ laughs Irene.
Today, E&E continues to help those who have been forgotten by our education system and, as a result, have found themselves outside the workforce—from young people, to refugees, to those leaving prison.
Youth programmes help young people with no qualifications gain NCEA and NZQA qualifications. Retail and cookery courses offer on-the-job training at two Salvation Army ‘Booth Cafes’. Training-for-work programmes help people overcome barriers to employment. There are ESOL courses, and practical skills courses—such as bus driving and building.
The aim is always to help people get to the place where they can help themselves. E&E has maintained its innovative spirit, constantly finding creative solutions for the complex and diverse needs of our people.
One scheme, in Northland, assisted a group of ex-prisoners into employment planting kūmara, but a lack of transport was creating problems. ‘So we provided a lease van. They all chipped in to pay for the van and chose who would be the leader—it’s a system of peer monitoring. The senior worker picks up the first person, and then they pick up the next person, and it’s, “Bro, you’re not going to lay in bed today, we’re all depending on you getting in this van so we can get on and pick up the next one”. It’s been a tremendous success story,’ says Gregory.
Yes, at times reality bites—the lease van was once used for criminal activity. But, for people in the process of rehabilitation, it was one step back on a long journey forward.
Another recent innovation, in partnership with The Warehouse and Variety, has matched mentors with individual young people, helping them with all the things a tutor can’t do in the classroom. ‘The mentors might help the young person go to a dentist appointment, or do lunch, or take them to the Family Store to get some clothes—all the stuff that interferes with them actually being able to turn up and be a diligent student,’ explains Gregory.
‘We can’t just put them in a classroom and stop them from drinking in the park, and say we’re making a difference. We actually have to help them progress. There are no silver bullets and sometimes progress takes a long time.’
Sometimes the issues are societal—such as the chronically high unemployment rates in Northland. Again, a creative solution had to be found: Northland E&E approached Work and Income in Hawke’s Bay, offering to find fruit pickers for the local farmers. E&E provided transport and accommodation, and workers were able to come down during the week to pick fruit, then go home again in the weekend. Irene sums up the ongoing importance of E&E: ‘We are giving our learners a chance to plan a future they may not have thought possible,’ she says.
For The Salvation Army, employment services have always been about more than just getting a job. In 1983, War Cry wrote: ‘Why is The Salvation Army involved in helping the unemployed? That problem is outside of religion! No! A thousand times no! If religion doesn’t relate to people in every phase of need, our religion is worthless. It has always been The Salvation Army’s philosophy that the Lord Jesus Christ came to save the whole person—body, mind and spirit’.
Today, this is as true as ever. ‘There is not going to be any solution that doesn’t have a spiritual component. The Army should openly ensure that the people we engage with know that we do what we do because of our faith in God,’ asserts Gregory.
‘With our clients, the first thing we have to do is get into their life situation and see what has caused them to get stuck— and we have to get in the mud with them. We need to take off our suits and get into the mud and push the car out of the mud, instead of telling them to put their foot on the accelerator and change their attitude—which only spins the wheels and digs the hole deeper.’
That’s why E&E supports people like the ex-prisoners for a full year after they have found work: ‘Once you’ve got them the job, that’s not the end of it. We go to the employer and we say, “There will be challenges, but don’t fire them until you’ve called us”.
‘And we do say to the person who has just been employed, “Don’t quit until you’ve called us, because there will be issues that make you frustrated and angry, but we will walk that journey with you”.’ For Gregory, the mission of E&E can be summed up in the words of Jesus, ‘I tell you the truth, [whatever you did for] one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me,’ (Matthew 25:40).
‘We know God by knowing the people that need our help— which means the better relationships we have with them, the more we get to know the heart of God.’
Changing Society Through Work
From its earliest times, helping people into employment has been at the heart of The Salvation Army. William Booth, in his famous ‘Horse Cab Charter’, observed that the horses pulling London cabs in the 1800s were provided with food, shelter and work—and he was determined to ensure that these most basic of needs were provided to men and women too.
One of the Army’s most famous early enterprises was establishing its own match factory, in order to fight a dangerous and underpaid industry, where workers suffered a horrendous condition known as ‘phossy jaw’ from the toxic fumes. On 11 May 1891, General Booth opened a factory that made matches without the use of phosphorous and paid workers fair wages.
These ‘Darkest England’ matches were a hit, and changed the entire industry.
By Ingrid Barratt (c) (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 6 October 2018, p7-9 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.