True Stories: Martin Wren – Slide into disability work after illness

Martin-Wren_NOVAMore than 23 years ago I slid into disability work after a debilitating illness left me unable to hold down a full time job. My previous roles had all been in sales and marketing and the only reason I considered working in the sector was my inability to work for more than 4-5 hours, a couple of days a week.

However, by the time I had found a decent doctor and had made a complete recovery I had fallen hopelessly in love with my new work and my career has flowed on from that.

I began working as a Vocational Trainer for TAFE NSW in a program called ‘Transition’ (which is different to our present day ‘Transition to Work’ program) that brought together the Special Education Units of 8 high schools with TAFE, to provide pre-vocational training for ‘soon to be’ school leavers.

I was involved with that program for about 2.5 years and while it was great for providing usable work skills to students, there was a lack of specialist employment service providers so the majority of my students were at risk of losing the skills they had developed as part of the program. I discovered that the answer was NOVA Employment and in 1990 I became both Chief Executive and the only staff member!

Over the years, NOVA has won all sorts of awards and I have been asked to travel extensively in Australia and overseas to talk about what we do. These opportunities are really a reflection of the ability and achievements of our job seekers and my staff.

I believe that this is a time of unequalled opportunity for workers in disability services. It’s easy to focus on negatives, on what we don’t have, or how things would be X times better if only…The truth is that this is a much better and far more exciting period than 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, and possibly more importantly, now is a time that we can have influence.

In this regard I have a tremendous privilege in being able to act on both my own ideas and to be inspired by others. In the past 12 months that’s resulted in NOVA taking a particularly hard look at how we can improve our support of people who have experienced psychiatric disability.

As part of this, I’ve been exposed to the work of American disability advocate Dale Dileo, and together we have developed a first class staff training program for NOVA. More than 20 staff have been trained as WRAP facilitators (an evidence based recovery program) and we’ve expanded our program for Transition to Work students to include nationally recognised qualifications. Working on this project has been inspirational.

NOVA has also just finished a large promotional campaign with a Focus on Ability theme. This included a short film competition that raised the profile of job seekers that have a disability, across NSW.

I can’t wait for the next phase for NOVA. Based on past experience I may well be older, heavier and balder but I will have the chance to be part of a truly exciting sector that, on a daily basis, improves the opportunities and increases the number of choices offered to people with disability.

The people that I have worked with over many years have been my teachers and inspiration and I count the opportunities they have given me as an enormous privilege. I have been able to work with some incredible people and I’m proud to receive their vote of trust, more than anything else.

Martin Wren

Chief Executive Officer

NOVA Employment


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