Removing Barriers project hailed a resounding success having opened dialogue between employers and young people with special educational needs
LAST WEEK saw the celebration to mark the end of a Dorset-wide project that sought to create greater employment opportunities across the county for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The project, entitled Removing Barriers, was a fully-funded programme initiated by Dorset Careers Hub and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership, with the aim of creating job opportunities for around 20 young people with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
The final showcase event took place at Merley House in Wimborne, and saw the coming together of all those who had participated in the project, from the 11 local employers, schools and colleges, the wide variety of specialists and advisers and, very importantly, the young people themselves.
It was an opportunity to thank all parties and to cement future commitment among employers to being more inclusive and accessible.
“This project has opened the eyes of our employers to show them that there is a huge amount of talent out there that is not being utilised,” said Rebecca Phillips, Strategic Lead at Dorset Careers Hub. “One in five adults have a disability of some kind, yet only 6% of adults with a learning disability are in a paid job and 60% would like to join the workforce.
“By being more inclusive and accessible, employers can tap into this capable workforce, creating healthy diversity within their workplace and giving these young people a much-needed chance.”
Over the past few months, several employers had opened their doors to engage with groups of young people, giving them an insight into different work environments and raising awareness of the various roles they could apply for in the future.
For example, Lewco Holdings – a franchise of McDonalds restaurants – hosted seven students from Westfield Arts College, based in Weymouth in which all pupils have an EHCP. It did the same for two students from Weymouth College and for three students from SWRAC (South West Regional Assessment Centre), a college with four campuses across the county serving young adults who require alternative education provision to that offered in the mainstream system.
As a result of the project, Lewco is now in discussions to offer a number of supported internships and one student even felt confident enough to make an online job application.
Meanwhile, technology provider Kimcell invited several students from the specialist educational Cambian Wing College to tour its high-tech data facility based within the Dorset Innovation Park near Wool. “This project has been a great learning experience for us,” said Kimcell managing director Gordon Fong. “We’ve still got a lot to learn but it’s set us on the right path to ensure we do things differently in order to be fully inclusive and give everyone an equal opportunity.”
Other employers included motor manufacturer Parvalux; children’s hospice Julia’s House; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Brewhouse and Kitchen and Bournemouth University.
Heading up the Removing Barriers Project was Andrew Holland, Director of consultancy firm Sendme2work. Via a series of workshops and training sessions, the nature of disability was explored, and more pertinently, how companies can adapt and make reasonable adjustments in order to embrace disabilities was addressed.
“Our workshops set out to educate employers to better understand disabilities and to demonstrate that minor, inexpensive, reasonable adjustments can be made to remove the barriers that many young people with an EHCP may face in the workplace,” said Holland.
The framework upon which the project was built, was the government’s Disability Confident employer scheme, which looks to create “a movement of change, encouraging employers to think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people”.
This national scheme has three tiers for employers to work towards – entry Level 1 is being ‘Committed’ to the Disability Confident scheme; Level 2 being a Disability Confident Employer and Level 3 being a Disability Confident ‘Leader’.
“We noticed that while we had 128 employers in Dorset ‘Committed’ to the scheme, only one had made it to ‘Leader’ status,” said Phillips. “The Removing Barriers project looked to propel not only the number of members of the government scheme but also to increase the number of ‘Leaders’.”
By the end of the Removing Barriers project, the number of leaders increased from one to six, and the number of Disability Confident ‘Employers’ increased from 25 to 31.
Marsham Court Hotel was one such company to be awarded its ‘Leader’ status in the past year. Already recognised as being ‘best in class’ for offering accessible disabled facilities to its guests, the Removing Barriers was a chance for the family-owned, Bournemouth hotel to look internally and focus on how it welcomed and retained a more diverse workforce. “Working closely with Andrew encouraged us to think differently,” said the hotel’s Operations Director James Dixon-Box. “We’re facing a massive skills gap in our industry. By embracing this untapped workforce, we can fill that gap.”
Bournemouth-based The Crumbs Project is another company that can now proudly display its Leader badge. “There’s an impression out there among some employers that [employing staff with disabilities] is too much of a minefield and too complicated. That’s really not the case. It could be little tweaks that are required – which while small, can make a huge difference and needn’t cost a fortune,” said Lee Whalley, Head of Operations for The Crumbs Project.
While the programme has officially come to a close, Holland is keen to keep the conversation going. “The true impact of the project is still to come as not only have all 11 companies committed to reaching ‘Leader’ status, all will work at influencing other companies that they work with to follow suit.
“It has instigated a ripple effect that we hope will have a continued impact across the county and will see more young people with an ECHP successfully find employment.”
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Lee Whalley, Head of Operations for The Crumbs Project (left) and James Dixon-Box Operations Director at Marsham Court Hotel (right), whose companies qualified as Disability Confident ‘Leaders’ following participation in the Removing Barriers project