Making employment a reality for people with learning disabilities

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit The Castle School in Newbury, one of three sites where an amazing BIG-funded project is taking place.

When I Grow Up is a 4 year project that aims to raise the aspirations of people with learning disabilities, their parents, teachers and local employers around employment.

It was great to see how committed and on-board The Castle School is about the programme and the changes they were already making. Over the past two years Jill Davies, Research Programme Manager and my colleague at the Foundation for People With Learning Disabilities, has regularly been visiting the school running workshops, meeting with the parents and pupils and teachers as well as connecting with local employers.

On the day Jill ran sessions with two classes, asking them to think about what jobs there were in the local area and what skills and qualities you would need for those jobs. The pupils all seemed really engaged and Jill made the sessions fun by incorporating interactive elements.

At lunch we met with members of the school’s employment cross-project team, developed by this project to act as a local group of champions to encourage other businesses to provide jobs and work placements to students with learning disabilities in the area.

Those who attended consisted of Jill, teachers from the school and two staff from Waitrose who had been instrumental in supporting work experience and paid work at local Waitrose stores. I was impressed at how supportive and motivated the Waitrose staff were to not only carry on supporting young people with work experience placements, but also to try and encourage other local employers to acknowledge their Corporate Social Responsibility and support these young people too.

There are plans next year to engage further with local employers now that Waitrose can demonstrate the benefits of the programme, not only to the students but to the company too. One past pupil from the school now has a paid job at Waitrose and has built up his time from working five hours a week to working nearly every day over half term. There had been challenges to overcome to make his placement a success but you could see the pride from the Waitrose staff about how well he was doing. Having the knowledge and commitment from the organisation about how to guide this pupil meant that he was able to develop and become a valued member of the team.

Examples like this will hopefully continue to become more common as the project continues and there is a real feeling in The Castle School that long after the project ends in 2016, the learning and connections will continue.

In 2010/11 only 6.6% of people with learning disabilities were estimated to be in paid work. We want this to change and for people with learning disabilities to be seen by employers for their potential benefit to the organisation. We hope the learning from this project will help bridge this gap and can be rolled out in other areas.

To find out more about this project visit our website or contact fpld@learningdisabilities.org.uk