For the last 25 years, Workpower in Western Australia has been creating opportunities for people with disability. It’s an organisation that does an extraordinary job of making a difference to those who benefit from its support. And while it provides traditional support services, it also operates a range of social enterprises across Perth, employing over 300 people with disability. One of these enterprises is Workpower’s Environmental Services division, led by manager Alex Growden. Not only does Alex and his team make a great environmental impact (tick), they’re also boosting the organisation’s bottom line and helping to change lives (tick, tick).
Back 12 years ago when Alex joined Workpower, things were a little more basic than they are now. “The division wasn’t big – there were two staff and one ute and we worked out of a shed – but from there we grew the business.” Alex likes what he does, and is the first to acknowledge that he was very lucky to get into this industry.Less
“I grew up on a wheat and sheep farm near Merredin”, which is almost due east of Perth by 260 kilometres. “Growing up on the farm I spent a lot of time in the bush before going to boarding school and then taking up a trade as a commercial wall and ceiling fixer. But I got out when I saw what was happening to the older blokes who were pretty banged about: I didn’t want to hit my sixties and have my body drop out on me.” Alex took a two-year working holiday around Australia, which gave him a new perspective on the environment. “You see a lot of country that you don’t get to see otherwise. By the time I was heading back to Perth, I’d decided to get into the environmental sector, enrolling in a diploma of conservation and land management at Murdoch TAFE.” As luck would have it, local organisation Workpower was looking to grow its environmental services business. Alex made the connection with them, and the rest is history.
You only have to look at the number of staff – now 15 – and vehicle numbers – a fleet of eight – to see that the business has grown enormously since then. The client list says the same: Workpower is involved in some of the largest projects in Western Australia, producing high end green spaces for Alcoa, Boral, CPB, FMG, John Holland and the Georgiou Group.They have well and truly moved on from the original shed.
The recent Malaga Interchange on the Reid Highway Duplication is a good example of what they get up to: it’s a classic four-way interchange with ramps and batters. Co-incidentally, the Workpower team had been contracted directly by Western Australia’s Main Roads to do the site’s seed collection before construction. They then won the landscape and revegetation contract from the project’s construction engineers, the Georgiou Group.
As is usually the case, weed control was the first step. “We were dealing with broadleaf, grass and woody weeds – Acacias introduced from the eastern states – spot spraying them with glyphosate from 600 litre tanks mounted on land cruisers.” It took three weeks and multiple applications to get the site ready for planting, and the weed control will continue every three months over the next three years.
Alex’s success is good news for other areas of the organisation. Workpower’s wholesale nursery, managed by Alex’s colleague Brett Darovic, employs people with disability, and is often called on to supply the plant stock for Alex’s projects. Most recently, the nursery supplied over 100,000 seedlings for this contract – amongst them, local provenance Banksia, Eucalypt, Calothamnus and Kennedia species. These were planted by a small army of Workpower personnel. “Prior to the tube stock installation, we used hydro-mulching and direct seeding to begin the revegetation process. This ensured that we could cover the whole site, despite the steep gradient of the limestone batters.”
Since then, the project is looking good. “We’ve had good rainfall so the areas of direct seeding have been a huge success,” notes Alex. “We are seeing slower establishment on the batters where there is exposed limestone but we expect the hydro-mulching process will show results within two years.” As for the tube stock, it’s all looking healthy. At the three year mark, when the site is handed back to Main Roads to manage and maintain, the aim is to have less than 5% weed coverage over the site as well as meeting the specifications concerning diversity and density of the plantings.
It’s projects like these that help Alex to realise the difference he’s making, not only to the lives of people with disability but also to the environment. “I made the right decision. There is so much more satisfaction to be gained here, rehabilitating and revegetating landscapes, and also as a manager I get to mentor and train others. It’s challenging and very rewarding.”
Having broad expertise and capacity is a great combo. There’s not a lot the Workpower teams don’t do, and do well. Like these coastal revegetation works, above. Or (below, as you scroll), translocating Xanthoreaaustralis prior to a site being cleared; managing weed control in the goldfields; coppicing Murray River Gum plantations to produce Koloa ‘browse’ for Perth Zoo; and designing and implementing this ten—month-old wetland planting.