Dolly Parton struck a familiar note when she sang “Workin’ nine to five, what a way to make a living”. But for some people with mental health issues making that living is just a dream. Employers don’t give them the chances fearing lengthy sickness absences and an inability to perform work tasks.
The winner of the Community Care mental health award endeavours to tackle this misconception by drawing in job seekers and employers. Pathways Community Interest Company (PCIC) is a social enterprise providing personalised training to people with mental health problems and physical disabilities. For employers, the work focuses on addressing discrimination.
Of the methods, Yvonne Clarke, co-managing director of PCIC, says: “We focus on using the workforce development agenda in health and social care as a way of reducing health inequalities.”
PCIC was launched in April 2006 and is run in Crewe by Clarke and her business partner and qualified nurse, Lesley Thomas. It operates throughout Cheshire and the Wirral in collaboration with the Central and Eastern Cheshire Primary Care Trust and Cheshire Council. The PCT previously employed Clarke as workforce development manager and as lead for equality and diversity.
The programme involves a maximum 16 hours’ training within 32 weeks and costs £6,000 a person. For the employers, PCIC looks at the posts that health and social care agencies are having trouble filling and also the recruitment processes. Then the training starts on hiring staff with mental health and physical disabilities.
So far Clarke, Thomas and their team of five staff – all previous participants of its job seekers’ training programmes – have helped 45 people into mainstream employment. Clarke says: “It’s about getting candidates and employers to understand that, just because a person hasn’t worked or has an interrupted employment history, it doesn’t mean they haven’t got any skills.”
One employer benefiting from PCIC’s approach is Leighton Hospital in Crewe, where retention rates in domestic, catering and portering jobs were poor. To establish a less transient workforce, PCIC worked with the hospital to create training posts so candidates could be paid as they learned new skills on the job.
PCIC’s work has had a positive effect. Clarke says: “It gives people confidence, raises their self-esteem and updates their skills. This is important because people can’t move into employment if they do not have the skills.”
It is well-documented that the health and social care sector faces significant challenges in meeting future workforce needs. But the PCIC approach provides employers with a skilled workforce that can slip seamlessly into hard-to-fill posts.
When PCIC’s name was announced as the mental health category winner, Clarke was surprised: “We didn’t expect to win because we are new we were overjoyed.”
Despite the success of its work, PCIC is aware of the barriers people with mental health and physical disabilities continue to face – and have plans to surmount them. The company will use its £5,000 prize money to create a training programme for individuals with moderate to severe conditions seeking employment. Clarke says this will also enable the social enterprise to challenge NHS commissioners to look at their recruitment policies.
For Clarke all the evidence she needs that PCIC is making a difference comes from the individuals her company trained and then hired: “I get text messages on a Sunday night saying ‘I love my job, boss, see you in the morning’ .”
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Anabel Unity Sale
This article appeared in the 22 February issue under the headline “Living the dream”