When we meet new people we tend to ask them their name and where they are from. The next question is usually job- or career-related: “So, what do you do?” Having a job can give us status, money, purpose, self-respect and respect from others, and it can open up a whole new social world.
Having a job can be one of the most important aspects of your life. And yet many people are denied the chance of working simply because of who they are. It is estimated that there are about 1.5 million people with learning difficulties in the UK: the equivalent of the population of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. Of the 300,000 or so who have severe learning difficulties around 95 per cent of them won’t have a full-time job.
It’s a startling figure that has sparked into life a new £97,000 employment project by the London-based housing association Yarrow, a charity that provides a range of community-based services including care and support. The project aims to match up job seekers who have learning difficulties with suitable employers.
Two staff work with local businesses to identify vacancies and provide continuing support. This also involves helping employers to better understand the nature of learning difficulties. One such employer is Diane Arthur, who manages the catering department of Paddington police station where Yarrow tenant Jeff Hammond works as a kitchen porter. “I had never worked with someone who had learning difficulties before and, I have to say, it has really opened my eyes. In such a busy workplace, it’s good to have someone who has bags of confidence and carries out his duties efficiently,” she says.
Yarrow chief executive Tim Hughes says:”Research shows there are advantages for both parties. Businesses get staff that they can rely on, they get access to an untapped labour pool and they can demonstrate to their staff and customers that they do not discriminate. People with learning difficulties gain greater independence, choice and self-confidence from having a job.”
Indeed research indicates the reliability of people with a learning difficulty is second to none. Edward Noel Baker is also a kitchen porter with the Metropolitan police, but at New Scotland Yard. “He is also very reliable, he hardly ever takes a day off and he always starts work early,” says head chef Andrew Hayward. “When Edward came to work for us there were, as with all new staff, challenges that had to be overcome. I work with people who have a whole variety of backgrounds and skills but what I have learned is, if you provide the right support, you get results.”
The results have been good for Baker. “I enjoy my job because it’s busy and varied, the pay is good and everyone is nice. The best thing, however, is that I get to meet people. I am happy here and intend to stay as new jobs can be hard to find,” he says.
If getting a job is a big task, keeping it is another. David Evans is proof that employment is not a short-term consideration. He has worked in the kitchens of the Hilton Hotel in Kensington, west London, since 1989. Matt Voss, catering manager at the Hilton, says:”David and I have worked together for years and he is one of my most reliable members of staff. In this trade you need to be punctual, clean, organised and efficient – David is all these things. I can’t remember a time when he was ill.”
He continues: “People with learning difficulties are no different from anyone else in the way they have strengths and weaknesses. The role of a manager is to identify a member of staff’s strengths and help them build on them. Most people wouldn’t know that David has a disability and when they do find out, it certainly helps to make them more aware of what people with disabilities are capable of.”
- Employing someone with learning difficulties can promote social inclusion and present a positive corporate image.
- It can also demonstrate a commitment to equal opportunities. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 makes it illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability when it comes to recruitment, training, promotion or dismissal.
- People with learning difficulties are an untapped labour source.