Supporting young people with disabilities into employment – Part 2

Part 2 – Finding the right opportunity

Work experience not only helps develop skills for future employment but it also raises the expectation that we should be doing something when we grow up.

“Back in 2002, I remember doing my first work experience in school. I spent two weeks at a travel agents stacking holiday brochures wishing I was the one jetting off to some exotic location as opposed to working here. What I took away from the travel agents experience was confidence, communication skills, work place etiquette and most importantly understanding what I definitely didn’t want to do!”

This blog is all about stressing the importance of work experiences and providing some practical tips on how to find the right job further down the line.

Every young person, regardless of disability, has the right to a work experience placement. At times we see young people with disabilities having work experience within the school whilst their non-disabled classmates go out to local employers. We must strive to ensure that everyone tries a real-life, employer-led placement.

All employment experiences must be relevant and not set the person up to fail. Complete steps 1 and 2 on previous blog first to understand skills and qualities then use a Job Preference Checklist to identify which environments will work for the young person, for example:

  • Indoors/outdoors
  • Moving around/Standing still
  • Small/Big work area
  • Numbers/Words
  • Environment: Noisy/busy/relaxed
  • Customer-facing or lone working
  • Use public transport or not
  • Do a workplace visit

Always discuss the young person’s abilities and support needs with the employer openly and honestly. This will help the young person and the employer have a positive and safe experience.

Work experience is just one element of the employment journey; it gives people a taster but it is not meant as a long-term option. After trying lots of different work experience the young person should know what kind of job would be suitable for them and equally what kind of support they need to help them thrive.

Our job coaches can spend a lot of time just looking for employers with the right opportunities. Some quick tips for finding the right employer:

  • Try local SMEs
  • Go to local job fairs
  • Target Disability Confident organisations – they offer a guaranteed interview if the person meet their essential criteria:
  • Look at your network of family, friends, colleagues and previous employers to see what’s on offer.
  • Social Media – follow local businesses on Twitter, Linked In or Facebook. This helps to understand the employer needs are.

Case Study: James & Jasmine

Back in Carlisle, I supported a young lady called Jasmine. After college, she was desperate to find an office based job. By chance one evening, I was speaking with James who was a friend of mine about trying to find employment opportunities. James managed a local dentist practice and desperately needed office admin as the trained dental nurses were spending too much time out of the dental theatres. Through this conversation, I managed to get Jasmine a work experience at James’ dental practice. After an initial 4 weeks, the work experience turned into a part-time paid job for Jasmine.

James had never thought about supported employment before but has since told me that Jasmine has brought a new lease of life into the office. She is always laughing and smiling with the patients and brings heaps of positive energy into the practice.

Once you have an employer in mind, what next? Getting people we support through the door is one of the biggest barriers we face when supporting people with disabilities. Engaging with employers can be very much like sales. As such, here are some suggestions or tips for marketing to employers:

  • Get to the right person. Make sure you know who you want to make the appointment with – head of personnel can be a good start.
  • Prepare your conversation. What will you say? How will you sell it? What does the employer need? Do you have the person’s CV to hand? Write it down. Keep it snappy.
  • Sell the person’s skills, qualities and abilities. Employers are not ‘doing us a favour’ by employing people with disabilities. People we support have genuine skills that employers need for their business.
  • Understand the employer. This is about knowing what the employer is looking for and what opportunities they have. Are the recruiting? Are they expanding? This will help maximise your chances.
  • Be positive. Goes without saying this one but always maintain a positive, optimistic and confident message (even if it is the 100th employer you have called!)
  • Keep a record. You may be contacting a lot of employers so keep a list of who you spoke to, when, outcomes and follow up.

Idea? In addition to National Careers Week, why not host a business breakfast networking event at your school/college/community. This is an opportunity to invite local employers in to discuss the benefits of employing a diverse workforce.

One of the ways we have been successful is asking employers to offer work trails or shadowing days. This is a good option for people to show their skills and talents to the employer. The young person can do this with 1:1 support or with background support from the Job Coach or supporter.

Work shadowing involves observing a professional in their job to gain a better understanding of the role. Work trail is a longer period where the expectation is that should the young person and the employer find the placement a good match then a job will be offered.

Both trails and shadow days offer a chance or the young person to shine. They can be offered as a reasonable adjustment to the traditional, over-the-table interview which, as we all know, can be terrifying!

In the next blog, we will be discussing in-work support; what that means and what they looks like? But before we move on, here are some highlights from blog 2:

  1. Successful job matching will prevent a potential placement breakdown.
  2. Sell the persons skills and qualities.
  3. Don’t underestimate the opportunities in front of your eyes. Right now, why not ask someone you know you for a work experience placement with them?!

About the Author

Amie Dobinson is currently Development Manager for United Response, a national learning disability charity. She is a Law graduate with post-graduate qualifications in Development Management. Amie has been working for United Response for the past 7 years in various development roles across the North of England. Her passion is to ensure that young people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else and that young people are supported to progress and to be included.

About the Charity

United Response is a national charity set up in 1973 to provide person-centred support to adults and young people with learning disabilities, mental health needs, physical disabilities and autism. We now support over 3000 people across England and Wales in a range of community-based settings including supported employment services.  Our vision is a society where everyone has equal rights and opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that individuals with learning disabilities, mental or physical support needs have the opportunity to live their lives to the full. You can find out more on our website  and Twitter @UnitedResponse