When Nescot’s Head of Entry Level, Lynn Reddick, was nominated for a Star Award last year, she embarked on a journey that would see her awarded £40,000 to spearhead a government campaign to improve the lot of society’s least advantaged youngsters. In a whirlwind year, Lynn has consulted with ministers at 10 Downing Street, visited exciting new initiatives in New York and Florida and has now been chosen to roll out similar schemes for youngsters in the UK, beginning here in Surrey.
Lynn’s innovative work, bringing together students with learning difficulties and Surrey employers, wowed the judges of the National Star Awards, for unsung heroes of further education. They had no hesitation in awarding her one of the prestigious titles. The award not only raised awareness of Lynn’s work but came with a Starlight Fund of £1,500.
This allowed Lynn to take a trip to the US to see schemes that are successfully changing employers’ perceptions of disadvantaged youngsters and creating opportunities for them to become valued members of society. The inspiring trip saw Lynn return to Nescot full of ideas to improve the lot of Surrey’s young workforce.
‘It reinforced my belief that the work we do with young people with learning difficulties and disabilities is paramount and that they can be valued employees and lead independent lives. It just takes a little bravery on behalf of employers, commitment from government to fund the programmes and the magic the teams who work day to day with the learners bring,’ she said. Lynn, who already works with some of Surrey’s top employers, was most impressed by the SEARCH project in New York, which has a fantastic success rate at helping learners in to work.
Lynn visited the Veterans Hospital for military personnel, where learners ran a lunch club providing food for staff on a delivery basis, and then spoke with young men with behavioural difficulties building new toilet facilities in the armoury for returning soldiers from Iraq. ‘Those soldiers, men who have seen the very hardest of times and experiences were amongst the biggest supporters of the learners and what they had to cope with,’ she said. She also toured PACE University where learners were attending a unit of a university course in the mainstream, working in the university, in the post room or kitchens and also learning how to live independently and achieve their goals. ‘I asked one of the staff working with learners in the post room how he felt about them and his response was that initially he had been concerned but he couldn’t do without them now and would miss them while they were on the summer break,’ says Lynn. ‘While this results in paid employment at the University for some students it dramatically improves all the students’ skills and chances of finding employment,’ she said.
For youngsters who struggle to achieve academically, these schemes have been so successful that the Department for Work and Pensions here in Britain is planning to introduce similar initiatives across the country. Lynn and her team will lead the scheme which they will roll out across three other Surrey colleges as part of the Learning and Skills Council’s Action for Inclusion initiative. LSC South East has funded a range of employment focused projects across the South of England but describes the initiative being developed by Lynn’s team as ‘unique’.
The team will collaborate with Surrey employers who may be currently using skilled staff to carry out menial or repetitive work which must nevertheless be done diligently and with care. ‘Our learners are perfect for freeing up more highly trained staff and they will take the tasks set them very seriously without getting bored or resentful. ‘I saw nurses on a children's ward in the US given much more time to attend to patients when learners were there to do things like listing and restocking essential supplies,’ says Lynn.
In a process known as ‘job carving’ more menial tasks are separated off to provide work for students, carefully chosen by the college and supported by an experienced workplace mentor. Students work on an eight-week rotation and the college can offer as much or as little support as the employer feels they need. There is no red tape involved as the students are on temporary work placements. The employer has a chance to see what the students are capable of and is free to offer paid work on the basis of their actual performance.
Lynn will be hosting an event to introduce the opportunity to the borough’s employers in November. Those who would like to register an interest should call the team on: 0208 394 3226