Changing lives for the better

Only 6% of students with learning disabilities get into full-time employment. Our ‘EmployAbility – Let’s Work Together’ internship programme is proof that can change, says co-founder Mark Pickles.

Our EmployAbility programme helps students with special educational needs take the first steps to full-time employment. Students aged 17 to 22 join us for five days a week during term time in an academic year. Their placements can either be office-based or in departments like catering, reception or facilities.

During their time with us, the students develop their communication and social skills. They also do a BTEC qualification called Skills for Life, Skills for Work. It’s transformed many of the students and they’ve visibly grown in confidence. 

My colleague Mark McGill and I started EmployAbility after we’d both mentored students with disabilities who’d done work experience with us. We decided we wanted to give more students the same opportunity.

A win-win situation 

About 60% of our 40 interns so far have found paid jobs – far above the national average of 6%. Others have gone on to further education in mainstream colleges to pursue particular careers. So their experience with us really counts. We also work with local government Employment Support Teams, who support any students who haven’t immediately got a job after taking part. 

EmployAbility has helped us too. Around 120 of our people have volunteered to help. It’s made them more confident about working with people with disabilities, more inspired by National Grid’s support and more aware of issues in their community. 

We started in 2013 with five students from Round Oak School at our Warwick office. To date we’ve helped 65, including those interns currently on the programme. In September 2016 we welcomed our fourth group. 

Learning as we go 

Our interns are understandably nervous coming into a new situation. We’ve learned that preparing them makes a big difference, so we match them with past interns who let them know what to expect. Also, our graduates organise a ‘work inspiration week’ so students can get an idea of what’s involved before they commit. And past interns go into schools to talk about their experiences. 

Engaging with parents early is important. Some have been a bit worried that their children won’t be able to work. Giving them the opportunity to hear from past interns and see how they’ve flourished helps win them over. 

Inspiring others 

Through conferences and other events, we’ve encouraged businesses to work with young people with disabilities. After coming to one of our events, Sheffield College set up its own programme; with companies including Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Amey taking part. 

EmployAbility is now completely embedded in our organisation. We want to make a difference to the communities we work in and we want to help young people reach their potential, whatever their circumstances. This programme helps us do both.

To find out more and to get involved, visit our EmployAbility website

Published: June 2017