Q: I have been involved with a supported employment project for 10 years and have been very successful in finding paid work for people with learning disabilities. However, as the jobs market becomes more challenging I need to take a new approach. Can anyone advise me on how to work more effectively with employers to create opportunities for this group?
A: With the economy in recession, the jobs market is increasingly challenging. Many businesses are looking at how they can cut costs and this may involve a freeze or reduction in recruitment.
However, there will still be jobs around and it is important that supported employment projects continue to respond to employers when vacancies arise, ensuring people with a learning disability are given an equal chance and the right support.
People with a learning disability are the disabled group most excluded from the workplace, with less than 20% in employment, compared with 49% of disabled people as a whole. It is vital that we continue to deliver person-centred services, ensuring that we are carefully matching people with a learning disability to appropriate jobs, while providing the correct level of support to both the employee and the employer.
At Mencap we have found success by helping some of the medium and larger businesses to forward-plan. This has involved striking an agreement at national or regional level with the employer. We can plan with the employer the stages of recruitment rather than react to short recruitment deadlines. This has worked well on a national basis with supermarket chain Sainsbury’s through our WorkRight scheme and regionally with Co-op stores.
It is possible to instruct the employer on understanding learning disability, the adjustments that can be made to the recruitment processes, the adjustments that can be made to job roles and the support needed.
For example, Mencap has worked with employers to negotiate short work trials as an alternative to formal interviews. We have also discussed the approach of job carving with some employers to adjust job roles.
The Disability Equality Duty requires public sector bodies to promote equal opportunities for disabled people. Through our WorkRight scheme, we encourage public sector employers to appoint people with a learning disability as a way for public sector employers to promote equality.
As supported employment professionals, we need to work together in these challenging times to share best practice locally and nationally.
On a local level, organisations can share good news stories and present a consistent message to employers about the successes that people with a learning disability have with paid employment.
We must also invest time in working together and look at ways in which employer information can be shared and joint working approaches built upon to provide excellent packages of support for people with a learning disability and employers.
Mark Crouch is regional employment manager for Mencap in the North of England
I’m in my third year of a social work degree and I’m thinking of staying on to a do a social work masters in research, as I’d like to find a job that combines frontline practice with research and policy development. Do jobs like this exist and could a further year studying count against me when applying for positions?
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