Andrea Wayman, CEO, ELITE Supported Employment

ERSA’s Outstanding Contribution to the Sector Winner 2023

From business guru, government advisor, and skills champion, to avid knitter, party planner and occasional office cleaner, Andrea Wayman wears many different hats in her role as CEO of ELITE Supported Employment. 35 years in making, her career has seen her establish five social enterprises supporting disabled and disadvantaged people into work; lead a 150-strong team of talented staff working across 16 counties in Wales; and shape policy around disability employment at the highest level.
Here we ask Andrea about why and how she’s made such an outstanding contribution to our sector:


Where does your passion for inclusive employment originate?

I grew up in the 60’s and had three disabled uncles; two had learning disabilities, one was also schizophrenic, another had epilepsy. There was no welfare to work back then and everyone contributed to the household. My uncles worked full time in manufacturing jobs. They’re still my inspiration today.

I come from an enterprising family so setting up a business was probably inevitable. My father had a small construction business and at 15 I was typing up tenders. I learnt many valuable lessons from him – mainly to accept that some you win, some you loose!


ELITE SE celebrates 30 years in business in 2024. How did it all begin?

I worked in a college, encouraging local employers to give work experience to disabled students and saw an advert to set up a charity for a working party of parents and carers.

I came into it with a notepad and pen and took it from there.

There was little expectation back then that disabled people should be in paid employment and no ambition for young disabled people leaving education. I disagreed. I began with people who had been on work experience for multiple years – gently persuading their employers to pay them a fair wage. Then we went to day centres and schools to encourage the staff to see people’s potential.


Where does social enterprise fit within ELITE?

We operate five social enterprises. They are run as viable businesses but anything we produce in them is a byproduct. Their purpose is to create jobs and training opportunities. They’re not glorified day centres or year-in-year-out work placements. We want people to move along and progress; into open employment, or paid roles with us where they can build more hours or progress up the ladder. Transition is key to everything we do.

The businesses have also enabled me to influence changes in procurement regulations, ensuring social enterprises can tender for bids competitively – again, enabling us to create more jobs.


Funding streams are notoriously changeable in our industry. As a small provider, how do you secure ongoing funding?

My father always taught me: ‘Find out what your customer really wants’. If I know a tender is up for renewal, I talk to the people who will be working with the procurement teams to understand what changes or new services are needed. It could take two years before they’re procured, but getting ready and understanding the need gets you ahead of the curve.

I also try to be really diverse in where we source funding… local authorities, Children in Need, lottery, DWP, ex-European funding. Anything I could match fund. It’s important that if the plug gets pulled on one thing, it doesn’t close you down.


How do you influence policy on a larger scale?

With a smile on my face! I consider myself a nice thorn in people’s side, gently reminding, suggesting, chipping away. Enthusing people is important; changes can’t be against the grain or they won’t happen. Piloting new approaches, showing what works, can feed into policy changes and become the norm, especially when leaders see it’s a good idea and take ownership of it.

[Andrea co-chairs the regional Access to Work group in Wales and is the vice chair of the Welsh Government’s Ministerial Advisory Board for Economic Affairs, as well as contributing to various disability working groups.]


How does ERSA membership benefit you?

We needed to be aware of the national picture as we grew – ERSA brings that to our doorstep. Notifications of meetings, programmes, funding… we don’t have time to search that out for ourselves. We’d have been left so far behind without ERSA; I doubt we’d even exist now.

ERSA helps us build sector wide relationships and introduced us to all sorts of different partners, especially DWP. It’s also hugely reassuring that we can raise policy issues and concerns and know they’ll have the weight of others behind them too. That our voices have influence and can bring about change.


What has been the impact of winning your award?

To get that recognition in a room full of peers was absolutely amazing. I was reeling.

Social media was ablaze and I’ve received so many lovely comments since. I was humbled by it but it’s also regenerated us – reinforced what we’ve achieved over the years, all the highlights of my career.

I remember thinking ‘We’ve arrived’ when we won a company ERSA award many years ago. And although this is a personal award this time, I still hugely credit my team for making it happen.


What’s the secret to your success?

Being hands-on, pitching-in, and treating everyone with respect, always. By understanding people’s wants and motivations, their frustrations, and challenges, when people come to me with a ‘I can’t do that because…’, I can gently explain ‘well actually you can, or what about trying it this way.’


You plan to retire in 2024. What do you consider to be your legacy?

I hope it’s about changing people’s mindsets. Whether it’s a disabled person, someone care-experienced or an ex-offender, I want them, and everyone around them, to believe in what they CAN do, rather than what they can’t.