The London Community Foundation first supported AFK in 2018. Most recently, the organisation was awarded funding in January 2021 through the SEGRO Community Fund to expand their Life and Work Programme with a virtual employability skills support service for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Hear from AFK’s Life and Work Manager, Elaine Harman, who shares the story of one of their trainees, and his journey into employment.
Finding a job during a global health crisis is difficult. For those with learning disabilities, the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges they already faced when looking for work. An April 2020 Labour Force Survey revealed that disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, and now that the pandemic has affected our lives for more than a year we can assume the impact could well be even greater since that survey.
Lewis (not his real name) is 20 and has a learning disability as well as DiGeorge Syndrome, meaning he may have developmental delays. He had previous work experience and had studied for three years at Southgate College, but still hadn't found long-term employment when we met Lewis and his mum - albeit virtually - in September 2020. Our Life and Work team assigned Lewis a Job Coach, who supported him to search for suitable work, approach potential employers and develop his skills.
Initially, Lewis appeared reserved over the phone. It was clear he was nervous - that's where the Life and Work team came in and helped him set out a tailored plan to achieve his goals.
After helping Lewis put together a resumé of all his work experiences and completing an excellent practice interview, he conducted a mock interview online with the support of employee volunteers from leading law firm Clifford Chance. Unfortunately, Lewis' nerves got the better of him, making us keenly aware that, despite Lewis having some experience in the world of work, he still felt anxious and shy with employers. Not to be deterred, Lewis and our team continued to work together to build his confidence. After more online practice sessions, he submitted applications for his own Freedom Pass as well as a job vacancy at a local supermarket.
Lewis' Job Coach, Terry, says: “Lewis' willingness to take comments on board demonstrated both how great his listening skills are and his tenacity and determination to improve. Once Lewis had completed the application, it was clear that his confidence and ability to talk about himself in a professional setting had developed throughout the process."
After a successful application, Lewis secured an interview. Following a few initial discussions, the company made some reasonable adjustments to accommodate his learning style during interviews.
The employer provided the interview questions in advance, giving Lewis time to prepare his answers without getting flustered in the interview. Using his prepared answers in his interview, Lewis then had the confidence to add additional thoughts and even some light-hearted back-and-forth with the interviewers. This was greatly appreciated and allowed for a more fluent, knowledgeable, and confident young man to come to the fore.
Lewis prefers simple wording and shorter sentences to be used in communication, as complex language can be challenging due to his learning disability. He learns particularly well by seeing demonstrations of what needs to be done, then copying the learned practice repetitively with support as required. Although this was a challenge to navigate virtually, we were impressed with how well he responded to the demonstrations given. Adjustments such as these from employers bolster the chances of young people like Lewis to gain the employment opportunities they so rightly deserve.
Within one week - on his birthday - Lewis received the news that he was being offered employment.
Lewis is a friendly, sociable and kind individual who is very motivated to work. This became evident to the Life and Work team when Terry phoned Lewis to give him his start date for work. Lewis asked. “will they be paying me?” but before Terry could reply he quickly added, “because they don’t have to...I'm just happy to have a job.”
This comment says it all and has been repeated by many trainees who don't expect to get employment and are just happy to have been accepted - something we work hard to change the mindset around. While Lewis’ willingness to work voluntarily is commendable and a testament to his nature, the Life and Work team at AFK encourages trainees to recognise that paid employment is perfectly within reach and, with the right support, training and reasonable adjustments, this can be possible.
Lewis’ mum wrote to us and said: “Lewis is a lot more confident, he's happy, he has really opened up. Every single member of the [Life and Work] team did such an incredible job; they go out of their way to help young people like my son. We cannot believe the timing of the news, on his birthday! It's really great. I just have to say thank you!”
Incidentally, Lewis’ Freedom Pass arrived on the day he started his new job, allowing him to travel to and from his new role with ease.
“I'm excited,” Lewis told us as he got ready for his first day. “I can't wait until I eventually get to use maths on the tills.” When asked what his long-term goals where he said, “I'd love to be a manager one day.”
Not only have the Life & Work team helped to secure Lewis fulfilling work, they have witnessed him become a much more confident young man. Lewis has been supported by a team that cares about his success, not only in his new role but into the future.
No matter what kind of role AFK trainees secure, the Life and Work Programme exists to provide support for them to learn and thrive. Thanks to AFK’s innovative employment support practices, aimed at both employers and trainees, our trainees are earning money, forming networks, and contributing to their communities, proving that when disabled young people are given a chance, and with the right support, more often than not they can do well for themselves and employers.
As part of the support my AFK provide, the team will follow up with Lewis, his mum and with the employer as he settles in, providing additional support as needed.
To find out more about the Life and Work Programme please visit https://www.my-afk.org/life-and-work