SEEing a future of job possibilities

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Department of Labour’s Supported Employment Enterprises (SEE) is helping to improve the employment prospects for people with disabilities. 

Established after World War II to provide employment opportunities for veterans returning from the war, SEE now has 12 factories that operate in seven of the nine provinces and employ nearly 1 000 people with disabilities.

However, the factories have the capacity to employ at least another 3 000 people, opening up opportunities for those who are often overlooked by employees because of the nature of their disabilities. 

The ownership of SEE factories is vested in the State through the Department of Labour, with SEE trading under the name Service Products. 

The factories’ manufacturing capacity includes 3 000 different product types and currently their customers include hospitals, the police and schools. 

Its products range from furniture (wooden and metal for offices, schools and domestic use), textiles (garments, bed linen, protective clothing, hospital and surgical garb - with printed or embroidered logos), metal work (shaped and welded construction), leather work, canvas work, book binding (beautifully crafted leather binding with gold lettering) and screen printing (printing onto promotional products, e.g. T-shirts, logos, caps, linen, flags, bunting, banners). 

Changing lives 

SEE’s mandate is to create employment with dignity for people whose disabilities make it difficult for them to find employment in the open labour market. 

There are about 4.7 million people with disabilities in South Africa. About 10% to 15% probably require an environment such as the Supported Employment Enterprises. 

One of the participants in SEE is Dennis Matsepe, a young, entrepreneurially-minded businessman, whose eyes shine with passion when he expounds his unique portfolio -- Business Development for Supported Employment Enterprises (SEE). 

Matsepe says his job is to “sell a story” and he envisions SEE’s many offerings in the prestigious offices and hallways of South Africa’s main banks and top businesses.

SEE works closely with Productivity SA, constantly conducting work study reviews of SEE manufacturing processes in line with SABS [South African Bureau of Standards] certified norms and standards. 

The implementation of approved SEE norms and standards is maintained throughout the factories countrywide, coupled with the upskilling of key personnel involved in production, planning and execution. 

SEE has been part of the Manufacturing Indaba landscape for two years and the impact that this non-profit organisation has had on all those that have encountered its Ubuntu-minded management and dedicated employees has been heart-warming and inspirational. 

The unique aspect of SEE is that although each manufacturing operation is overseen by industry supervisors and manned by employees with disabilities, this is not the atmosphere when walking around these factories. It’s ‘business as usual’, and everyone, regardless of affliction, contributes with pride. 

Social workers are hired as permanent staff members and Matsepe noted that over time, the “disabled” aspect of the person disappears. 

It’s not just about “making furniture”, Matsepe says, as the by-product of gainful and dignified employment inevitably translates to new-found confidence and self-esteem in each SEE employee. 

Andrew Bafana Moeketsi, a SEE employee, was involved in a horrific hijacking in 2003, which left him shot in both legs and in the abdomen. 

He was hospitalised with severe injuries for seven months and one of his legs were amputated. Moeketsi presents as a well-dressed, inspiring and articulate young man. He adores his only child and is very grateful and proud of his skill as a finishing sander in the wood section of SEE. 

He believes “everything in life happens for a reason” and one of his aims in life is to “become a motivational speaker and empower” other people facing similar challenges. 

He wants to create a foundation that would enable people like himself, especially in rural areas, to have access to inexpensive mobility equipment such as crutches, prostheses and wheelchairs. 

Without this access, people can remain housebound and indefinitely bedridden. Currently, Moeketsi is hampered by poor mobility equipment, which includes crutches that have seen better days, and desperately needs a prosthesis but has been unable to procure one due to the very high cost.  

Louise Badenhorst is another exceptional person that makes up the remarkable setting of SEE. She is a talented, computer digitised textile designer, pattern maker and fashion designer. 

The winner and finalist of many awards in her 36 years and recently married, Badenhorst has Friedreich's ataxia, which is an autosomal recessive inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. The disease is progressive, and ultimately a wheelchair is required for mobility. 

Badenhorst describes herself as “future orientated, directing my insight towards understanding myself and others… and allowing my contributions to speak for themselves”. 

Another employee, Hannelie Roos, was left with traumatic brain injury after a head-on collision. She is about to retire after 38 years at SEE. Roos has only praise for her work environment and is reluctantly leaving SEE. 

Building an inclusive economy 

In South Africa, the government’s national agenda includes the active participation of people with disabilities in the economy of the country and this is in line with international initiatives. 

However, this endeavour is more than just another government initiative but a well-honed unique eco-system that takes care of itself, pays all its own expenses, staff and adds value by increasing and contributing to the manufacturing sector as well. 

Currently, 100% of the workers in the factories fit the profile of having physical, emotional or psychological disabilities. 

SEE is a non-profit organisation and people with disabilities are its sole beneficiaries.  The business is learning-oriented and Matsepe proudly notes that “the people are disabled... They do all the work and if given a chance, can do anything!”  

Matsepe also sees the business as a skills-development initiative, where some of the more able people have left to work in the open market place, and contribute with their special brand of excellent ethics and are considered to be skilled, loyal, hardworking and punctual.

The SEE factories, under the leadership of Matsepe and rest of the inspired and compassionate management, drive these manufacturing entities as efficient outlets, while economically empowering people with disabilities. 

Matsepe is very proud of the fact that SEE supplies the furniture to its flagship project, 700 schools nationwide. 

In the rural areas, SEE has created another 1 100 jobs indirectly. SEE transports the school desks and local carpenters assemble these desks for the schools, and this outsourcing framework has now created a sustainable eco-system where school desks are repaired as well by these local craftsmen. 

Matsepe says SEE can custom design, create finishings, fittings and accessories to meet a client’s requirements. Given the business and sales orders, SEE can deliver the goods, and in so doing, continues to make a significant difference to the lives of these remarkable people. –