Rise issue 13 cover

Jewellery to jobs

Two and a half years ago Melissa Edmonds-Whale was managing a jewellery shop. Since then she has been selling jobs and a future to hundreds of unemployed as a case manager.

What have your skills of selling and customer service brought to Work and Income?

As case managers, we don’t have a lot of time with each client so we’ve got to make the most of that contact. I think my experience talking to people, quickly finding out their needs and selling them on a product has paid off, because I can use the same approach with clients.

What do you like best about case management?

Seeing the joy on a client's face when they get employment is awesome. We have a bell in the office and if a person gets a job, I tell them to give that bell a big old ring because their accomplishment is worth celebrating.

The team I work with is amazing. It means that whatever work gets thrown at us, we all pull together and get it done. It's having great support around you.


You work a lot with unemployed young people - how do you find that?

I love working with youth. Some are really onto it – wise beyond their years, some need guidance and there are some who just can’t be bothered getting out there.
I think LSV (Limited Service Volunteer) is amazing.

I like to see the kids before they go and when they come back – the positive change is always impressive.

I am always straight up with young people and I tell them the reality of depending on a benefit isn’t fun compared to the rewards of working. I tell them as long as they are out there actively looking for work, we’ll get along fine – and if not – I’ll be on them like Zorro.

You’ve got to be honest with them, but you’ve also got to make sure you don’t strip them of their mana.

What is the most important thing for you about working with the unemployed?

Getting people to want to get a job is important and there might be some powerful reasons behind their lack of success. If it’s a lack of skills – the answer is easy – get them some training. If it’s a lack of self worth – that will take longer.

Spending time with someone before they go onto a benefit is so important – because that’s when you find out if there are underlying problems and you can work on them straight away.

Once they are on a benefit, any needs not picked up beforehand may take longer to detect.

As a facilitator of Work Seminars, you are seen regionally as a leader in your field - do you have any advice for others?

I am always direct, I give clients the real picture and I give them options. I do know that life is tough for some people and I take them as they present at the time.

I really enjoyed my trip to Auckland earlier this year to share best practice. In this job, you have got to be a sponge and soak up all the learning available. In the end it’s the clients who benefit.