Surrey businesses came together at Nescot College in June 2009 to celebrate opening their hearts and workplaces to young people with learning difficulties.
The event was the culmination of a scheme set up by Nescot’s Head of Entry Level, Lynn Reddick, to put a stop to the youngsters being condemned to day centres and benefit dependency after leaving education.
‘We give these kids excellent skills for the workplace and they’re being totally wasted,’ said Lynn.
‘I started this to give people the chance to see what they can do and how much they contribute to a team.’
Prestigious local organisations like The Epsom Playhouse, The Holiday Inn, and the Epsom Downs Racecourse seized the opportunity to tell the borough’s business community how valuable the students’ work has been.
Over a lavish lunch, prepared by the Lynn’s students, Abi Gupta, who runs the Epsom Downs Holiday Inn Hotel, spoke about the outstanding success of hotel employee Lisa Taylor.
‘This was a completely new hotel and I had to staff it and build teams from scratch. When I first mentioned taking Lisa on for an extended work experience interview there were some doubters, but we’ve proved them so wrong. She has been one of my best employees – if you give a job to Lisa you know it’s going to get done properly. She’s very detailed and thorough, you can rely on her completely,’ he said.
Mr Gupta went on to say that he planned to present the scheme and his successful experience at the company’s General Meeting, with a view to rolling it out across the entire hotel chain.
‘I can’t wait to spread the word about this. We should all be doing it. Lisa is a fantastic employee. She loves the work and even gets upset if I give her a day off. The whole team adore her and her presence has a very beneficial effect on other workers.’
Lisa Taylor was equally enthusiastic about the match, ‘I love my job and the people I work with. I’ve been given opportunity to work my way up from the kitchen, to housekeeping and admin and I’m really looking forward to my training for front of house. The Holiday Inn is the best place to work ever!’
Nigel Whybrow, Head Groundsman at Epsom Downs Racecourse takes on four or five students a year for work placements. Many of these students have done so well in their jobs they are offered permanent employment at the course. Mr Whybrow, who was unable to attend this event, was nevertheless keen to share his experience.
‘We’ve been doing this for about 12 years and it’s a great help to us’, he said. ‘People with learning difficulties have their own strengths just like we all do. Many of the youngsters we’ve worked with might not be able to read a book so well but have a fantastic eye for detail and will persevere with a task more than most.’
Mr. Whybrow also explained the unexpected benefits for his whole team, ‘Although everyone we’ve had fitted in really well and we’ve had the back up from Nescot, the team takes on a support role too. We’ve all become more tolerant of our differences and are more willing to get stuck in and help each other get the job done.’
Bosses from the borough, who had come to find out more, were told that Nescot not only provides a mentor for the student, but that the mentor is trained to work with employers to ensure the right student is matched to the right position in the right firm.
Lynn explained that the college also provides expert help to employers in devising roles for the students and in dealing with any issues that arise. ‘We’re there all the way through for advice and guidance. We want this to be a positive experience for everyone involved,’ she said.
The scheme aims to show employers that the traditional recruitment process doesn’t always lead to the best candidate for the job. People with learning difficulties often find face-to-face verbal questioning extremely difficult and, if the role involves no verbal presentation work, a traditional panel interview hardly allows them to demonstrate their fitness for the job.
The team points out that we wouldn’t ask someone with a physical disability to complete an assault course for a desk job, so why should someone with a learning difficulty face a verbal interview for a practical role? Instead, employers are asked to offer shortlisted candidates an assessed period of work experience. This allows all candidates to better demonstrate their fitness for the position and gives the employer a much better idea of their ability to fit into the existing team.
Chessington Equestrian Centre owner, Steve Banting, had come to learn more about the opportunity and was impressed by the students he met.
‘These kids are personable, bright and keen, I would have any of them,’ he said.
‘Every one of my staff is required to muck in and get the work done, there’s no front of house. I can’t think of anything these students would not be able to do.’
Mr Banting was also reassured by the package of support put together by the college, ‘The way the system works takes the risk out of hiring new staff. It’s very responsive to my needs as an employer,’ he said.
Lynn Reddick was keen to point out that all the students were on vocational courses at Nescot that led to formal qualifications. ‘These kids are being trained to do a job of work,’ she said. ‘Their courses range from Animal Care and Horticulture to Office Skills and Catering. They have genuine, bankable skills.’
Employers and Mentors who would like to be a part of the Supported Employment Initiative scheme should call Andrew Humphries at Nescot on: 020 8394 3290.