As talent shortages persist, employers cannot afford to ‘write off’ any group of potential workers, yet it is significantly harder for adults with learning disabilities to obtain work than almost any other client group. Individuals with Down’s syndrome battle misperceptions about their capabilities and often can’t even get an interview.
The Down’s Syndrome Association’s ‘Workfit’ team are doing an amazing job of changing attitudes by promoting and securing employment for individuals with Down’s syndrome. The candidates they bring to the table are becoming a valuable talent pool for employers who use the scheme.
The Environment Agency has enthusiastically embraced the programme, as Joanne Senior, Laboratory Site Manager, explains:
“We are committed to making our organisation as diverse as the environment. It’s our job to protect and improve the environment and make this a better place to live. Our environment is diverse and so are the people we work with…Labs in other parts of the country are at various stages of the WorkFit journey and are hugely positive about the programme and the outcomes so far.”
One of the latest recruits, Ben, recently secured permanent employment as a Laboratory Assistant with the Environment Agency’s National Laboratory Service, a much sought-after science career opportunity.
Ben’s Mum, Angie, explained:
“I heard about WorkFit and decided to get in touch and find out more. Alison arrived at our house at 6.30pm one night last October and talked to Ben about what kind of job he wanted and his hobbies and interests. Soon after she told us about the possibility of an opportunity for Ben – he now has something that we never thought possible…not just a job, but a career.”
Often assumptions made about workers who have Down’s syndrome see them labelled with limitations as to their abilities – yet when they reach the right workplace they can, and do flourish.
Ben is a great example of this, after a successful interview he began a work experience placement at the laboratory as a Laboratory Assistant. Within a few weeks of him starting work, the team were so impressed that Ben was offered a permanent job and he is now an established member of the Sample Preparation and Registration Team.
Ben’s work involves looking after specific customer accounts. He also has responsibility for accepting deliveries of new samples at the laboratory, collating and registering the new samples, and preparing them in the labs for processing. He has shown a great aptitude for the work and has learned many procedures in the laboratory. He is proud of his achievements so far, but this ambitious young man has ambitions to continue carving a career in science.
“I want to learn things and I want to push myself. I want to show that I can do things on my own!”
A diverse range of career opportunities with free training for employers
Whilst Ben’s career is in science, WorkFit has secured training and employment in all walks of life, including retail work, catering and administration. One of the reasons that placements are very successful, and often result in permanent employment is that Workfit gives free and bespoke Down’s syndrome awareness training to colleagues prior to the placement. The WorkFit Employment Development Officers are also available for on-going support once the vacancy is filled. Colleagues appreciate the training and ongoing support and feedback from both parties is positive.
Alison Thwaite, WorkFit Employment Development Officer (North), says that Ben’s colleagues were extremely responsive to the training:
“It was wonderful to hear their plans about how they would welcome Ben and ensure that he felt fully integrated and part of the team, showing a real commitment to supporting him and ensuring that he feels valued and respected.”
Ben’s colleagues at the National Laboratory Service were keen to embrace the WorkFit programme and they are now keen to help Ben achieve his career ambitions. They have supported him to learn new skills and he is now a valued part of the team, joining his colleagues on their team nights out in Leeds.
Colleague Andy says:
“I’m really impressed with the way that Ben is keen to learn new things and take responsibility. He knows all of the couriers really well and is very well liked. He has picked things up so well that he works on his own quite a lot and comes and asks for help if he needs it. It makes him feel proud to be working on his own and just getting on with his job like everyone else.
‘There is nothing that Ben can’t do’
Sample Prep and Registration Team Manager, John Fardon believes that the organisation has benefited from the programme as much as Ben:
“Everyone enjoys working with Ben and we’ve had a very positive response to the programme from everyone. As an organisation I think we’re more considerate and we are all more keen to help all of our colleagues.
“Having Ben here has made us look at our processes and helped us to improve, which benefits the whole team. Recruiting Ben through the WorkFit programme has been a life-affirming experience and his approach has set a benchmark that has spread through the lab. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing that Ben can’t do and we will be supporting him to learn as much as possible and to give him every opportunity to develop his career with us.”