BLOWN AWAY:   Lexie Ingram, who has Down syndrome, has found her dream job   at a hairdressing salon owned by Shelley Gehrke.
BLOWN AWAY: Lexie Ingram, who has Down syndrome, has found her dream job at a hairdressing salon owned by Shelley Gehrke. Cordell Richardson

Ipswich employer's different take on hiring pays off

LEXIE Ingram's sneak peek into the hairdressing industry has been a godsend for her employer.

The 22-year-old, who has Down syndrome, fulfilled her dream to find work in the industry against all the odds.

At one stage in her life she was told that she wouldn't even walk, let alone make her own way in life.

Ipswich hairdresser Shelley Gehrke spent a long 18 months actively seeking an employee of differing abilities to complement her team at Peak A Do, on Warwick Rd.

"With a large clientele base of all ethnicity, ages and abilities who loyally patronise Peak-A-Do, I was looking forward to making a difference not only for the lucky employee but also for the clients with similar life challenges, letting them see that we respect and encourage workers regardless of their capabilities," she said.

"Lexie has been working two four-hour shifts a week with a view to giving her as much independence as possible.

"Every week she is getting better.

"This is a great opportunity for local business owners and managers to review their business not only from a financial perspective but also on an employment front.

"What can we do as employers to help those less fortunate? How could we give people a chance who are often overlooked due to their disabilities that may just be the perfect fit for your business?"

Miss Gehrke said after reaching out to all sorts of employment agencies, making months of phones calls to find the perfect fit for the position and with no response from many agencies, she struck gold.

Mylestones Employment called her back with Ms Ingram's details.

Ms Ingram has come on in leaps and bounds since taking the job in April, working two days a week and becoming a favourite of the clientele in the process.

She says her favourite part of working at Peak A Do is washing hair and folding the towels.

"The response from our customers has been amazing," Miss Gehrke said.

"We have a large Down syndrome clientele already, and I wanted to do something to help them feel like they are just one of us. Everyone has been great about it."

Few would be happier than Ms Ingram's parents, who doctors told early on that their daughter might never walk independently.

"Lexie's family had resigned themselves to the fact that Lexie may not be offered employment in a regular form, but they still wanted to instil a positive work ethic," Miss Gehrke said.

Ms Igram took over a candle business from her friend and support worker Hannah Imhoff in 2006.

The products are also stocked in the salon.